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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.