Avernum: Escape From The Pit is an old school RPG where you take control of a four character party in order to do some old fashioned treasure/gear hunting, character development, puzzle-solving, and most importantly, open-ended exploration.
Last week, I startled my 10-year old son by barging into his room, plopping my iPad onto his lap and announcing that I had a new game that he MUST play. I told him that this was a role playing game from back when they knew how to build 'em; ya know, the good ol' days. As I made my sales pitch, I watched his eyes glaze over, and his hands twitch, as if he was restraining himself from lunging toward the X-Box controller he had just put down. He eventually gave it a try, but the game's lack of instant gratification caused him to quit. Luckily, I was nearby, and was prepared for just such an eventuality. I relaunched the game for him, and, in spite of his bored expression and perpetually rolling eyes, 20 minutes later he was hooked.
Avernum: Escape From The Pit is a classic RPG in every sense. It's deep, complex, customizable, and open in a way that borders on organic. You can choose to help the cause, help yourself, or not help anybody. The game will adapt, and if you make it far enough, you will be treated to one of three different endings depending on how you play. I've played a lot of RPGs on iOS over the last few years, and I am pretty bored with games on "rails." For those who don't know what this is, a game on rails is one where you are pushed to complete the game in a specific order. This allows the designer to build a substantially smaller and less complex game, and allows for scripted events to substitute for a fully complete world. Avernum is the real thing. You are free to wander around and explore. If you wander where you shouldn't, though, you may find yourself pantsed and spanked before you know what hit you; just like the real world.
There is gear to collect, treasure to hoard, and characters that can be so crazily customized that you'll want to play it again, just to see what happens if you make different choices. It's this last point that vaults the game from good to great.
Avernum is entirely turn-based. Combat takes place on a grid, and everything uses action points so plan well. protect your ranged units, use cover, surround and overwhelm... it's all here. Avernum is a turn-based role-playing gamers' dream. Lastly, the built-in auto-save feature is a welcome addition, and the in-game achievements serve to breathe even more life into a game that is already packed with things to do.
In the previous section, I wrote that Avernum was a classic role-playing game in every sense. Unfortunately, that also includes the graphics. I'm fairly certain that I just incited more than a few cases of nerd rage with that last sentence. Before you reach for the pitchforks and torches however, hear me out. While the graphics are adequate, they pale in comparison to the gameplay, and are distinctly underwhelming for those used to instant visual gratification in their games. Additionally, younger players may ignore Avernum simply because it uses realistic likenesses of adult humans instead of characters that are small, cherubic, and impossibly cute. This is another stark difference between old school and newer games. Personally, as an adult, I find this wonderfully refreshing as it allows me to continue to play in public places without embarrassment. As simple as the graphics may appear, however, it is important to note that the characters are well-animated and the environments are nicely varied.
The music and sound of Avernum are pretty minimal, but somehow that game still works without them. This doesn't excuse their near absence, however, and as rich as Avernum is, just think what an amazing experience it would be if its production values were just a bit higher.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
Avernum: Escape From The Pit contains neither content nor consumable IAPs. While I always welcome the former, the absence of the latter is a big plus, in my book as they, more often than not, tend to unbalance gameplay.
If you are looking for a serious role-playing experience, look no further than Avernum. The content, the customizability, and the open-endedness means that you are getting a lot for your App Store Dollar; even if the graphics and sound aren't quite up to 21st century standards. There is tons to do here, and you will likely find yourself caring deeply about your characters by the time you are done. If you're put off by the tile-based graphics, set those prejudices aside and give it a try. In no time, like my son, you won't be able to put it down.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 3 - Adequate, but not up to the standards set by the amazing gameplay. Sound: - 2 - Not great; in fact, not even good. Controls: - 4.5 - The game's interface is very well designed, however, I found the touch interface to be a bit inaccurate on occasion. Gameplay: - 5+ - An amazing example of a role-playing game from home computing's golden age, updated for the iPad. Fantastically rich and open-ended gameplay.
Playing Hints and Tips:
As you wander around exploring, pay attention to your surroundings. Dangerous areas will generally be marked, but you will have to read the signs to know this. Search everything. Finding the good gear is half the fun of this game. Be creative when customizing your characters. The game gives you a lot of flexibility to build them exactly the way you like.