‘ave you heard? Vintage RPG remake Avernum 3 released, with free demo too

avernum-3

Back, back, back when we are all a lot clearer on what ‘indie game’ really meant, there was a series of roleplaying games from Jeff Vogel’s teeny-tiny studio Spiderweb Software. They were 2D, they were resolutely singleplayer, they offered massive freedom of movement and character development and… well, I keep using the past tense, but Spiderweb have kept on fighting their good fight since 1995. In fact, this week they’re capping up a spit’n’polished’n’ground-up redone remake of their early-noughties Avernum series. Which was itself a spit’n’polished’n’ground-up redone remake of their mid-90s Exile series.

Which might all sound horribly complicated, but they’re billing today’s quasi-new Avernum 3: Ruined World as a clean entry-point for anyone who’s never been down this particular rabbit hole before.

I suspect, for the enirely uninitiated, Spiderweb RPGs might seem a little unapproachable, a mass of stats and skills and tiny sprites. Not a bit of it – my first-ever Vogel was 2011’s Avernum: Escape from the Pit, the second remake of 1995’s original Exile game, and I had no problems whatsoever getting into it.

These things’ scope may be wide and the presentation on the old-fashioned side, but they really are designed to provide a good time, not a frosty, purist one, and as such are surprisingly rewarding of experimentation and random wandering.

I can’t speak first-hand to Avernum 3 itself, but heck, there’s a lot of pedigree behind it, and if you’re jonesing for a meaty solo RPG that isn’t saddled with thoroughly modern microtransactions or anything like that, you’ll surely feel warm and comforted by it. It’s out now, direct from the devs or from Steam, Humble and GOG.

If $18/£13.49 is too much of a blind gamble for you, extra-good news is that there’s also a demo whose only cost is a 256MB download.

24 Comments

  1. LexW1 says:

    Is it just an HD remake, or have they done more than that? I have the Avernum games and the one I remember playing (and I don’t remember which it was – I thought it was 3!) didn’t look particularly awful, but I did feel like the interface and so on wasn’t great.

    The website is pretty unclear – it doesn’t even mention it’s a remake (though it clearly is the remake!).

    • TimePointFive says:

      1. You can’t close doors. You also can’t steal objects in plain sight of NPCs (this appears to be a substitute for a crime system).

      2. Skills are maxed at 50 (original was 100).

      3. Spells are maxed at level 2. This level itself seems arbitrary.

      4. The editor is a simple menu where you can’t change the day or your reputation or add items (you used to be able to do all of these and more in the original trilogy). You can’t even view what day it is in the editor.

      5. The resolution is not good at 1920×1080 native on Windows 10. There is about an inch of black bar on either side. Additionally, the main menu looks even worse, with more black bar on the sides, and some on the top and bottom.

      6. The game limits where you can go at the beginning based on your level; portals and towns lock you out, and thus a seemingly open-world game is split into hard-leveled content. The original did not do this. I would almost accept this, but it is immersion breaking to consider that you will be turned away from, say, Lorelei for having no reputation, and yet ordinary NPCs can (theoretically) access all cities just fine. Why bother searching you for drugs in Lorelei Pass if you won’t even be allowed to enter?

      7. You can’t tell what day it is, even though the game is allegedly dynamic based on days passed. It only shows up in the journal for recorded events. You also can’t “sleep” to make time pass (or if it is passing, you can’t tell how much time is passing).

      8. Nighttimes aren’t dark. Candles and light sources are no longer necessary for longer nighttime line of sight or clarity.

      9. There are copy-pasted dialog options from Avernum 3, but no innovation or addition. Generally, options are in fact subtracted from the original game.

      10. The game has no horses (as far as I can tell). This was an integral part of the original game. What’s one of the things that’s new to your characters when you first arrive to the surface? The animals, and the fact that horses have been tamed for use. I can only imagine this feature has been excluded due to developers’ all-time favorite line: “Engine limitations.”

      11. Character customization is truncated. There are four options for slith, five options for nephil. Mixing and matching sprites and portraits have been entirely removed. Additionally, skills and traits are not accessible from the character creation menu; this hinders the ability of newer players to understand what the point of the classes is. If I start up the game and see “Class: Rebel” with no knowledge of what skills I’ll be able to use, that’s useless. How does a mage compare to a priest, exactly?

      12. For deluxe edition: The hintbook and additional resources are available only from a .pdf in the game files, there is no in-game access. It would have been nice to see some sort of menu option to access this.

      13. The character “traits” have been completely overhauled. The %XP limitation and 2 traits (negative or positive) have been removed and replaced by what are essentiallly “special skills.” Humans can potentially get all “traits,” while nephil and slithzerikai are stuck with meager 10% bonuses.

