Avernum: Escape From the Pit Review

28 Apr 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Spiderweb Software
Release Date:2011-12-12
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Audio is the usual for Spiderweb's games, with a heavy focus on environment ambiance and some stock sounds used primarily in combat, for opening doors, etc. Almost all these effects have been reused from previous games, but there's a little bit more music to go around - a generic but rather effective intro theme that plays on the main menu and after completing major goals, a short melody that plays when you enter a town, and a dramatic orchestral sting when combat begins. It's all effective and minimalist, and while Avernum still doesn't compare to games with bigger budgets as far as sound effects and soundtrack are concerned, there has been at least some progress made in this respect, even if it's just the little things.

The one major stumbling block for me, from a technical standpoint, isn't bugs or glitches, it's actually the user interface. Although virtually identical to the one found in Avernum 6 and Avadon, save for some added hotkeys during combat and exploration, there are a number of annoyances which I had not previously encountered in any Spiderweb game. For the most part, these issues are restricted to combat. The first of these is the snap-to targeting that's been added when selecting party members or NPCs. While usually it works, in some cases it's impossible to move your character to a certain space on the battlefield, or to target a specific enemy, or to place an area-of-effect spell exactly where you want it. Since double-clicking the active party member ends the current turn, when combined with the auto-targeting, trying to walk one space upwards will often lead to wasted turns.

Another big issue is pathfinding. Party members will not move through each other without you telling them to, which means that in dungeons, they will often plot long routes all around the other side of the level, much like in the older RPGs such as Baldur's Gate. In 2012, this is extremely frustrating and means that sending your mages to their dooms by accident, or at least attracting a new room full of enemies to deal with, is very common. Moreover, when moving near enemies, the zone-of-control mechanic won't always work consistently - sometimes your character will halt in place and allow you to still attack, and sometimes they will walk an extra space, and you won't be able to get off an attack or a critically needed spell. This can be very frustrating and on multiple occasions led to me losing difficult fights. Simply put, combat requires precision and the interface often doesn't allow for it. The addition of a pathing preview, showing the route a character will take before he or she moves, would have gone a long way towards mitigating some of these problems.

Beyond the interface issues, however, the game runs extremely smoothly, and should manage on just about any computer made in the last 10 years due to its low requirements. I played the PC version through Steam, which grants some Steam achievements in trade for the DRM, and encountered absolutely no other technical issues with the game stemming from either Steam or from the game itself. However, I did read about a few broken quests and corrupt save files on the official Spiderweb forums, so like many old-school games you'll probably want to keep as many "hard" save files on hand as you can, just in case.

Conclusion

Avernum: Escape from the Pit is another game in the Spiderweb mold, with all of the usual trappings that includes: a unique setting with competent writing, decent combat gameplay marred by occasionally poor balance and filler, and a great sense of freedom and exploration within a huge game world. However, unlike Avadon and Avernum 6, Avernum: Escape from the Pit often shows its age with its relatively basic quest design, lack of puzzles, shallower characters, and simple story. This isn't always a bad thing, but it is worth pointing out, especially if you're used to newer, more plot-driven titles.

Overall, I can recommend Avernum: Escape from the Pit to just about any fan of old-school isometric RPGs. For your $10 USD (on Steam, anyway), you're looking at about 40-50 hours of gameplay, which is phenomenal value no matter how you slice things. While it's a shame some of the rough edges in user interface can get in the way of gameplay from time to time, and I would have liked to see some more content additions, there's no denying that Avernum is an enjoyable game. Fans looking to get into the Avernum series will do very well with Escape from the Pit, and while the improvements beyond the game engine and visuals are relatively modest, there's still a lot to enjoy even if you've played through the game once before already.