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Capt. Sage's Review of
Avernum 4

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The Avernum series of games began as remakes of a classic role-playing game trilogy, the Exile series. Both series were created by Jeff Vogel's Spiderweb Software. Avernum 4 is the first original game in the Avernum series, and is an interesting new chapter in the contiuing storyline of the series. Avernum 4 contains many changes, most of them for the better.

Graphics

I was kinda dissapointed in one area; I had hoped for more character graphics, that is, the old ones plus some new ones. Instead there were less! But on the other hand, the monsters look better than ever- the Cave Wolf's tail twitches, the goblins sorta move in place like a natural creature does. Having some of Geneforge's elements in there, like the monoliths and the soldiers (which are Guardians from Geneforge painted red) are kinda odd, but it works. The spell graphic effects are still neat.

Healing, Resting, and Resurrection Revamped

The new resting system is very convenient. Even if a character dies, they can be brought back to life just by walking back into town. Walking back into town is also how you recover all health and spell points. Jeff Vogel refers to this, in his note the near end of the manual, as removing the unnecessary tedium of resurrection. It also means you no longer need healers, people you pay to heal you. I never or rarely used them.

I don't quite like the theory behind the new resurrection system, because I always figured the difficulty of performing a resurrection under the old system made sense given the difficulty of the task. In fantasy, I always figure it helps the suspension of disbelief if you make the impossible possible, but with some effort. That's why Exile's Resurrection Balm (a high level potion which you had to have to perform the spell, which you could make or find or buy,) and high-level, high-spell-point-cost Raise Dead spell made sense. Avernum's taxing Return Life spell made sense for the same reason.

On the other hand, having used the new system, I have to say that what it loses in believability it definitely gains in convenience and gameplay simplification. It was remarkably convenient just to leave town a moment and reenter and find myself fully rested.

There's also an entirely new part of the system: if your characters possess First Aid skill, it gets applied whenever you end combat, based on how many monsters you killed and how tough they were. Not only does it heal everybody, it also restores spell energy. That's neat; and necessary, since now neither health nor spell energy naturally returns over time. That's fine with me; I love this part of the new system, because it allows me to heal and recharge in a dungeon! (In Exile you regained some health and spell energy as you walked around; in Avernum you only recharged spell energy while walking around in a friendly place. In both games resting, leaving a dungeon and going outdoors and waiting awhile, consuming food, also recharged spell energy.)

Creating Potions and Equipment

Also in the note near the end of the manual, Vogel mentioned that now the perpetually useless Alchemy skill was gone. I sorta have mixed feelings about that. I liked being able to brew my own potions and learn recipes for exotic brews. What I didn't like was having to spend precious skill points on the Alchemy skill, and having to keep potion ingredients in my regular inventory, where their many types tended to be a sort of clutter.

Now you bring materials to craftspeople in towns so they can make items for you. This includes alchemical ingredients to make potions, and other materials to make items like weapons and armor. I'd rather be able to make all of these myself, and the many types of ingredient items still clutter my regular inventory, but on the other hand, it is nice not to spend skill points on it, and as you get further into the game, the items people make for you get cooler and cooler.

Miscellaneous Changes

On another note, I think the graphics for Energetic and Spiritual Herbs have been switched, after being consistent from Nethergate through all the Avernum series before this. That irritates me, since it means I'm constantly mixing them up. At least Healing Herbs are still the same. I think Graymold now has a new graphic, but since it's pretty and actually gray, I like that change.

The calendar, one of the biggest differentiators between Avernum and Exile, is not included in Avernum 4. It was just kinda cool knowing what day and year it was. It also added to the game, having those holidays.

I also miss having enemies targeted by letter, so pressing the letter on the keyboard fires on that specific target. But at least we've got area of effect spells back, like we had in the Exile series. No Fireball, sadly, but Icy Rain is a cool one- and it's just the beginning.

Some minor changes were for the better. An Exile feature I liked, little portraits of the speaking character during conversations, has returned to enhance the game. As in Exile, only some characters get these portraits, but that's fine.

The cluttered text box in Exile and Avernum that used to hold information such as how much damage each blow did has been replaced by text appearing on the game screen and disappearing after a few moments. Pressing the key 't' redisplays all of the most recently displayed text in case you wish to review it. I rarely refer back to text that happened a few moves ago, and when I do, I can use the 't' key, so the new method of displaying the text in Avernum 4 was a wise choice.

Gentle Introduction to the Changes

The changes to the game and the world in the game were introduced well. Avernum is more prosperous due to trade with the surface, and so Capt. Matos, a character we meet early in the game, tells us about our metal equipment, "Adventurers just starting out used to get stone weapons, if you can believe that," and I as an old salt nod knowingly, remembering the first few Avernum games. The healing system's change from resting or paying healers to entering friendly cities is also introduced by a character. There a priest in the fort, and you can ask her if she can heal you, and she'll tell you that your injuries are not bad enough to require healing, as a parenthetical note at the bottom tells you that you can just enter the gates of a friendly city for healing.

Walking, Maps, and the Outdoors- Without Loading Times!

The new interface for moving your characters is well implemented; you can move very far away just by clicking on the ground! The characters get there very quickly and intelligently. This more automated method of movement also makes it easier to trade places with characters. The keypad can also move you very precisely by one square, which is excellent for total control of your characters in situations such as combat. I, however, play on a laptop without those extended keys, and I can't reassign the keys either, so I lack the benefits of totally controlling the characters.

The automap has notes now, making it very helpful in navigating towns. The only two ways left to improve it would be to allow movement by clicking on the automap, and allowing players to add their own notes.

One of best upgrades from previous games is the continuous maps. You can simply walk through the outdoors and walk straight into a city, without loading times or a change in the scale of the main screen. You just get a little bit of text near the bottom of the screen "Now entering [wherever you are]." The feeling of realism, and the blessing of being freed from load screens, greatly increases realism and frees up time for the player to spend on exploring. The stairways also don't have loading time, which makes it much more convenient to explore underground areas.

I didn't think it could be done, but the outdoors still is enticingly huge, though it's presented in the same close-up perspective as the city view. The outdoors still has the grand scale of previous games but is seamless with the towns now- bravissimo!

Conclusion

Avernum 4 changes many details of gameplay to allow the player to have more fun, making the game world seamless and easy to explore. The game interface allows the player to effectively explore the vast world that is offered. Avernum 4's new map and movement system achieves a great success in giving the game a vast scope while also making it accessible and detailed.