Avernum 6 v.1.0.2
Function: Roam RPG world, restore peace.
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.3.9. Universal.
Trial: Feature-limited (10% of world, cheat codes disabled).
For me, computer gaming is limited to only two genres: shoot ’em up, where you mow down almost anything in your way; and puzzle, be it hidden object types or word games. Playing on the computer means quick actions with the fingers or lazily matching three or more items in a row. When I play computer games, I do not want to have to memorize too many details about the games. Therefore, the game genre of adventure or role playing game never attracts me—it is just too much work to have to remember who is carrying what or has what powers. Still, from time to time I want to expand my horizon and do something out of my comfort zone. When I learned about Avernum 6, the latest in a series of adventure games from SpiderWeb Software, I took the chance.
Let’s Go on an Adventure
Avernum is a huge underground world that was once used as a penal colony by the Empire. Over time, the colony gained independence and other settlers moved in. Avernum had its share of prosperous, peaceful times and was also ravaged by wars with other species.
The latest catastrophe involves a disease that destroys the mushroom used as the main diet of people and beasts alike. Amid the catastrophe, you, represented by four lowly guards at a food depot, get ordered to various tasks, such as the ridding of rats in the bowel of the depot and hunting goblins in an abandoned mine.
Along the way, you gain magical powers, learn how to teleport, and more. One thing leads to another, and before you know it you are on your way to solving the big mystery of how the mushroom disease came about. If you choose to, that is, as there are many side stories you can pursue. The place is big, and there are many things to do; you can easily spend hours with the game.
You Are in Control
While your characters in the game have orders to carry out and are not always in control of their destinies, you have much control over the game and can adjust it in many ways to suit your taste. At the start, you can choose from Casual, Normal, Hard, and Torment. Next, you decide the humanoid species for your four characters, choosing from human, slithzerikai (lizard-like), or nephil (cat-like). On the same screen, you can also select the characters’ appearances through their sex, clothes, build, skin color, and more. Finally, you can even adjust the characters’ traits: Ambidextrous, Deadeye, and Nimble Fingers.
As you roam about minding your adventure, there are many items to pick up along the way, some of obvious value and others not so obvious. Swords and other weapons are no-brainers, and I personally like to outfit my gang to wield weapons in both hands.
Medicine and energy potions are useful for healing your travelers after a gruesome fight. Other items, such as bars of iron and jewelry, make good bartering materials. I still don’t know what a piece of trash can be used for, but Avernum is a big world. Maybe I will come across someone or get into a situation where the piece of trash can be useful.
It is entirely up to you who gets what. You can make one character too powerful while the others lack sufficient protection; but, of course, the team will fail if one character expires. By interacting and learning from certain characters, you can improve your adventurers’ magic or battle skills.
Mouse or Keyboard
As a decent typist, I love Avernum’s keyboard support. Most of the many icons and buttons on the screen have keyboard equivalents. You can try to memorize a handful for tasks you perform often, but you can also press the Tab key to show all the available shortcuts. Dialogs can be dismissed with either the Esc or Enter key. Series of questions can be posed by pressing the numbers matching the questions.
However, when it comes to moving the characters, I find using the mouse to be more natural. The direction keys actually work in reference with the isometric 3D landscape, whereby up means north, left points west, down is south, and right is east. However, you can easily be confused into thinking the keys work from the character’s perspective, e.g., turning left would be done by pressing the left arrow. Therefore, my preference is to use the mouse—just point and click the location you want the quartet of warriors and wizards to go, and they get there in a hurry.
Sound and Vision
At number six in the series, the latest Avernum has support not only for the latest hardware. Older machines can use the options for thousands of colors and minimal graphics, while newer Macs can use full color and graphics. I would not want to miss the graphics. While the landscape is not very organic and somewhat fits too nicely into the 3D grid, it is still very nice. You have forests, wasteland, bodies of water, and man-made structures such as buildings and mines, all drawn with lots of details. I like the sound effects even more, though. You have a choice of No Sound, Quiet, or Normal. I always use Normal. As you roam about the vast cave, you can hear the wind howling and dripping water for a very chilling effect.
Help Is Everywhere
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done and remembered. It is just the nature of the game genre. Luckily, Avernum offers many forms of help. The Journal is the most obvious one. As you are assigned tasks, they are entered in the Journal so you can go back to it whenever you forget what it is you are supposed to do. As you talk to the characters in the game, you can also save the conversation in the Journal.
You have the big map of the entire Avernum to give you a sense of where you are; there is also a small map overlaid on the game screen. On the small map are stars to indicate people you should meet or places you should visit. You also have online help as well as a PDF version. If you do not like reading documentation, you can try to use the forum on Spiderweb Software’s Web site. Lastly, Spiderweb Software offers a hint book for $10.
The registration process for Avernum could use some help itself. When you get the demo you are assigned a registration code. When registering the software, you get a key code to let the program know that you have registered.
All is well until another account on the same computer launches the game. Alas, that account gets a different registration code, not one that matches the key code you already have. You can contact Spirderweb Software for a new key code, but it’s an extra step, even if it takes a few hours to complete.
I regularly buy software online via demos and already find it annoying enough that I usually have to register the software for different accounts on the same computer. Only Snapz Pro X and one other piece of software offer to register the software for all accounts on the same machine. Avernum goes the other way and makes things a little bit worse.
Although I found myself spending a few nights staying up late wandering Avernum and trying to complete some tasks, I still do not like the game genre itself. It is too much work and not relaxing. However, I am sure any fan of RPGs will like Avernum. It is a vast world with many characters to interact with, whether to engage in battle or to get help.
There are plenty of things to find to equip your characters with, and they can also improve their skills through learning or trading. If you want, you can carry out side tasks while you try to perform your duties.
The graphics are good, though perhaps a bit too dark and eerie, especially with the background sounds. The registration process should be simpler. It may feel like reading a complex novel at times, but there are many forms of help at your disposal to figure things out. If there is one adventure game I want to play, it has to be Avernum 6.