Avernum 6 Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Spiderweb Software
Release Date:2009-12-05
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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Story and writing

Avernum 6's main plotline is fairly basic, as it's a simple save-the-world type story in which you have to defeat an evil horde. But that's just the top layer. As you progress through the story, the game hints with greater or lesser degrees of subtlety when things aren't what they seem: political strife, pigheaded officers, wizards that think they can solve anything. The antagonists certainly lack the tragic ambiguity of the antagonists of the previous two games, but it's a welcome amount of depth nonetheless.

There are a lot of questionable and doubtful things going on, and the different factions and individuals have their own motives and views, which they'll often reveal (to a silly extent). As the player, you have a lot of freedom to choose who to aid or even destroy depending on your own opinion of their views. The game has a lot of different ending variations depending on the choices you make, who you support and to what extent.

In general, Avernum 6's quality tends to be in the little things and not in the overall large-scale events and main quests being particularly interesting. The smaller, inter-personal conflicts and motivations are where a lot of the qualities lie. Overall, the writing is solid but doesn't stand out from the rest of the series.

Avernum 6 pokes fun at a lot of conventions, especially early in the game, with a curmudgeonly narrator making light of many of the earliest missions and locations. This fits well with the way the narrative scales up, with you beginning as a lowly soldier and only later working your way up to more serious missions. Less amusing as you reach those serious missions is the game's tendency to warn you. A lot. It's not a game that'll hold your hand as you can still mess up, but before it allows you to it'll give you a clear warning in the location description. Fair enough, but it gets a bit (the boy that cried wolf) when the game keeps warning me for almost every new location I enter. I get it, it's dangerous, I can handle it.

Avernum 6 like its predecessors has an overarching tone that is clearly present in writing and location design. Where Avernum 4 was about a post-apocalyptic, despairing feel, and Avernum 5 about frontierism, Avernum 6 emphasizes that the world is getting old, while at the same time the mushroom blight ran out a lot of its populace. Several locations are abandoned, many NPCs tired and despondent. It's a fitting (we're done here) tone for a closing title.

Wisely, the game ties up a lot of loose ends from the previous games, providing appearances of many earlier NPCs (such as X and Solberg) that help finish those characters' stories, as well as providing glances at and possibilities to close the book on factions like the darkside royalists or Rentar-Ihrno's followers. The main story doesn't always jive well with the way many of these longer storylines are tied up, as the events in-game seem a bit small compared to the grand memories you have of these NPCs. But this appears to be intentional: the final message of the very end of the game is that Avernum is by its nature the wild and untamed place it was prior to the events of Avernum 1, and the events of all the Avernum games do little to nothing to change its nature. (It all didn't matter, really) might not be the best message to leave for fans of the titles, but I feel it fits the franchise well.

Conclusion

One thing often asked of Avernum titles is (can I start off with this one?) The answer is always (yes), as each individual Avernum assumes no prior experience with the system or world and explains everything very clearly. But perhaps more than its predecessors, Avernum 6 is a title that is more enjoyable the more you know of the franchise, and new fans may not understand the grandeur of certain sequences (the final events with X spring to mind). If you're interested in the series, I'd recommend starting with Avernum 4, but kicking things off with Avernum 6 is certainly plausible if you understand that you may not fully grasp the scope of some events.

But to view it within the franchise: if there's one thing I want to highlight about Avernum 6, it's to show that even with all the similarities from title to title, Avernum as a series has evolved. Jeff Vogel has clearly learned many things in quest and combat design, and even in writing. In my opinion, Avernum 6 is the best title of the series, keeping an enjoyable pace throughout, and with a weak main story made up for by well-written individual quests and locations. It really makes one regret the series is ending, but at least it's going out on a high note, and perhaps that's for the best.