I've been loving this game so far. I was recently reminded that I had this, because of the release of Crystal Souls just the other day.. and boy am I sorry I forgot about Avernum for this long. I should have played this ages ago!
First thing I wanted to do was clear up the order these games are supposed to be in, because with so many Spiderweb Software games, it can be a little confusing to newcomers (like myself, until I did some research)
This is a remake of "Avernum" which itself is a remake of "Exile: Escape From the Pit". The newly released Crystal Souls is a remake of Exile 2/Avernum 2. Exile 3/Avernum3 is also supposedly getting a second remake in the future.
I know that sounds confusing, so just know that this game, Avernum: EFtP is the first game, remade for the second time. Also, I've been told that the stories are self-contained, so you don't really HAVE to play them in order. Though, with a world as unique as Avernum, I bet it helps in understanding the lore a bit.
So what makes this world so unique? Most fantasy RPGs take place on the surface of a very earth-like world. There's plains, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, etc.. it all looks very familiar. In Avernum, that sort of place exists.. but that's not where you play. You, your party, and countless other individuals have all been exiled to the underworld. It's a vast underground cavern, whose light comes from glowing moss on the ceiling.
People survive by growing edible mushrooms, and receiving occasional supply shipments from the Empire.. the very people who sent everyone down here. There are some cows, sent down by the empire, but without proper food, they grow sick and weak quite quickly. Mages have managed to create things that kinda look like trees, just so the citizens have wood to build with.
Magical equipment is extremely rare in this world.. It's all but impossible to create any, so most of it comes from adventurers who were sent down to Avernum with their gear, then were killed and looted. It's a harsh world.
Despite all the hardships, though, people have banded together to form towns, forts, and a government. Of course some still decide to rebel and become bandits, or seek a way to rise into a position of power, but most people seem to live in harmony and cooperate. And that's a good thing, because if they didn't work together, they'd never be able to fight off the Nephilim (cat people who hold a grudge against all humans for being sent down to Avernum) and the Sliths (lizard men, apparently native to Avernum, and most of them crave human flesh.)
The gameplay is exellent. At the beginning of the game, you create a party.. your people can be whatever class you want, or 'custom'. You spend a lot of your time walking around as a party, talking to people, getting quests, learning about the world, etc.. there are blacksmiths and such in every town, to buy equipment from. There are secrets to find, and plenty of loot to pick up..
When you're not in a town or dungeon, you'll be on the overworld, where everything is zoomed way back. You can encounter enemies, special events, and other stuff out on the overworld.. and of course also travel from place to place. The overworld is pretty darn big, and there are a lot of places to go.
When in combat, the game turns turn-based.. You move and attack with your characters one at a time.. Each character has a certain amount of AP to move with, and are allowed to attack once, or cast 1 spell per turn.. It's simple, but not TOO simple. It has a good flow, without sacrificing too much strategic depth.
When you level up, you're able to assign attribute points, improve your skills on the skill tree, and sometimes pick a new perk/feat as well. Pretty basic leveling up, but again simple/basic isn't a bad thing. The game manages to do a lot with what seems like simple mechanics.
The main thing that will be an issue for some is that the graphics look very dated... and I'm sorry to repeat the same thing everyone else says, but here it goes... Graphics aren't important. Maybe it's different for people not old enough to have grown up with older-looking graphics, but it doesn't bother me. Sure, I like a pretty-looking game from time to time.. but it's really not a requirement for me.. but, of course, not everyone will agree. Everybody has thier own opinions.. so take a look at the screenshots. If it looks unbearable to you, don't get it. If you think you can put up with oldschool graphics in order to play an amazing game, get it.
Anyway, I feel like I've written a much longer review than most people will bother to read, so I'll cut it short here. Thanks for reading.