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Avernum 3 - First Look
Review - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Sun 20 October 2002, 04:28:40Tags: Avernum 3; Spiderweb Software
A Brief Overview
Avernum 3, like most sequels, starts off where the previous game ends. The evil Empire has been defeated and vanquished from the depths of Avernum.
Well, let's back up a bit, shall we? Avernum, as you learned in the first game, is basically a huge, underground sprawl that is inaccessible from the surface. As such, it makes a fantastic place to send people you don't want, which is what the Empire does with it. Basically, the goal of most people is to find a way out of this place, since it's obviously not as nice below ground as it is above ground.
Well, seeing as how the Empire is evil, and it has a figurehead, someone finds a way out of Avernum and assassinates the ruler of the Empire. This just doesn't please the Empire much at all, so they decide to invade Avernum for a bit of retribution, which sets up Avernum 2. Long story, greatly shortened, the Avernumites band together, find some allies, and whip the tar out of the Imperial forces. After a while, no one in Avernum hears from the Empire ever again.
Don't worry, folks. I didn't spoil anything that you won't find out at the beginning of Avernum 3 anyway.
Avernum 3 starts with the Avernumites getting a little curious why they haven't heard from the Empire in so long. Curiosity gets the better of them, so they start to dig their way out of the gloom of Avernum. They construct a huge fortress, called Fort Emergence. This fortress is designed to make sure that passage in to Avernum is only one way, in case the Empire is waiting for them on the other side.
Luckily for you, and to make the game interesting, you and your party are the crew selected to be the second guys leaving the depths of Avernum to see what the deal is on the surface. You start off in Fort Emergence, where you're treated to a summary of the history of Avernum as well as a little preparation for what you can expect on the surface. Fort Emergence has some interesting facilities you can tour in the beginning of the game as well. Be sure to ask Eva about the above ground creatures they've collected for study.
The Game Mechanics
Basically, Avernum 3 plays in a pretty old school fashion. For the most part, you'll be using your keyboard to do most everything as opposed to Spiderweb's other recent RPG, Geneforge, which was mouse driven. The interface, frankly, is cumbersome until you get used to all the keystrokes involved. For example, to have a look around, you hit the "L" key, then type in the letter that corresponds to what you want to examine.
There are mouse shortcuts for these things, but after a while, you should figure out that the keyboard is the better route to go. I also won't fault Spiderweb too much for this interface, since it's used to it's fullest. There are lots of signs around the game, bookshelves and other containers, as well as various features of the terrain around you. It's also very important to read signs, since there are a few that can keep you out of trouble. Signs warning you to turn back are usually there to set the mood in a lot of games. In Avernum 3, they usually mean what they say.
Dialogue is presented in the standard tree form that most RPGs use. It's a simple enough system that works well in most games. Unfortunately, unlike Geneforge or Fallout, there is no skill affecting dialogue. Avernum 3 does allow you to save snippets of dialogue in a note journal that you can access at any time, if you have the foresight to save those notes. Additionally, the information boxes that pop up also allow you to save them for future reference. This is a fairly nice feature for those people who wander around trying to collect quests rather than just get a quest, do it, and find another.
Like most RPGs, quests are handed out by talking to people to get jobs. You're assigned the main job of getting information about the surface and Empire, which is your main task in the beginning of the game. From there, you're free to pick out quests you want to do. On the surface, there are even places you can get courier style jobs, which pay very well if you're willing to do a bit of Fed-Ex travelling. The catch is, those jobs have time limits. If you can't complete these jobs in the time allowed, the courier service is reluctant to allow you back to work.
Combat in the game is simple enough to learn. It's a rather simple, turn based tactical format where you have Action Points that allow you to do so much per turn. Generally, the person with the highest Dexterity goes first, followed by the second highest Dexterity person, and so on. There's nothing particularly awe inspiring or new in Avernum 3's combat, but it's fairly quick compared to some other games' turn based systems. If you're looking for gobs of depth here, you won't find it. That's not to say it's not pleasant, it's just very streamlined.
The character system is fairly similar to GURPS style systems. You have primary attributes as well as skills, both of which can be raised during the course of the game. Upon creation, however, you can pick from one of three races, including Humans, Nephilim which are feline people, or Sliths which are lizard people. You can pick from a class list, or create your own since classes are mainly just a means of sorting the skills you may or may not want based on an archetypal role. If you want a bow toting, fire ball slinging, nature guy, you're free to create one.
Another nice thing about the character system is it allows you to start your character with advantages or disadvantages at the cost or bonus of experience. For example, you can pick something like Good Education, which gives you a bonus to things that require knowledge. However, you'll suffer a -15% penalty to gaining experience because it gives your character a natural advantage over the run of the mill, generic character. However, you can offset this with a disadvantage, such as Cursed at Birth which makes you rather unlucky.
There is one thing I don't really like about the system in Avernum 3. To gain full benefit from levelling up, you have to go seek out trainers. This often means a hike back to Fort Emergence early in the game in order to receive training. Also, training not only costs you the skill points you earn from level up, but it also requires you to pay for the training with your hard earned loot money. At the beginning of the game, your purse is very tight, so you may have to make additional raids on bandits and goblins in order to get the money required to get your entire party up to specs. While this system may be more realistic, it's not entirely fun.
Avernum 3 probably won't win any prizes for it's graphics, and a lot of people may not like the interface for it. It is a very fun little RPG, though. The game is loaded with polish, such as little surprises when you're roaming around in the wilderness, interesting dungeon locations, some good bits of humor, and a heck of a lot of scripting everywhere.
If you can get passed the little things in the game, you may find there's a lot to like. Most locations you'll find are well thought out, and have a lot of detail in them. There are a lot of good design elements working within the game itself, even if there may be a few issues with the mechanics around them.
For those interested in trying the game, you can find both the Macintosh and Windows demos on the official site. At 12MB, it shouldn't be too much of a strain even for the lowly modem people.