Avernum: Escape From the Pit

Avernum: Escape From the Pit

Remember when, in well-supervised playground games, you had to take turns? Avernum taps into all that nostalgia, as well as all the comfort that comes from navigating a series of isometric cubes. This RPG is deliberately generic Ė so itís equal parts charming and predictable.

After committing some undisclosed crime, to some petty monarchy, a party of four characters are imprisoned underground. The setting of Escape From the Pit is, quite literally, one enormous dungeon packed with gruesome monsters, glittering loot and quests to kill monsters and/or bring back loot.

The personality of each character is not specified, which I like. You can forge a deeper connection with an avatar that has nothing but a portrait and a name and never ever speaks.

Itís a shame the same minimalist attitude isnít extended to advancing the story. Big text boxes are dreaded, popping up with frustrating regularity. This would be okay if the draw of the game was a unique, genre-deconstructing plot, but the whole point of the game is that itís not. Why would you bother describing a wall as being ďroughly hewn stoneĒ when a) thatís demonstrated by the graphics and b) every single wall in every single piece of fantasy media is made of stone and roughly hewn?

The turn-based combat has a heap of depth. Even something as simple as positioning your small party on the battle grid is important. Thereís a real sense of economy to the spare, unflashy turn-based encounters.

There are subtle problems with the interface, which is an issue for a game that attempts to make an archaic aesthetic accessible. The only way to close the inventory screen, for example, seems to be to press escape (not g, which opens the screen). That is going to infuriate strategy RPG fans, who rely on hotkeys.

At $10 on Steam, Avernum is also a little pricey.
This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2012.
Posted 5:04pm Sunday 22nd April 2012 by Toby Hills.