Review – Avernum: Escape From The Pit for iPad

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Avernum: Escape From The Pit

Avernum: Escape From The Pit is probably the most classically designed and executed role-playing game out of all the RPGs played so far in my recent review series. It is the one iPad game that looks and acts like a tried-and-true RPG one would play on Windows 95 or an early Macintosh computer.

Unfortunately, that’s probably why this game doesn’t really work: It belongs on a computer, not on the iPad.

That’s not to say this game is bad. On the contrary, it’s actually pretty good. The Avernum universe has existed for more than 12 years, part of a long-standing series from indie gaming company Spiderweb Software; a series that was actually borne out of a previous game called “Exile: Escape From The Pit,” which came out in 1995.

Avernum: Escape From The Pit

The world the game creates is really impressive. The user is an exile who is banished to Avernum — an underworld overflowing with creatures, bandits and the everlasting threat of death — for defying the almighty Empire. Upon being thrown through the portal into Avernum, the user actually discovers there’s not only a lot of people down there, but they’ve created an entire underground society with townships, mayors and even a castle.

The Empire must be defied a lot — or just has easily hurt feelings — in order to produce such a robust society of outcasts.

The user commands a party of four, who goes out and complete quests, retrieve resources, combat enemies or even try to look for a way to escape the permanent exile of life in Avernum. The party’s members can fight, use magic, backstab, pickpocket — a wide variety of skills and talents are available to the player. The possibilities are endless in this game, leading to several hours of enjoyable gameplay — in theory (I’ll explain shortly).

Avernum: Escape From The Pit

Let me be the first to say the story and its execution are nothing short of fantastic. Spiderweb Software does an amazing job of recreating the RPGs of days gone by. Since there are no cutscenes to tell the story, the game instead relies on the player’s imagination to give visual complexity to the Avernum tale. Seeing how dynamic the story and environment were, this wasn’t very hard to do.

In addition, each character in the game is a unique person to share a text-based conversation with; and many conversations can turn into resources, annoyance or combat at the drop of a hat.

Avernum: Escape From The Pit

The atmosphere is also pretty impressive. Rather than rely on complex graphics, Avernum: Escape From The Pit strives to look like the RPGs gamers like myself grew up with as kids, complete with a floppy disk image on the save file. The map for this game is huge, with 80 towns and several other smaller settlements to explore. I played this game for hours, and still haven’t explored all there is in its world. Visually, it reminded me of games such as Myth and Buck Rogers.

The aerial view of the user’s party allows for constant surveillance of the surrounding area, with enemies moving to-and-fro around the party, leading to eventual conflict. The combat is done in a simple turn-based style, which also works for the game — in theory.

Avernum: Escape From The Pit

This is where the iPad version starts to fall apart for me: It doesn’t work well on the iPad. Many of the things that seem to make the game great simply don’t translate onto the mobile device. In theory, this game is a huge success: In practice, it’s really frustrating and difficult to play. The touch-based controls don’t work as well as they should, especially when working with the aerial view.

When choosing conversation options, the normal number-based options are replaced with touch controls, which often ended up with me selecting the wrong conversation option and turning a peaceful situation into a violent one. Getting around is also difficult, as often I found myself pressing the screen two or three times before my party actually went where I wanted it to go.

Avernum: Escape From The Pit

However, the biggest failure would be in combat. While I don’t have a problem with turn-based combat, I do have a problem with turn-based combat using a touchscreen. It doesn’t work. The enemies are simply too small and far away to effectively battle. I can’t tell you how many times I pressed on the wrong square while trying to subdue an enemy: I usually ended up just walking somewhere else again and again, losing part of my sanity every single time.

If the game created a zoom-in mode for combat, it would help ease the pain a little bit. Until then, it’s just too hard and would be so much easier to play using a computer mouse.

Avernum: Escape From The Pit

I would highly recommend playing this game — on the computer, not on the iPad. Avernum: Escape From The Pit is available on Mac and Windows, along with the rest of the Avernum series. It’s a little more expensive than the iPad version, but if you’re a fan of classic RPGs, it’ll be well worth the cost.

Here’s an App Store link for Avernum: Escape From The Pit; it’s currently priced at $9.99.

Disclosure: A promo code for this game was provided by Spiderweb Software. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

Beth Elderkin

Beth Elderkin is an award-winning multimedia journalist currently working as a news producer in Austin, Texas. She's been a game reviewer for iPad Insight since 2011, and also runs a gaming blog at

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7 thoughts on “Review – Avernum: Escape From The Pit for iPad”

  1. You must have really thick fingers. I played Avadon for hours on end on iPad. It’s pretty much the same engine. Sure it’s not ideal, but surely you can guess the center point of your finger tips? I have never mis-touched a dialogue answer, but I did sometimes press an unwanted square on the combat grid.

    I just think the review is not entirely fair. The game works more than alright. There are no comparable games on the App store except for boatloads of uninspired, 2 cents ports of Flash based games, and that has to come into the equation.

    1. Hello Fabrice,

      Thank you for your comments. I don’t believe the game is bad on the iPad, I just feel it would be better served on a computer. I personally don’t enjoy it when games make it too difficult for the player to do a simple task, such as selecting a player or action. I understand that, as a fan, this is something that could be looked over — but since I am also trying to look at it from the perspective of the average player (as well as a gamer), I feel it makes sense to point out that flaw in the game’s control system. But I appreciate your perspective, and I’m glad this is something not all players are having trouble with.
      And thank you for your wonderful comment about the size of my fingers :).


  2. Ps: Your idea about a zoomed mode for combat is brilliant though! It may not be too hard to implement actually with 200% scaling and refined sprites. I would love to see my characters a little better at times.

    The real strength of the game is that the writing is fairly good. I really enjoy the story line. It’s way above the sort of thing you get in an average MMO. The back story and the characters are nicely fleshed out. Only issue is I go a bit OCD on this so I sigh when I find a new town and feel like I have to talk to everyone first before venturing further :)

    This game and Avadon deserve more praise, if only for offering a gaming experience that is otherwise nearly absent on the iPad. And we have yet to see how Baldiur’s Gate port will fare in terms of usability!

    1. I agree. It’s an amazing game and I have never pressed the wrong dialog box.

      I have pressed on the wrong square when trying to attack an enemy, and then I just walk right next to him.

      I don’t have a mac/pc, so the iPad is my only option. I can’t wait for Baldur’s Gate!

    2. I definitely agree that the writing is strong; that’s why I didn’t say people shouldn’t play the game, I just recommended it on a different platform. Again, I may be unique in my opinion that the game’s control system is too difficult. @Drepad, if it’s your only option, then by all means play it on the iPad! But for those who have a computer, I’d probably recommend it there instead.

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