App o’ the Morning: Avernum, Escape from the Pit

Usually on Tuesdays I blog about a book I’ve read recently; but in the last few weeks I’ve been doing less reading and more tapping, which is to say, I’ve been playing Spiderweb Software‘s Avernum: Escape from the Pit. I’ve been playing it on the iPad, but it’s also available for Mac and Windows.

Avernum is a classic open world role-playing-game. You have been exiled by the evil Emperor Hawthorne to a dim underworld of caves, giant fungus, and monsters called Avernum. Hawthorne has been using Avernum as his political dumping ground for decades, and as he’s a tyrant, there’s been a whole lot of dumping going on. The Empire has worked hard to close off all of the tunnels to the surface, and the exiles have perforce had to create a working society. But humans are not alone in Avernum. There are also ogres, giants, goblins, gremlins, cat people, and lizard people, all competing for the same territory; and then, the kingdom of Avernum has its own dissidents and trouble-makers who are exiled to a corner of Avernum called the Abyss.

Your first task is to find your bearings; your second is to go exploring for a way out to the surface. But of course, it isn’t that simple. The world is enormous, and in addition to exploring the many towns, dungeons, and just general areas of landscape there are a great many quests to pursue along the way. And the whole world is open to you from the beginning of the game. You can go anywhere you like…at least, if you’re powerful enough to survive.

I especially like the RPG system: the inventory, magic, combat, and so forth. It’s complex enough to be interesting, and simple enough to be fun.

You start with four characters, which you can customize as you like; and you keep the same four characters for the duration of the game. Because you’re controlling multiple characters, the graphics are drawn in isometric perspective, looking down on the map from the side, to give the illusion of three dimensions. Turns out I like that view a lot: I find it much easier to keep my bearings than with a first person view. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

The game operates in two modes, movement and combat. In movement mode, you point to where you want your party to go, and they all four walk over there in single file. When you encounter an enemy, you go into combat mode, which is turn-based. Each character and each monster moves in turn, and can make use of its weapons, spells, and special moves. It gives the game the feel of a turn-based strategy game like Fire Emblem, and there really is some strategy to it. In many battles, if you don’t take advantage of the terrain you get whomped.

I’m just wrapping up my second playthrough (the first was a year or so ago); I’m at the end game and it’s taken me probably forty or fifty hours to get there. I will say, the end game is nearly impossible, and I’ve never beaten it—but it is the only place in the game that I’ve gotten stuck, and I’ve gotten more than enough fun out of it to justify the entry price.

In short, Avernum: Escape from the Pit is simply the most fun I’ve had playing an RPG on the iPad. If you like RPGs, you should check it out.

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