      14. The game has an oversimplified skill menu. Instead of a broad RPG skill list, you’re now left with a confined Avadon-esque progressive skill tree. Avadon was oriented toward a few classes; Avernum, however, is potentially open to crossed-playstyles. This feature makes mixing and matching skills arduous and hostile to the player.

      15. Most of the spells are area-of-effect, hardly any are target-based, and none are multi-target based. This is more a personal preference thing, but I’ve found the AOE spells to be far less satisfying than the original spell system.

      16. The overworld UI is clunky. The mini-map can’t be moved around unless it is first minimized. The portraits are cut off, and occasionally the entire screen will lock (this happened after attempting to move the mini-map).

      EDIT: This is from a Steam review and it has made me hold off on the game for now, despite absolutely LOVING Avernum 2: Escape from the Pit

      • InternetBatman says:

        That’s grim, really grim. I’ve played 9 Spiderweb games at this point and deeply love them, but that gives me pause too. Skill trees and level gates are particularly worrisome.

        The worst part is that fans have been quite vocal about not liking Avadon, and it sounds like he decided to double down on a set of inferior gameplay choices. Avadon is O.K. Geneforge and the Avernum remakes are great.

      • InternetBatman says:

        So I tried the demo, and this is my take:
        1. Spells go up to 3, the review is wrong about this,
        2. I have no idea about resolution – it looked better than any spiderweb game I’ve played.
        3. The locks are fairly few and far between, I played for four hours without hitting one, but I can see it being annoying later.
        4. The lack of Day is a real problem, you can only tell what day it is as time passes.
        5. No idea about horses, but the demo doesn’t let you above ground.
        6. Character creation is far too limited, classes tell you little to nothing about what you pick. However, once you’re in game, it’s the same as the other Avernum remakes.
        7. The traits point is pretty misleading, you get traits as you level up, and all characters get them.
        8. The skill tree is the same as the previous avernum remakes, and thus not nearly as limited as poor Avadon. It’s fairly flexible, and only some skills are tree based, lock picking, cave lore, basic magic, and many others are not.
        9. The spells are the same as the other Avernum remakes.

        Long story short, there’s some genuine criticism in there, but most of it is griping about changes that happened two remakes ago. I’m buying it tomorrow.

        • Halk says:

          It seems the review has been edited:

          Ssschah 2 minutes ago
          @Sara Games,

          1. I have since removed that point.

          2. My objection was not with the skill points not being listed, it is that you can’t view what they actually do.

          3. The portraits appear to the far left of the small window and the figure is cut off at the shoulders. If this is intentional, okay. I still object.

          4 & 5. In previous Avernum titles, hybridization was up to the player; if you wanted to take a certain route, even if it meant certain death for your party, you could indulge in it. In this game, you must invest in the skills prior to other skills, limiting the scope of hybridization.

          6. I’m well aware now that the spells do go above rank 2. The fact that the editor does not allow you to go higher than 2 seems to be an oversight. I have since removed that point.

          I’d be happy to amend anything you find to be incorrect about the rest of my arguments. The point of this review is not malicious, and I appreciate any corrections you can suggest.

          Thank you.

          • InternetBatman says:

            More importantly, the developer responded:

            If you love big, gritty RPGs, I encourage people to try the game and get a refund if you don’t like it. You can also get a big demo on our web site. If you don’t like our game, I promise I don’t want your money. However.

            One of the sad, inevitable parts of being a developer on Steam is that people often get really angry for some reason and write a big, blistering review full of criticisms that aren’t true. I don’t know what I did to this person, but this is a really mean hatchet job.

            Most of these complaints here are misleading or just plain wrong. I encourage the author to contact me and talk about fixing them. I’ll freely admit my games are low-budget and have flaws, but I do ask, if you criticize them, you say things that are true.

            Having experienced it, I have to say I agree with the dev here more. The skill tree is very much not-Avadon esque. Really important skills like lock-picking aren’t even on the tree, and the skill points are still enough to have a mage that’s mastered martial arts!

      • ilitarist says:

        But wait, wasn’t all of this in Avernum 1? Review compares the game to older ones made on older engine. There were more possibilities back then but most of what was cut was silly and unneeded. Like nights being dark – maybe it was so in original but do you really need this? Also I’ve heard there’s a lot of new dialogues added. Don’t get most of the points.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        Re: #15, I played Avernum 1, where all spells used individual targets, and it made magic attacks pretty boring, especially in the late game where most spells could target half a dozen enemies or more. You just type “ABCDEFG” to select everything in the target list and fire; positioning is meaningless, your or the enemies’. Area-effect spells seem like they would be much more interesting and tactical.

