Second remake of the classic Exile series' first part, Avernum: Escape From the Pit is classic roleplaying at its best! Basically, you play as a party of adventurers, who were exiled into a huge cavern, Avernum, far below the surface of the world. You have to find a new purpose here, which basically means doing all kinds of odd-jobs and quests for mayors, wizards and kings of the underworld and, while you're at it, trying to escape your dark prison.
The controls have been streamlined for the 2010s. Like in Avernum, the first remake, the game is still isometric and tile-based. However, you can finally control the characters efficiently with a mouse. This works splendidly, though the controls have frankly lost some of the function of the earlier games: e.g. you can no longer close doors (unless I've yet to discover how). Also, the pathfinding algorithm does some weird stuff sometimes when your preferred path is blocked, making characters run into wrong direction (and at worst, their DOOOOM). There's still no music (except in the title screen and the few cut scenes): use your favorite epic adventure music instead.
Skill system has basically been remade, though the comedic art of the skill descriptions has been appreciatively retained. Skills are now learned in trees, with a basic skill in the bottom and every subsequent skill requiring the below skills before they can be developed. Also, characters gain bonus traits every few levels gaining small bonuses to different skills and stats. It's a matter of taste if these are good or bad changes, but the whole works nevertheless quite fine.
Combat has always been a rather important part of Avernum series. Turn-based, the basics are still there. However, some additions and changes have been made. Warriors have gained special skills called battle disciplines to supplement their fighting ability, making them a bit more interesting and tactical than before. Spells have been remade as well since original Avernum. Particularly, all the blessings and curses have become area effects, and multi-hit spells are now cone or area attacks instead of simply hitting a number of targets.
Frankly, the hard-coreness of the series has dulled quite a bit with this latest installment. No longer are the dark dungeons truly dark, as you don't benefit from bringing a torch or casting light spells (which were actually removed altogether). There is no need to eat to satisfy hunger nor deal with dangerous diseases, and death is no longer so much a set-back as party is automatically resurrected and healed at a friendly town, removing the need for inns and renting rooms. You may no longer jump down ledges (which was never that healthy anyway). Identification of magical items has also been removed (albeit hilariously explained by "adventurers having better training nowadays"), and potion making has become a trade secret of alchemists, so your party can't learn it itself any longer. Spiders no longer say "hi!" in a high-pitched voice audibly. Along with these changes Avernum has lost part of its legacy and spark.
What is left, however, is an excellent RPG adventure in a unique fantasy world. The streamlining makes the game more accessible and lets the player concentrate on what's really important: dialogue, exploration and questing. And their implementation is simply brilliant. There are tens, if not hundreds, of characters in the game who all have their own dialogue trees, and several tens of dungeons and towns to explore, everyone of them extremely detailed. Enemies are still dangerous, and mini-bosses and bosses are refreshingly difficult to beat.
Game is not only high-quality, for there's also quite a lot of it. My first play-through, on Hard difficulty level, lasted about 80 hours. Want to just experience the story? Play on Normal or even Casual difficulty, and you may even change it mid-game. However, the highest difficulty level, Torment, provides an amply named challenge for an experienced player, requiring advance planning and lots of re-exploring in areas that were previously too dangerous. Seriously though, I recommend playing your first game on Hard difficulty at max, as Torment can get tedious if you don't know where to go for the next admissible challenge.
Robust tactical combat.
Epic questing to become true heroes.
Not convinced? You may as well give it a try.
The demo is available at http://www.avernum.com/avernum/index.html,
letting you play through, I believe, about one third of the full game.
Posted: December 1st, 2013