In the last 12 months a couple major RPGs have been released for PC and console that were described in the media as being ridiculously long. One of these games I completed and can attest that I really need to win the lottery so I can quit my day job and invest more time into gaming, the other I have barely scratched the surface of, but knowing the series it is a safe bet that game will also take forever to complete. This is not a bad thing, games that seem never ending because there is no shortage of things to do are great things. Bethesda, Bioware, and CD Projekt RED have thrived on this philosophy and have released several well known and acclaimed games throughout the years. Spiderweb Software, while having nowhere near the recognition of those companies, also believes in releasing games that are loaded with content that will keep you entertained for a ridiculous amount of time. Avernum II Crystal Souls was released in early 2015, and is a reboot of 2001’s Avernum II combined with elements of 1995’s Exile II: Crystal Souls. This was my first experience with the underground prison nation of Avernum and its thriving fungus based agricultural system, so I was surprised to learn that there are two Avernum trilogies that were released between 2001 through 2009, and the first Avernum also received a rebooted rerelease in 2011.
My lack of familiarity did not prevent me from understanding this game’s story. I imagine that being familiar with the franchise could enhance the experience, but the plot of this game seemed to be self contained enough that I was able to follow and appreciate it on its own merits. As mentioned earlier, Avernum is a massive underground nation. Its residents were exiled from an above ground empire, and after they sent a group of assassins to seek vengeance on the emperor, the empire began their invasion of Avernum. Magical barriers have mysteriously appeared throughout Avernum limiting travel and access to other points, possibly done by the empire though their origins are a mystery at the start of the game. You control a band of soldiers who recently joined the cause to take up arms against the surface dwelling invaders. While this game succeeds in many aspects, this is a series that was never praised for its graphics. This current reboot’s presentation looks as if it came from the Mesozoic era circa 2001, and that is after giving a major facelift to the original release. If you are not a graphics snob, this is a very easy game to get lost in, part of why I barely did anything for this site during August until very recently when I went post crazy to keep from getting fired 🙂 Just kidding, they love me on this site and would never get rid of me. (No we don’t and yes we would.–Editor) There is a main story quest to complete, but like the majority of RPGs I play I am constantly getting distracted by wanting to explore the massive labyrinthine environment and run off to tackle side quests. There are a variety of character classes and races to choose from, and this game has its share of unique offerings so you’re not stuck with the standard generic default fantasy party of human warrior and rogue, elf wizard, and dwarf warrior.
The battle system is pretty straight forward, when you encounter a group of enemies you move your characters around the grid to attack whoever you want. Not all encounters lead to a fight, sometimes you can engage in dialog with a group of guards or adventurers, other times it might be trying to wrangle a herd of lizards terrorizing local farmers. One encounter was a group of young ogres and their pet giant rats who were trying to avoid a fight with trained soldiers. Feeling cocky, I decided to attack them. My whole team was dead within a couple of turns, the lesson being that just because someone is avoiding confrontation with you does not mean you should pick a fight with them. While this is an enjoyable game, it does show its age in its interface. Something I found really strange about the game is how you loot your enemies’ corpses and search an area. Instead of clicking on what you want to search, move one of characters to the square you want to search and open the inventory. You will see what items you have and what is on the ground/corpse. Despite the primitive graphical quality, the game does make up for that with a unique art style, most notable were the fungus farm fields. Fungus centered agriculture amuses me for some reason. The point and click mouse controls are intuitive and responsive. The amount of content crammed into this game can keep you occupied for easily 40-60 hours depending on how thoroughly you want to explore all of it. Being as this a reboot of a roughly decade and a half old game, some of the modern conveniences we have grown accustomed to such as quest markers are absent, and like a lot of older RPGs it is not always clear where you should be traveling or what your objective is. People who are relatively new to gaming might be put off by the old school presentation, not just in graphics but also in interface and game direction as well. Those of us that do appreciate old school RPGs on the other hand can find a lot to enjoy in this title. Follow me on Twitter