        • jomurph86 says:

          Yeah, I view area attack as a perk. It adds positional tactics to magic users.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I remember trying to play these guys’ games way back in the 90’s. The UIs were awful and the games always look so ugly.

    That said, a lot of people swear by them being great. So maybe I’m just too picky?

    • KillahMate says:

      Well, the UIs were indeed pretty terrible in the 90s, but they’ve improved by leaps and bounds since then – now it’s a pretty standard indie RPG interface, and fairly friendly.

      The visual design, on the other hand, is what it is. Vogel says that he tries to punch up the graphics as much as he can, but budgets are extremely limited for these (much smaller budget than what an average high-class ‘indie’ game has these days) and given a choice he’ll always put the money in story and game design instead of the visuals.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      The UI of the old Exile games is horrific, originally designed for Windows 3.1 (originally originally for an ancient version of MacOS). I think they’re very special games, but I couldn’t in good conscience recommend them to anyone *now* unless you have the patience of someone like the guy who writes the CRPG Addict blog.

      Avernum 3 (2002) is more approachable than Exile 3, though you’re limited to four party members rather than six and you don’t get Exile’s cool as hell Fireball. They’re still pretty good “old school” CRPGs though, as opposed to Vogel’s recent work which is kind of a weird hybrid of old and new trends.

      • Stillquest says:

        Spot on about Vogel’s newer games, by which of course you mean the Avadon series. He was probably trying to appeal to new audiences, but I guess “a weird hybrid of trends” is what we got.

        Compared with his older titles, the Avadon games are certainly more… streamlined, I guess? But IMO they weren’t better for it, and I suspect a lot of longtime Spiderweb fans feel the same.

        Writing remains superb though.

        • ilitarist says:

          He explicitly said that Avadon was inspired by Dragon Age Origins.

          It has streamlined skill system, enforced classes and independent followers.

    • ilitarist says:

      They still look ugly today. UI is ok though. I certainly get your point about older games but starting with around Geneforge 5 those games (Avadon series and Avernum starting with Escape from the Pit) feature modern UI with everything you might need. They’re not hardcore for the sake of being hardcore, you can easily imagine BioWare packaging a very similar game with better graphics.

  3. Ghostwise says:

    Some advice for Avernum: Escape from the Pit, in case this release inspires somebody to start the remade series.

    As Alec wrote the game’s reasonably approachable, but advice’s always good.

    • ZakG says:

      Thanks for that guide link :)

      I have looked at these games on and off for years, and now they are on GOG i have no excuse not to try them, but i’m always completely at a loss to know what order they should be played in (if there is one even?!).

      All the ‘remake’ stuff has made it near impossible from a casual follower to know where to start. I like better graphics and UI over bad, but i also like ‘old-school’ depth to game design and systems and would take that over the purely cosmetic. So it seems the newer games are not what i am after?

      It’s rather confusing and probably explains why i’ve not jumped in yet, i have no idea where to start and what to follow it up with.

      • ilitarist says:

        They’re all independent, you can try them in any order. But mechanics evolve and thus it’s probably more convinient to tackle them as they came. Avernum Escape from the Pit is the first in this series.

        Also I recommend Geneforge 5. Don’t need to play previous 4 games of the series (I didn’t) as the engine was hard to deal with before that game.

      • jomurph86 says:

        The thing is, the new games still feel “old school.”

        They are tweaked from the last iteration, but besides some character development stuff (Closing off some perks behind skill walls. Though even that is not a new concept. Fallout 1, for example, is an “old school” game that does the same.) NONE of the changes negate from the experience.

        I’m kinda bummed that guy’s review is garnering so much attention. Play the goddamned demo people! It’s free! The guys complaints are from the perspective of someone who wanted a mirror image remake. The game feels just as great as the last 3 iterations.

        • ZakG says:

          Thanks for the advice ilitarist and jomurph86, noted :)

          I also found this wiki link that has a handy ‘time line of release’ table:

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          So it looks like i’ll be picking up:

          Avernum: Escape from the Pit
          Avernum II: Crystal Souls
          Avernum III: Ruined Worlds

          ———–

          As an aside i had got the other ‘Exile’ game from the 80’s confused with this guys first run at these games!

  4. XVampireX says:

    Free Demo? Really?

    • revan says:

      Yes. All Vogel’s games have a hefty demo. In truth, you get the entire game and the key you get upon purchase only unlocks the rest of it. You don’t even have to restart your playthrough.

      • XVampireX says:

        A demo is supposed to be free….

        • Phasma Felis says:

          Oh, you’re just being pedantic. Do you bitch when someone offers you a cold drink, too?