Avernum: Escape From the Pit|
Avernum: Escape from the Pit might be in the unenviable position of being a remake of a remake, but despite having its roots in a game thatís almost 20 years old, the gameís strong writing carries it through, and earns it a place among the greatest indie RPGs. It might not be the prettiest or best-sounding game in the world, but its strengths are very strong indeed, and fans of old-school RPGs will find a lot to like here.
Youíre been cast out of the Empire, and into an unknown world, the caverns of Avernum deep beneath the surface. Without any knowledge of who or what lives there, youíre expected to die quickly, whether itís from exposure, predators, or your own hand. Despite the initial setup, though, Avernum quickly veers away from the implied themes of moment to moment survival, once you meet the Avernite society at large.
Though thereís a more-or-less functional society deep underground that (of course) doesnít mean your problems are over. The Avernite society is beset by cat- and lizard-men, goblins, and stranger monsters. And, of course, the gameís three main quests, finding escape, revenge, or safety, will keep you occupied for a while. As you explore the caverns and learn about the people and things that live there, the writing is consistently interesting, and the characters that you meet have strong personalities, even relatively inconsequential NPCs. Even the first characters you meet, cunning bandits, desperate refugees, and despairing quartermasters alike are practically dripping with character.
Of course, thereís more to the game than just its plot and writing. As you explore the caves, dungeons and towns of Avernum, youíll find that the interface is really solid; giving you easy access to everything you need to find. The ability to set up a hot bar for spells, abilities and items is especially welcome. Iím not sure if this was part of the earlier gamesí interface, but if it was, it was well ahead of its time, since this interface feels smooth and modern in pretty much every way thatís important without compromising the old-school feel of the game.
It should be said that, although I mentioned that the gameís presentation isnít up to triple-A standards, that doesnít mean itís the kind of game that hates your eyes and ears. The gameís music is atmospheric, but not especially memorable, while the gameís graphics are aesthetically pleasing, but never break into the realms of being really beautiful or striking. Still, they do their job well enough and donít seem dated, so I canít really complain about them.
One of the gameís minor stumbles is that combat, while turn-based and easy to control, doesnít have a whole lot of depth. Thereís not a whole lot of tactics in the form of exploiting weaknesses, setting up for group attacks, or managing resources. There is, of course, the more or less standard and expected RPG tactics of healing wounds as they come up and trying to be efficient with oneís magic, but still, it would have been nice to see a little more punch in this part of the game.
Overall, though, Avernum: Escape from the Pit is a rather good game. It captures the feel of 90s RPGs better than pretty much any other game out there, and scratches the nostalgia itch that players who grew up in the days of Black Isle might have. Itís not without some minor flaws, but they donít do much to subtract from an otherwise excellent package.