second chance games

Search This Website of delight

Avernum 3: Ruined World is the latest release from the prolific mind of Jeff Vogel over at Spiderweb Software. The game is actually a r...

Avernum 3: Ruined World Avernum 3: Ruined World

Avernum 3: Ruined World

Avernum 3: Ruined World

Avernum 3: Ruined World is the latest release from the prolific mind of Jeff Vogel over at Spiderweb Software. The game is actually a remaster of a remake of Exile 3 which came out way back in the 90's. Although the game isn't entirely new, it has been greatly improved and expanded on since those previous releases. Mr. Vogel has spent literally decades pumping out these kinds of RPG's and mastering his craft, and it shows in this newest release.

If you aren't familiar with the series you might be wondering, if this is Avernum 3, what happened in the first two games? Well, there isn't nearly enough time to explain it all here in detail, but we can hit the highlights and bring the story up to where Avernum 3 begins. The series is set in a fantasy world where an all powerful Empire controls the known world with an iron fist and sends those it doesn't like into exile in an underground world, Avernum. This world is made up of massive caverns that stretch on for miles and are helpfully lit up by glowing flora. As more and more people are teleported down into this subterranean continent, they eventually begin to build up a civilization of their own, with towns and forts spread across the land. Forts, because Avernum is of course filled with dangerous beasts and other races which aren't too excited about sharing their home. 

In the first game you play as a group of exiles freshly sent down into Avernum where you must learn about the land and find your place in it. Over the course of the game your party proves its usefulness and eventually takes part in finding a way back to the surface and attacking the Empire. Spoiler alert for a 20 year old game: the story climaxes with the assassination of the emperor on the surface. Skip ahead five years and the story of Avernum 2 begins, the empire strikes back (heh) at the Avernites, and your party must find a way to survive and defeat them. This involves making new allies and solving other conflicts so that your side can win the war. Avernum 3 picks up ten years after the end of that war, and the Avernites, after a long period of peace, are preparing to return to the surface in great numbers. Before that though, someone needs to explore the surface and see what's what. That's where you come in.

Avernum 3 opens with your party of adventurers being selected to head up to the surface following loss of contact with the first group of explorers. Your orders are simple but broad: go to the surface, learn everything you can, and then report back what you find. Stepping out into the sunlight is a very cool moment, where you can imagine the joy of your characters as they see the world they were banished from for the first time in many years, or perhaps ever. You'll have to imagine it, since as you might have noticed from the screenshots, Avernum is not a series to be played for its stunning visuals. More on that later though. As your group heads out into the world, you quickly find that there was a reason that the Empire has gone quiet for so long. Various plagues of monsters have overrun the world and have the people there on the verge of collapse. Hence the title, Avernum 3: Ruined World. Instead of fighting the people and soldiers of the Empire, you'll soon find yourself helping them out. This isn't purely out of altruism, the people of Avernum want to colonize this place, and that can't happen if it is a wasteland of monsters and destruction.

So that covers the broad strokes of the setting and the opening situation of the game. I don't want to go any further, since the story quickly throws some curve balls at you that add plenty of intrigue to your mission. Just a teaser though: you'll find yourself heading back down into Avernum to inquire about some rather unexpected oddities you discover on the surface. I also must admit that I have not finished the game, since it has a ton of content and there was no way to come anywhere near completing it in time for this review. However, I have played a few of the other titles from Spiderweb Software, and they are very consistent in their quality, so I have no doubt that the game only gets better as it goes along. 

Let's visit the topic of graphics and sound. This is no Witcher 3 or Pillars of Eternity, the graphics here are very simple, and the sound effects and music are minimal at best. There is very little animation and not much in the way of flashy spell effects. I completely understand if some people find that to be a deal breaker, there are tons of gorgeous RPG's out there to spend your time on if you want some juicy visuals to go with your questing and monster slaying. All of that said, the game does a lot with what it has. The environments have been created with a high level of care, and are filled to the brim with little details. The world feels very lived in, despite having only bare bones graphics. To help fill in the gaps for your imagination, text boxes frequently pop up to set the scene as you enter different areas and encounter NPCs. These descriptions, along with the large volumes of dialogue you will read, are all very well written and form the heart of the RPG side of the game. Without the high quality text bringing the mostly static visuals to life, the game would be a lot less enjoyable.

As you explore the game world, you will meet many interesting characters who have a lot to say about who they are and what they do. These little bits of flavor breath life into the story, as they help you understand the culture and day to day life of this fascinating landscape. Some of these people will have quests for you to accomplish, like in any good RPG. One thing I love about this game is that it uses the old school system of forcing the player to actually pay attention to the dialogue in order to understand where they need to go and what they need to do. There is no quest compass to mindlessly follow to a destination, you will need to be able to read a map and follow directions in order to find your way around. 

The quests are usually more interesting than simply going somewhere, killing something, and coming back (though there is a fair share of that). Often there will be some kind of twist that makes things not as simple as they first seem. This goes double for the main story quests. As you go about adventuring, the world itself will change around you. Things can improve where you help out, and get worse elsewhere as time passes and crises remain unresolved. As mentioned, I have not come close to finishing the game, as there is a ton of world to explore and quests to complete. If you explore every nook and cranny of each dungeon (which you will want to do to find the numerous secret rooms containing treasures and story bits), it will take many dozens of hours to do everything.

The other half of the gameplay I haven't discussed yet is the tactical combat, which you will experience a whole lot of. It uses an old school system of characters taking turns using action points to move and act. You begin the game by building a party of four characters with basic abilities, and then growing them however you see fit over the course of many combats and quests. Although you can pick from a dozen starting classes, in reality all characters have access to the same options for advancement, letting you tweak things however you wish. I began with a classic group including a warrior, a rogue, a priest, and a mage. 

There are about 60 different skills and spells to learn, as well as a large collection of passive stat upgrades which will help you define your style as your characters get stronger. The combat starts off pretty simple, but as things move along you will have to deal with a variety of enemies that use different tactics and force you to think and adjust your strategy. I found that although the combat isn't nearly as intricate as something like Divinity: Original Sin, it is still a lot of fun and makes for hours of satisfying gameplay. As soon as you start to feel cocky, you'll round the corner and find yourself facing some new horror that can wreck your day if you aren't careful. There are also plenty of boss fights and unique situations to break up the standard monster slaying.

Customizing your characters includes dressing them up with all sorts of gear including weapons, armor and accessories that you can find or purchase. You can also use trainers to advance particular skills even higher, for a hefty fee. Crafting includes creating high powered weapons and a wide variety of stat boosting potions. There's a little bit of everything here you would expect from an RPG, and between all of it you can mold each character to suit your personal style. A glass cannon mage, a dual-wielding rogue, a paladin, a buff casting priest, pretty much any classic archetype can be created with the options available to you.

If you can look past the graphics and sound, there is a very solid RPG adventure here to enjoy, which will suck up many hours of your time. There is a fascinating world to truly explore along with your characters, as they wander into a place they know little about. 
When you first step out into the surface, you really have no idea what you will find, and don't even know what direction you should head in. What you do find will push you to keep going and see what happens next.

Avernum 3: Ruined World is available on Steam, Humble Store, GoG.c or or directly from Spiderweb Software.

There is also a demo available if you want to dip your toe before diving in!

- Joe Beard

1 comment :

  1. Many thanks for this review. I owned the "original" Averum games (bought on a sale from GOG), but never really played much. But your review rekindled my interest for the remasters, and wow.
    I am playing Escape from the Pit in my iPad and I can tell you it is a great gaming experience, and a real time-sink...

    Recommended !