Avernum: Escape From the Pit for OS X review

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Genre: Role-Playing game (RPG)
Format: Download and CD
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Mac Publisher: Spiderweb Software
System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.4 or later, 800 MHz processor (minimum 1.6 GHz processor recommended), video card or processor with OpenGL support and 32 MB video RAM (64 MB recommended), 512 MB RAM, 200 MB hard disk space, and 1024×600 screen resolution with 32 bit color.
Review Computer: Mac OS v10.5.8, Dual 533 MHz PowerPC G4, 1.5 GB RAM; 128 MB video RAM
Network Feature: n/a
Processor Compatibility: Intel and PowerPC
Price: $20 digital download, $26 with CD ($10 discount if you purchased Exile: Escape From the Pit or Avernum). $6 for an Avernum hint book (download) or $8 (mailed copy).
ESRB Rating: n/a
Availability: Out Now
Demo: Spiderweb Software (162.4 MB)

Do you enjoy playing computer games where your heart races as you explore dungeons for lost treasures and hidden magical secrets? Do you want time to ponder your next move in combat with the game rewarding smart playing as opposed to fast reflexes? If this describes you, then Avernum: Escape From the Pit from Spiderweb Software could be just the game you were looking for.

Avernum: Escape From the Pit takes place on a world controlled by the Empire and the cruel Emperor Hawthorne. If you don’t fit in, if you speak out against the injustices of the Empire or anger the wrong people, then you get sent far below the surface to Avernum. There, you’re expected to die horribly or live without even the smallest comforts to which you’re accustomed, such as the warm sun on your skin or good food to eat. Once you arrive, you’re surprised to find that those who were sent down before you have formed cities with hard work and magic. They also have many foes and even more problems that need solving, which means your new career as a wandering adventurer is about to begin.

Avernum: Escape from the Pit

The first thing you do after starting a new game is make up to four characters by either using the party that’s already made for you or making your own. The only choices you can make are name, appearance, and class (which determines what skills the characters have at the start of the game). While you will have many ways to customize each character as you play, you aren’t given a lot of choices at the beginning.

Avernum: Escape From the Pit

This is a good thing, as having to decide what your characters should be good at before you play is kind of like ordering desert before the appetizers have arrived. Having to know about the game before you can play the game so you don’t make mistakes making your characters is rather silly, and it’s good that you just pick the general class type and start playing.

Your adventures start shortly after you’re thrown into the portal and arrive under Fort Avernum where you’re immediately attacked by enemies, both beast and human. After you make your way to the surface, so to speak, you’re given gear and information about Avernum. At that point you can go anywhere you please and do whatever you want, although you’re given pointers so you’re not without guidance. Every city has a jobs board with quests, and talking to people will give you even more. Completing quests gives you needed gold, experience, gear, and a reputation which will be needed to talk to important people.

Avernum: Escape From the Pit

In the beginning you fight the Nephilim, a race of cat people who were also sent into Avernum from the surface by the Empire. Because of this they hate all humans, even though the Avernites would be an ally against the Empire. Later you meet the Slithzerikai, giant reptile humanoids who are angry at being driven out from their cave by the humans and want revenge. The quests have a random quality at first where you are going around fighting against these and other enemies of Avernum. You meet dragons, talk to friendly spiders, and clean out crypts of the undead.

This changes when you stumble across the Scimitar, a group who wants to find a path out of Avernum, and Erika Redmark, who wants revenge on the Empire for sending her to Avernum. Then Grah-Hoth, a demon who ruled over the caves before being banished, attacks and needs to be defeated for good. These are the three big quests you can complete to win Avernum, and you can do one, two, or all three of them.

In order to be able to beat Avernum, you’ll need to be able to beat up the bad guys first, which is done with turn-based combat and action points. Everyone gets 8 action points which are used when you move (1 point per space), attack or cast a spell (9 points), and use an item (such as a wand) or drink a potion (5 points). As long as you have 1 point left you can still make an action, which means you can drink a potion and then cast a spell, such as when your healer is out of magic points and needs energizing to heal the party. Fighter can use a wand and still be able to use their sword against a foe next to them, or mages can get into position to be able to affect the most foes with their spells.

Avernum: Escape from the Pit

When you’re out of action points or want to end your turn early, the next person takes his/her turn. After the battle ends, you recover health and magic points based on the amount of first aid skill you have in your party.

After you get enough experience through combat and quests, you’ll level up which will provide a variety of ways to customize your characters. One of the features I like is that you aren’t limited in the skills each person can learn. Just because you picked a character to be an archer doesn’t mean she can’t learn how to heal as well. A fighter can focus on defense and attract the attention of foes, or get a bonus to damage if he attacks next to another party member. A mage and priest can get traits that increase their spell damage, or they can increase the level of their summoned pets or make their buffs more effective. It’s up to you if you want to ignore miscellaneous skills such as lock picking and cave lore in favor of duel-wielding or lethal blow.

You can also purchase some training with gold, and there are some items that increase your ability with skills as well. While it’s still a good idea to focus on a few abilities since being able to put a point in every skill doesn’t mean you should, the skill and trait system gives you flexibility without being overwhelming.

Avernum: Escape from the Pit

Avernum: Escape From the Pit is an amazing game which will provide hours of fun because it has everything an adventure game should have; a riveting story, interesting characters, exciting combat, and lots of exploring. I would even go so far as to say it’s a nearly perfect example of a role-playing game.

Don’t believe me? It’s easy to download the free demo and try it out for yourself before you buy and if you ever get stuck the Spiderweb Software forums are there to help you.

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Avernum: Escape From the Pit

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  • Jonas

    In the spirit of praising customization, might be worth adding that you do not even have to choose a class from the beginning, but can go with a completely customized adventurer. Classes in Avernum provide no hidden or class-specific bonuses or abilities, just a pre-set skill distribution, much like in Oblivion.

    Very nice review!

    • Erica Marceau

      Thanks for making this clear. I intended to get this point across but should have been more direct.

      Thanks also for the compliment on the review.

  • Jeremy Hiebert

    Great review, even greater game. Very inspired storytelling and revitalization of the old story, which hopefully will pass into a much-loved legend. Nothing’s greater than when Garzahd steps aside to let you kill the evil emperor.

    • Erica Marceau

      Thanks for the compliment on the review and I agree completely about ensuring Avernum 1 doesn’t get left behind from the latest operating systems and devices, since it will get released for the iPad and Windows in a few months as well.

      There are very few games which deserve to have 3 versions of it made and the Exile/Avernum 1-3 is definitely at the top of the list.

      I am looking forward to the remake of Exile/Avernum 2 and 3 as well, but they’ll most likely be made after Avadon 2 gets released later this year.

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