This isn’t your typically themed RPG. Avernum is a dismal and oppressive underground realm into which the all-powerful Empire above banished its criminals. Unfortunately for you, as a soldier of the empire, you’ve got to travel this underworld with a party of four adventurers, seeking out an assassin. And naturally, servants of the Empire are about as popular with the locals as a dose of crusted scabies.
Avernum is a traditional turn-based RPG that eschews visual finery in favour of an elaborate atmosphere. The graphics are very basic indeed, although their sparse nature kind of suits the bleak subterranean setting. What really breathes life into the environment is the flavourful text descriptions that pop up as you explore, as well as the believable characters and dialogue. You really feel the claustrophobic dank caverns, and the barely concealed hatred of their Avernite inhabitants.
There’s a fair-sized world to explore, and a decent wedge of quests to tackle, some present the player with interesting choices of how to complete them (often involving moral dilemmas). Couple that with the impressively open-ended storyline, that has different factions to befriend and paths to take through the game, and Avernum’s world soon draws you in. The combat engine boasts considerable tactical depth, too, with a good range of skills and spells to choose from, and some richly satisfying boss fights.
However, there are a couple of other green slimes in the ointment aside from Avernum’s rather crude aesthetics. Primarily we’re talking about the interface, which bristles with irritating facets. Looting monsters and working with the inventory is unnecessarily convoluted, and simple things like not being able to press Escape rather than click a button to leave a menu also aggravate. Finally, Avernum is expensive for an indie game, but traditionalist role-players shouldn’t be put off by the price.