- Genre: Turn-based RPG
- Format: CD or download
- Developer: Spiderweb Software
- Publisher: Spiderweb Software
- Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.3.9, 50MB RAM, 200MB hard disk space, 1024x768 screen resolution with 32 bit color
- Review Computer: 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2.25GB RAM, 256MB ATI Radeon X1600
- Network Feature: None
- Processor Compatibility: Universal
- Price: $28.00 ($35.00 with hint book)
- ESRB Rating: N/A
- Availability: Now
- Demo: Five download mirrors
- Official Website: www.avernum.com
Avernum 5 is a sterling example of what role-playing games can and should be. It has all of the qualities that pull you into the game for hours and hours, such as a fully customizable party with control over how the members develop, being rewarded for exploring (and there's a lot of land to explore), quests with rewards and experience, a story that reveals itself bit by bit until you're forced to make a decision as to where your loyalties lie, characters with actual personalities, and a turn-based combat system which requires strategy to do well.
You start out by making a party of up to four members, or you can use the four that are already made. You have a lot of flexibility in the kinds of characters you can make, as you have sword/shield, polearm, thrown weapon, bow, magic, and priest skills, and you can mix or match them as you feel fit. You could have a character that knows a bit of magic and healing, or is a priest but is good with a bow, or someone which has a lot of strength with a polearm an therefore does a lot of damage. It's all up to you. There are also hidden traits you can pick up later which add more strength and diversity to your characters and, best of all, as you get better at melee skills you unlock fighting skills which can turn the tide in battle.
Once you start the game, you're given a brief overview of how Dorikas has attacked Empress Prazac, ruler of the Empire, and how there's a massive search to find him and punish him for his actions. After being sent to the underground kingdom of Avernum, you're already in a fight for your life. After surviving the assassination attempt, you're immediately sent on quests to help with the search effort.
I liked that you know in every area of Avernum 5 what you have to do to move on to the next area in your search for Dorikas. Every area has its own separate set of problems that need solving and a job board with quests that need doing. So, it's a bit linear in that regard, but it never seemed to be that much of a detriment since there's so much to explore and do. You go to each area and do what you need to do to get permission to leave to continue your search. Fortunately, there is an easy way to travel from area to area by using the teleportation pylons conveniently located outside of every major settlement. There are loading screens, but it's much easier and faster than traveling by foot and boat. Since Avernum 5 has so many areas, there's a handy world map which has major landmarks of the area and an indicator of where you're located so you don't get lost. I used this feature a lot in my travels.
The turn-based combat system is simple and elegant. All characters have number of points they can use to move or attack with, and those with the highest speed acts first. You can speed up your party by using the Mage's Haste spell or by using wands and scrolls with the same spell. You can likewise slow the enemies and use Battle Skills to weaken them to enable you to do more damage and reduce the damage they do. In the tougher fights, Battle Skills are an essential part of winning. After you winand if your party has the First Aid skilleveryone recovers health and energy depending on how much First Aid you have and how many enemies you fought. This is a great addition, because it means you don't have to go back to town as frequently or use limited energy and health potions.
The weakest area in Avernum 5 is the crafting, because you have to take the items to the appropriate characters, and they don't even tell you what they can craft unless you already have the items. This was unfortunate because I sold a lot of what is required in order to buy mage and priest spells without realizing that I could have used them to make good items. Another irritation is that when you click to move, there's a limit to how far you can move, so I kept getting error messages until I gave up and used the arrow keys when I wanted to travel long distances. I also feel the method for unlocking hidden skills could have been a bit less hidden; the only way to figure them out is to use the Character Editor or risk wasting a lot of points. Throwing weapons has always seemed to me a weak skill because, unlike Bows which have unlimited arrows, there's a limited number of thrown weapons. Thrown weapons might be stronger than bows, but I find it hard to imagine you can use them as a primary weapon. Finally, when bad guys head for your squishy mage and/or priest, I would have liked to have some way of taunting them so the mage or priest would have less of a chance of dying.
Gamers used to having modern 3d models with CGI cutscenes and songs played by an orchestra will be disappointed in how Avernum 5 looks and sounds. While there have been improvements over the yearsespecially since Avernum 5 requires a 1024x768 resolution as compared to the earlier 800x600the graphics have largely remained the same. I believe this to be another strength because you can use your imagination. So when you come across an undead spirit filled with anger and eyes glowing with unnatural magic, you can imagine what it looks like. If you give the graphics a chance, you'll be rewarded by a great game.
Despite its faults, Avernum 5 is a wonderful role-playing game which I can't recommend enough. Even if you've never played any other Avernum or Exile game, you can pick this one up and get as fascinated by Avernum and the Empire as I am. You won't be disappointed by your adventures through the many deep caverns and interesting people you'll meet along the way.
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