(Posted to Boardgamegeek.com)
AVERNUM: ESCAPE FROM THE PIT
Compatibility: Ipad only
Current Price: $9.99
Developer/Publisher: Spiderweb Software
Size: 150 MB
Multiplayer: not optimal
Itunes link: Avernum: Escape from the Pit
An astonishing amount of detail. A very well realized playing world consistent with other products by Spiderweb Software. Original story and easy, straightforward implementation and gaming interface. Excellent support by publisher.
Cramming a lot of stuff on the screen sometimes makes the simple into complex. Big thumbs versus tiny keys. Really, tiny, tiny font on the dialogue with NPCs status line, and a the lack of a “huh? What did that NPC just say?” rewind button.
Avernum: Escape from the Pit is an Ipad based RPG with a very old fashioned look and feel. By “Old Fashioned”, I mean of an older era, when Ultima or SSI Gold Box AD&D were all the rage. The setting of Avernum is a vast, underground empire that the player characters have been consigned to for some imagined slight against the ruling elite above ground. The challenge of Avernum is to survive and thrive in this atmosphere. Players will be trying to find active work (Quests) that will bring their party experience, fame and enough money for day to day expenses.
Players take the role of a small group of classic RPG characters from the following list:
Soldier: A classic Fighter type
Berserker: Sword Specialists.
Priest: Cleric type, uses healing magic but can fight with melee weapons
Sorcerer: Classic user of otherworldly Arts.
Rogue: Essentially a Thief character.
Archer: A missile weapons specialist.
Rebel: Like a Ranger– good with Traps, Weapons and Lore.
Hedge Wizard: A low powered wizard with some healing capabilities.
Shaman: Essentially a Priest who isn’t as good with spells but fights better.
Custom: A character that can be a little bit of all of the above, customized based on your own design.
Each character has a set of skills that pertain to his or her character’s job. These skills increase with experience as the character faces challenges– often combat. Characters traits become usable in combat by pressing buttons on the bottom of the screen. The number of experience points earned is directly related to the level of skill challenges being faced by the character. The skills element of a character reminded me of D&D 4th Edition. just a little.
Once four characters are created, they become a party (Avernum also comes with four pre-generated characters). Parties move in an isometric view from place to place with one character leading the pack of them. Action is turn-based with two kinds of time: Ordinary moving and exploring time, where action doesn’t require micro-management and one leader figure moves with the others trailing behind; and Combat, where an overlay grid shows up and you can be more precise about placement and actions of individual characters in your party.
Combat is very well realized; time changes from “questing” mode to “combat” mode and the player has greater control over where a character should move to during the fight. As each character tends to be a specialist of sorts, the player moves the characters to where they have the greatest advantage– a few boxes away for archers and spellcasters, closer up for melee fighters, etc. Classic D&D stuff, really.
Exploring/Questing mode moves action and time along in a sped up fashion. The party moves from place to place, explores new areas (revealing more terrain as they go) and interacts with the NPCs in this mode– the dialogue flashes by at the bottom of the screen in a status bar. The party can also can pick up stuff they find by standing next to it (it appears in their character screen as “on the ground”) and adding it to their “junk bag”, or player inventory. Inventory is important in this backstory– as the players are underground, where everything that is manufactured had to be brought from the surface and is therefore very rare.
The goal of the Avernum is very open-ended; the players are trying to get ahead and stay alive, explore the giant underground empire of Avernum’s Pits, and fulfill certain quests for worldly gain and experience. I have been playing steadily for two weeks now and do not consider the plot to be overly linear in nature. There are some points where recurring characters show up to interfere with your plans, but the nature of the game design is such that you can play along or not as you see fit.
I started with the canned four characters (suitably edited for my tastes) and have created two other parties to give all the player types a shot. My sense of the game is to always have a decent Melee type in the lead, and that means a Fighter. You should also have a missile specialist around– not necessarily the Archer, but anyone who can fire something from a distance. Having someone around who can heal somebody is essential. Priests are most effective at this. Sorcerers are good for a very damaging Fire spell. I didn’t see as much need for the Rebel or Rogue characters.
The interface is less than perfect, but does a great job with the screen real estate available and the graphic standards being implemented. I found the dialogue with NPCs tends to zip by and I felt like I kept missing important points that I would regret later. Also, the classic big thumbs-small buttons problem I tend to have with IoS games with tiny buttons cropped up. My giant Irish potato diggin’ thumbs were pressing two buttons at once, and sometimes had me moving characters into combat when I really didn’t want them to. This is mostly a factor of the screen real estate and I really don’t expect it to be ‘fixable’ per se, just something someone has to overcome with practice. Other than that small impediment I have nothing but praise for this design. Geeks of a certain age look back on a bygone era of gaming that featured Ultima, the Pool of Radiance, and other great computer RPGs of the early 90s. Nobody really wants that graphic standard again, but it was pleasantly engrossing to revisit that old style of play again, leading a party around, vanquishing bad guys, confronting boss monsters and taking their stuff. RPGs on the computer are not as absorbing to me as the more open-ended pen and pencil based affairs of my youth were but they can definitely hook me in if the game world appears to be massive enough. Avernum’s great strength is the game setting– the massive underground world being depicted makes the player feel like anything is possible.
I love big, sprawling games with tons of potential game play and lots of replay value. Avernum really delivers on its roleplaying premise. The designers at Spiderweb have taken pains to integrate the roleplaying experience in the Pits with their other shareware games’ story arcs. The story logic is engrossing and consistent, and the action is non-stop in places. Avernum is open ended enough for players to poke around everywhere yet defined enough for a story to be told. I loved it!