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Developer:
Spiderweb Software
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
Platform: PC
Release Date: August 20, 2002

by Nicholas Bale







We live in an age where generally, the best games are those which have stunning graphics, realistic explosions, and the beautifully rendered characters. Avernum 3 is a new game which challenges that concept. Made by Spiderweb Software, a small company in the USA, this RPG is low on graphics, but staggeringly high in gameplay.


The game continues from the previous two games in the Avernum series. Avernum was an underground tunnel system which was reachable by way of a magical portal. When this portal was discovered, the Empire, which ruled the surface world, decided to use Avernum as a prison to all that opposed the tyrannical grip of the Emperor. Needless to say, the people sent to Avernum weren't all to happy about this, and soon, rebellious spirits began to brew. Eventually, the prisoners of Avernum were able to portal back to the Emperor, surprising him, and kill him. This began a lengthy war in which it seemed the Avernites were going to be destroyed, until they were assisted by two races, a race of cat people called the Nephil, and a lizard race called the Slith. With the help of these two allies, the Avernites were able to drive the Empire's invasion away. It's been five years since that war, and not a word has been heard from the Empire. It is time to check what is going on.


When the game starts, you learn that you are the group which is being sent to the surface to investigate. It's been many years, and no one knows what will be up there. You start with a party of four characters. Each can either be a Human, a Nephil, or a Slith. Humans are average, Nephils are good with ranged weapons, and Slith are good with polearms. However, the Nephil and Slith suffer a 10 and 20 percent experience reduction, respectively. After you choose the races, you can choose the classes. These ten classes range from your basic warrior to the rebel, who is proficient in many things, to the shaman, a magic user who commands magic while being able to fight. Adding to this, you may create your own custom class, changing stats and adding feats and skills.


The whole game takes place from an isometric angle, the player looking down. While you are in the wilderness, the view is from far off, and when you are in towns and dungeons, the view is much closer as you move your characters, who follow the leader in a line. The graphics, like I said before, are not spectacular. But they're sufficient. The landscapes and characters are still vibrantly coloured, as are the items and effects from such things as spells.


As you progress through the game, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it. The first area, the underground hill in which the base of operations takes place, is merely a fraction of the game, and yet it presented me with hours and hours of gaming. Even then, I left without actually completing everything in it! After you leave that area, you reach the surface, which is just massive. There are dozens of towns and dungeons scattered throughout the world to find and explore. Something I have discovered is that there aren't any 'clone' towns or dungeons, those that are the same as the next. The people in each town are suffering their own problems, and need help. Help them if you wish, but remember that if you don't, the town may not be there the next time around.


Which brings me to the next point. Often, an 'ever-changing world' may be advertised, but the only thing that changes is the people's respect for you, or the difficulty, or something that happens after a key event, like beating a boss. Not in this game. The world is changing, the towns are constantly under attack, the creatures are growing in number. Here's an example: I grab a job from the dispatcher in a town, a simple task to deliver some mail. Off I go, to find this little backwater town. I realize that I have no idea where it is, and I decide to return to the dispatcher to get directions. As I return and enter the town, I hear the sounds of the guard battling acid-filled slimes. I rush to help, but as I get there, the battle is already over, and where the dispatcher's office was, there is only shriveled slime residue and dissolved walls. The slimes had attacked while I was away. This is truly something hard to come by in games today. Open-endedness is also a big thing in this game. Think 'Morrowind' open-endedness. Yes, it's that good.


For a primitive-looking game like this, the sound is quite impressive. As you walk through the town at night, there is the sound of crickets chirping. In the day, it is the sound of hustle and bustle and people talking. When going through caves, you can hear the far-off echo of a drip in a puddle. As you strike down on an enemy, you hear the soft sound of steel biting in to flesh. As you...well, you get the idea.


The controls in the game are very confusing to begin with. Commands, such as cast spell or use special ability, can be clicked on or used by pressing their appropriate shortcut key. This is okay, to move, you can use the keypad or number pad. The number pad and the automap don't match directions (up on the number pad is left-up on the map). This is not good, but still okay. The fact that you have to coordinate a hand to press commands, a hand on the mouse to click-drag items and whatnot, and a hand on the keypad to move (you can use the mouse too, but it's often quite jerky and slow) is not okay. Math isn't my strong point, but even I know I don't have enough hands to efficiently control everything.


This demo can be downloaded as shareware at this site: http://www.avernum.com/avernum3/index.html . If you like it, for a small fee, you can get the registration key and get the FULL version. That's FULL with capital letters, folks.


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.


System Requirements:

  • PC Running Windows 95 or later or Macintosh with System 8.1 or later
  • 30 MB free RAM
  • 40 MB hard drive space
  • 800x600 screen resolution with 16 bit color.

Final Grade: 88%




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