Avernum is a series of demoware role-playing video games by Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software available for Macintosh and Windows-based computers. Several are available for iPad and Android tablet. There are six canonical games in the series. The first three games in the series and the non-canon Blades of Avernum are remakes of the Exile series by Jeff Vogel, who owns the company, collectively entitled Avernum: First Trilogy. The next three games (Avernum: Second Trilogy), also by Vogel, were released in 2005, 2007 and 2009 respectively. The latter games are entirely original built on a newer game engine and not a remake of any previous game. The Avernum games, like other Spiderweb Software games, are designed with gameplay and storytelling before graphical elements. As of December 2011, a newer version of Avernum has been released, Avernum: Escape from the Pit.
Improvements over Exile
The original Exile games used a top-down perspective tile-based graphical system, effectively displayed as an X-Y axis wherein each tile in the grid was filled by a base graphic and perhaps an item or character icon. Avernum features a 45-degree axonometric display that appears three-dimensional. The game also adds varying terrain height, allowing for more interesting map layouts.
As the first three games in the series are remakes of the Exile series, the primary plot devices remain relatively unchanged, while many new encounters and side-quests are added. With the design overhaul came improvements to the graphical user interface (GUI) and to the storyline as well. Also Avernum has a maximum of four party members instead of six (with a minor exception of two NPCs in Blades of Avernum). In-game art by Phil Foglio lends a more humorous feel to the game.
The Avernum games take place largely in a subterranean world known as Avernum. The main clash of the game is between the Avernites and the surface kingdom, known as the Empire.
The game features several races. The humans are the dominant race in the series, with the Nephilim and Slithzerikai being two other primary races. Among notable encounters in the game are the Vahnatai, a race of highly magical and alien creatures who live in the deeper caves of Avernum.
The Avernum series, similarly to the Exile before it, is demoware. The user can download the program for free, and play a significant part of the game without restrictions, until he or she advances to a certain point in the storyline, at which time he or she must purchase a registration key to continue playing.
Avernum: First Trilogy
Avernum, the first game of the Avernum series, features a party of characters thrown from the surface world into the subterranean Avernum. Once here, the player discovers a culture that has formed from the outcasts of the Empire above: a culture beset by constant warfare and monsters galore. In Avernum, adventurers meet with many who wish to get revenge on the Empire for the wrongs it has done to the Avernites.
Besides countless side quests along the way, the game offers three primary quests: killing the demon Grah-Hoth, discovering a route back to the surface, and assassinating Emperor Hawthorne of the surface world.
The game was re-released as Avernum: Escape from the Pit in December 2011 for OS X and April 2012 for iOS and Windows. This re-released version is the second remake of Escape from the Pit, and uses a new game engine.
Avernum 2 takes place five years after the events in the original Avernum. Upon assassination of Emperor Hawthorne, the Empire of the surface recognizes the threat the Avernites pose and begins sending huge military forces down to Avernum. To make matters worse, unknown barriers of energy are sprouting up around the Avernum, which divides Avernum's forces, making them weaker.
The player controls a party of characters that meets one of the Vahnatai creatures responsible for the barriers in Avernum, and travels to meet with their leaders to negotiate. The party finds out that the reason of the hostility is the theft of the crystal souls by the Empire. The party retrieves the crystal souls, and in turn the Vahnatai join the Avernites in opposition against the Empire. With their support, the Avernites turn the tables on the Empire and successfully repel the invasion.
Starting Avernum 2 player may choose to have Nephilim and Slithzerikai characters in the party, in contrast to the original Avernum that allowed only human characters.
Avernum 3 takes place ten years after the events of Avernum 2. Avernites have done a lot of preparation and are ready to send a selected few back into the light of the surface. After those selected few vanish, they send a selected few more. While those who emerge are at first stunned by the sheer beauty of the land around them, they also begin to notice that things are not as perfect as they seem. The slimes encountered are only the first part of what becomes a series of monsters and terrible occurrences that are blighting the Empire and laying it to waste. When scouting the land, as per orders from the Avernite government, the player is asked by the Empire to help save the surface from its blight. Adventurers must bring the Avernites and the Empire together to find the cause of the destruction.
