Avernum: Escape From the Pit HD is considered an old-school RPG, but that’s selling the game short. Old school visually? Okay. But can a story be old school? Can engrossing gameplay? Can a well-implemented touch screen interface? Not really. So don’t pick up the iPad version of Spiderweb Software’s epic fantasy adventure for nostalgic purposes, pick it up because it’s a great game.
What is it?
Avernum: Escape From the Pit HD is a role-playing game in the purest sense of the term. The premise is wonderful. The planet surface is ruled by the evil Emperor Hawthorne. Speak out against him, and you’re banished to the volcanic underworld of Avernum. You learned this the hard way, and there you’re expected to die, either by the elements, by monsters, or by the hand of other exiled criminals.
But when you arrive, you find that survivors are building an underground nation. Who will you join to survive, and can you use them to help you exact revenge on Hawthorne and the others on the surface?
How does it work?
As you’d expect (and want) from an RPG, the game begins with you creating your character. It’s a robust system that allows for plenty of customization, but it never felt overwhelming. Spiderweb’s years of experience developing many RPGs has resulted in an efficient character system that translates well to the iPad.
After your character is created, you being the adventure in Avernum. You can stick directly to the story, but Avernum offers dozens of side quests that will help you level up your character and yield special weapons that will help you on your way.
It’s here, actually, that the game can inundate those new to RPGs. There are so many towns and dungeons to explore that it’s easy to get lost or to forget what you’re doing (a hint book can be purchased to help you along). Avernum isn’t a game you can play in short bursts and then leave for a couple of weeks; the depth requires long sessions and a major time investment, both as you learn/master the gameplay and character options and as you make your towards one of three game-winning endings, based on the decisions you made throughout the game.
There’s plenty of turn-based combat to face, with some deceptively tough opponents. A combination of the right weapons for your party members, high character levels, and strategy will be needed to work your way through the game, which often involves some trial and error. And although the touch screen does work okay for party movement and item selection, Mac and Windows gamers will miss the precision and comfort of gaming with a mouse.
Is it contagious?
Well, I’m sure having fun with it, but I’m a sucker for these kind of games. Those attached to PS3 quality visuals will be put off by the simple graphics, but the design does carry nicely across the UI and there are some fun
What works here, though, is that Avernum: Escape From the Pit was already a great game for computers, and it has lost little with its move to the iPad. Take this one with you on car trips, use it to replace your TV shows on summer break, whatever. No self-respecting fan of RPGs should be without it.