When writing up these little articles, I tend to try to focus on games that many haven't played before, while still remaining decent games in their own right. Today, the spotlight shines on another older game, which itself is a complete remake of an even older game. So let's delve into the details on Avernum, by Spiderweb Software.
Avernum is an isometric RPG set in the underground world called, creatively enough, Avernum. As the game starts, you are asked to create your party of four, and are told that the Empire controls the surface world, while using Avernum as its personal prison, sending convicts, malcontents, and disagreeable citizens down into the depths to rot. Decent RPG, Crappy character art.
If this seems at all familiar, Avernum is a remake of an older game by the same company, called Exile: Escape from the Pit. Many of the same concepts from Exile return, although there were a few changes. In Exile, party size was 6 characters, but characters had to eat after a certain number of steps. If the party ran out of food, characters would starve to death, gradually losing HP as they continued along. Avernum makes this easier by removing the food requirement, and has better inventory and character management.
Creating characters is one of the areas where Avernum shines, letting you pick from pre-defined classes, or letting you build a custom class by selecting stats and traits on your own. Each character in Avernum can have up to two personal traits that affect them in some way. There are both positive and negative traits, and selecting positive traits increases the amount of XP needed to level, while negative traits lower the required XP. It's a trade-off that you need to think about when creating a character.
I picked the Sexy Warrioress trait. Oh Baby.
By today's standards, or really, even by the standards of 2000, when the game was originally released, the graphics are laughable. There is no animation for characters walking, and little detail due to the zoomed out view. However, the game itself is rather deep, and the graphics are functional and clear enough so that you can tell what you're looking at. Most anything of importance is described in text, which is fairly well written and mostly error-free.
I sure hope my video card can handle this...
Combat in Avernum is turn based, with faster characters moving ahead of slower ones. When entering combat, the party is transported to a battle screen. Each turn, a character has a certain number of Action Points they can use. Moving 1 space uses 1 AP, and actions also use different amounts of AP. There is a bit of leeway with characters, since they must first be reduced to 0 HP and then take another hit after that before they are killed. Monster groups are not pushovers, and it's not a good idea to stray too far from town without either good equipment or a good healer to back you up.
To this day, there are 5 games in the Avernum series. Avernum 1-4 follow the main plot, with 1-3 being remakes of the original three Exile games. The fifth game, known as Blades of Avernum follows the same concept as another older game, Blades of Exile (see a theme here?) where different modules could be loaded, allowing for different adventures. This version also comes with a construction kit, allowing people to create their own modules using the Avernum engine, though I haven't looked into that so much. Avernum 5 is reportedly in the works.
The games are shareware, and are still sold by the original creator, over at http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com
, although there are demos of each for download. Registering gets you an unlock code to access the rest of the game. (I'm sure there are unscrupulous ways to get these codes out there on the interwebs, but hey, if you like a game, why not support it?)