Blades of Avernum
Blades of Avernum is a non-canon installment in the Avernum series, released in June 2004. It comes with four pre-installed scenarios, three of which are only available after game purchase. Its most notable feature is a free scenario creation kit that can be downloaded and used to make scenarios that can be distributed to other players. It has come under fire for being "too complex" in comparison to Blades of Exile, its predecessor, which used a very simple instruction list instead of a script system. On the other hand, it has also been praised for allowing many new possibilities using said script system, which couldn't be achieved with the Blades of Exile system.
Spiderweb Software has released the source code for the editor and allows others to make enhanced versions and add-ons, which a number of players have done. The most notable adaptation of the editor is a 3D editor, which allows the user to view and edit a project using axonometric in-game view.
Avernum: Second Trilogy
Avernum 4 was released for Macintosh in late 2005 and released for Windows on March 2, 2006. It uses a new engine created by merging the Geneforge and Avernum engines; essentially this means that the gameplay is entirely turn-based, but uses the Geneforge point-and-click navigation and user interfaces. In addition, there is a large amount of new art in order to bring the world of Avernum to life within the reworked Geneforge engine.
Avernum 4 takes place long after the other games – one of the dialogue options remarks that the events of the third game happened "before we were even born". Weird monsters have been appearing in the underworld, and three powerful shades have been attacking people in the cities. A group of assassins also appears and targets all travellers and especially player characters. The player takes charge of a group of heroes which will, in the end, determine the fate of all of Avernum.
On November 12, 2007 Spiderweb Software released Avernum 5 for Macintosh, followed by the Windows version on February 16, 2008. The game utilizes the same game engine as its predecessor, but differs greatly in its plot element. Instead of being hired by Avernum (as with all other chapters in the series), the party of adventurers in the story fulfill the bidding of the Empire. The player controlling the party must hunt down the assassin Dorikas while dealing with numerous other obstacles such as spies and betrayal. Meanwhile, characters in the party are trained in over fifty spells and battle disciplines. Battle disciplines are applied on an axonometric game grid sharing an interface with Avernum 4.
Avernum 6 was released late 2009 for the Macintosh and early March 2010 for Windows. In the time since the last game, Avernum has been struck by several disasters. The mushrooms which provide most of Avernum's food have been infected with a disease causing them to become poisonous and die, and the Slithzerikai horde has attacked. The player controls a group of Avernite soldiers whose job is to save Avernum.
In 2011, the series was rebooted with Avernum: Escape from the Pit, which follows the same plot (and whose title is a portmanteau of) Avernum and Exile: Escape from the Pit, but features a greatly enhanced game engine and an expanded storyline. Spiderweb Software has implied that the game is the first in a series of rewrites and rereleases of the first Avernum trilogy.
The titles in the Avernum series have frequently been met with praise for the depth of their storytelling and gameplay, while simultaneously receiving criticism for the use of crude graphics and game engines and lack of better sound effects.
Although Avernum is an indie game, it is nevertheless compared to games released by publishers. A review of the original Avernum in July 2000 noted that it was "not even in the same league as current RPG/RTS products [in] the market". Despite having a solid concept, its visuals reportedly failed to deliver, making a negative impact on all but those willing to dig deeper at the gameplay underneath.
Several years later, in August 2002, the Just RPG review of sequel Avernum 3 reached a completely different conclusion. Scoring the game as an 88%, the review concluded, "Bottom line? Graphics don't make the game. Despite lack of animation and 32-bit graphics, this is a top-notch RPG that I would love to see more of in today's market".
The latter games in the series received more positive reviews. June 2006 review at Game Tunnel for Avernum 4 commented that "lots of thought given to the environment and background story, and the game itself seems very solid". At the same time, reviewers were sour on the graphics and their re-use from previous games, remarking "How can he still have the exact same graphics?! Same engine, same everything!" and that "the lackluster graphics are starting to wear on [reviewer]".
Reaction to the final game of the series, Avernum 6, was reasonably positive and praised the storyline. IndieRPGs.com said it was "a game that lives and dies by the strength of its writing, and the writing is pretty good", while noting "it lacks a certain level of polish". IT Reviews commented: "As long as you can get past the aesthetics, Avernum 6 is a compelling slice of old school role-playing, which is well designed on the character development and combat fronts". It was also nominated and became the runner-up on "Independent RPG of the Year" by GameBanshee.
The games have received very varying scores throughout the series, often the tipping point being the "inadequate" graphics. However, most reviews admitted to good story-telling and well-presented RPG gameplay elements, noting that the game is recognisable for its gameplay value.
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