I have nearly 500 games in my Steam account, and the vast majority of them are still unplayed. So now I'm dedicating an hour to each of these games and writing a series of One Hour Reviews. An hour isn't very long to judge a game on, so think of this as more of a first impression, and take this review in the spirit in which it's given. Be sure to read other reviews from players who have spent more time in the game.
One Hour Reviews - Game 16
Purchase Date: 7/11/2013
I've reviewed a few other of Spiderweb Software's games, and I am starting to feel like I'm writing the same review for each of them. I can see where that would sound bad, because it implies that all of their games are very cookie-cutter. I don't really see it like that, it's rather that all of Spiderweb's games are written as spiritual successors of the old school role playing games that you played in the 80s, particularly Ultima.
Spiderweb makes a very particular kind of game, and so in that sense once you have played one, you have a pretty good idea of what you are in for with their other games as well.
Everything is presented in a 2D tile based system, rendered in a top-down isometric view. With everything in 2D, this means the camera is fixed, so there's no rotating the view, and no zooming in and out of the map. But it also means you don't have to worry about fighting with the camera. This simple presentation works pretty well, the only drawback is occasionally a door or wall may obscure your view and make it a little hard to distinguish targets.
You control a party of 4 characters. In Avernum 4 you select your party at the start of the game (other games have you meeting your companions as you play). For each party member you can select a character type (class) to play, pick some traits, and spend some skill points on an initial set of skills. As for the look of your character you are very limited here. The game lets you pick a race, and each race has a couple of preset character portraits (which also imply your gender).
Once you start the game, Avernum will give you the basics on moving around and equipping your characters. Pretty much every one of Spiderweb's games starts out this way. I continue to appreciate how accesible these games are to new players. Often when you think of old school gaming you will associate that with extreme difficulty and usability issues. That's never been the case with any of these games.
The sound is nothing to get excited about. There are a few generic sounds for most actions. Monsters that attack always sound like the same barking dog. Even for an "old school" game, I think they could have put more time into adding some variety to the sounds.
Avernum quickly introduces you to it's turn-based combat system. Characters have a limited number of actions points to spend between moving and performing actions, such as casting a spell or attacking an enemy. Classes have different abilities as you would expect. Since the game is all presented in 2D, it's natural for the movement to be grid based.
I started on normal difficulty, and found some of the early fights still posed some challenge. I had my primary character get knocked out from a single blow. So long as at least one member of your party survives, you can just run back to the city gates and your whole party will automatically be healed. So there isn't really a death penalty to speak of, and this game definitely wouldn't be described as a roguelike.
I spent the rest of my first hour of gameplay clearing out a dungeon of goblins, and slowly equipping my characters with dropped loot. An hour is no time to get a sense of the story, but it's a safe bet that you can expect a long epic storyline, which is the norm for Spiderweb's games.
I continue to enjoy these games and would recommend them for anyone who enjoys an old school experience. In fact, you might just consider buying the entire bundle, rather than just this game. The current complete pack from Spiderweb contains 13 games and is priced for $45. So even at a non sale price, that comes out to just over 3 bucks a game. Considering the amount of time you can spend in these games, it's a great bargain.