GB Feature: Avernum: Escape From the Pit Review

Should you find yourself craving an isometric CRPG experience this weekend, then look no further than our full review of Avernum: Escape From the Pit to hear more about one of the strongest contenders you'll currently find on the market.  A sampling:
The combat itself takes a form that should be instantly familiar both to Spiderweb fans and fans of Western RPGs in general. Movement is grid-based, with each character assigned a set number of action points per turn. Usually, battles will see you outnumbered, sometimes with a five-to-one ratio or more, although there are a lot of fights against small groups of powerful creatures as well. The zone-of-control mechanic remains from previous Spiderweb titles, preventing characters from freely moving when enemies are breathing down their throats. Battle disciplines have been hit with the nerf stick compared to some Spiderweb games, which severely limits the functionality of warriors and mostly relegates them to tanking roles. In terms of balance, polearms and shields are severely outclassed by dual-wielding, and archery doesn't do enough damage to be worthwhile in most cases; magic is extremely powerful in comparison, to the point where your mages will probably be doing over 90% of your total damage output.

The actual quality of combat encounters is very hit or miss. There is a lot of filler combat in the game, albeit given its open-ended nature that's not surprising, and much of it is necessary for leveling properly (as most quests give only a small amount of experience points). Moreover, while you have a lot of options in buffing, summoning monsters and so on, almost always the best choice is simply to eliminate as many enemies as quickly as possible, especially when you're faced with large hordes. Instead of a focus on preparation and using the right tools for the job, usually you'll just be spamming area-of-effect attacks with your mages and priests, while your fighters hold the enemies at bay. When you actually need to dig into your pockets and use the more advanced abilities, fighting is great - but it's almost never necessary, leaving much of the combat feeling grindy and repetitive. The same goes true for some of the more exotic weapons, potions, scrolls, wands and so on - they come in handy from time to time, but usually simply attacking is the better choice, which means most of them are reduced to vendor trash.