reviews\ Apr 23, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Avernum 4 - PN - Review

Ok … before I get started, I have to say that I have a hard time reviewing RPG games like this. It’s not because I don’t like them, but because comparing games like the newly released Avernum 4 to games like Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale is kind of like comparing the look of a Dodge Viper to a Volkswagen Jetta. Basically, the Viper’s got the Jetta on looks and style … but both will get you comfortably from A to B and do a good job of getting you there. Anyways, here we go …

Avernum 4 takes place in the the underground city of … you guessed it … Avernum. This is a place which at one time was a mining and slave colony, but years later it is now where people make a living below the surface (which has been recently opened to travel by the ruling empire above) mining, farming, or carving an existence out of being a mercenary. This is where you come in … pockets of goblins have begun getting more aggressive, and you and your party (fresh out of training) are summoned to aid the kingdom in its time of need in a problem which is more than just goblin attacks ...

Basically, Avernum 4 is a three-quarters-view, top-down RPG with a camera angle similar to games like Diablo, or the aforementioned Icewind Dale. You select a party of four characters from races like Humans or Slithzerikai (a lizard-like race similar to the Argonians in Morrowind), each with its own strengths and weaknesses like missile bonuses for the Nephil (a cat-like race) but a –10% XP earning. You then select a class for each one, like a sorcerer, priest, rogue, or soldier (or make your own), apply points to various skills that you want each one to have (arcane lore, missile weapons, etc.), and you can even select various birth backgrounds, etc., which will also add something additional but take something away somewhere else. Once you get this done, it’s off to the caverns with ya.

Controls to Avernum 4 are simple to figure out and run with quickly right from the get go. Left clicking with the mouse moves your characters in a line formation wherever you want them to go, and clicking on an enemy will change your cursor to a fist to represent that you can attack. Now, for those of you who are worried about changing up formations and are worrying about keeping your mage in the back, etc … fret not. When combat occurs, everything moves in a turn-based sequence (based on action points to move, attack, cast spells, etc.) which allows you to move your party members wherever and however you’d like them based on your own personal strategy. The developers also made sure to include tabs to cover just about everything you’ll need, like a map, journal, inventories, spell tab, and a default button to help characters switch quickly between melee and missile weapons on the fly.

Ok … so this probably sounds a lot like most every top-down RPG you’ve played lately, right? Well, here’s where the difference comes in. See, Avernum 4 seems like a throwback to classic PC games, so you don’t get all of the flash and pizzazz that you would find in a big name title by Wizards of the Coast or something. There really is no animation, and characters all move around step by step in stationary poses in a 2-D square angled world. Combat or spellcasting does have some little movements, like jabbing with a sword or blue spherical sparkles encircling a character, but that’s about all the high def stuff you’re going to see. Another word on a graphics note, landscape in Avernum is very repetitive (especially since you’re underground), so be expecting to see a lot of gray landscape dotted with little puddle like swamp circles or big square shaped pits.

One drawback (aside from the graphics issue) that I found also is the lack of strategic ability that could have been added into a game with a turn-based system like this, which would have really added to the overall gameplay. When combat begins, it runs similar to the combat mode in Eye of the Beholder on GBA. Basically, you move X spaces on a grid-like set of squares, then your enemies do the same … most of which (when melee based) will simply just run up to the nearest character to attack. Basically, most battles can be won (especially in the beginning) by just waiting when an enemy comes into view, because its pretty much a guarantee that they will run up to you, be out of action points, then you just surround him (or them) and beat the heck out of them. If you do happen to get into a bad spot and lose a character or two, have no fear … you can just walk through a nearby friendly settlement and your characters will come back … so you can just walk back where you were and try it again. While this was the main drawback, this is also a pretty big one and may cause some dislike.  

 OK, now before you read that and all of you folks who want a game that will only run on a PC powerful enough to alter the rotation of planets or a game that requires a lot of thought process decide to write this one off, don’t do so just yet. As I stated in the opening paragraph, it may not have all the looks and flash of some modern PC titles, but it has a lot of elements in it that make it every bit as deep. There is a pretty decent storyline, character interaction and dialogue with most NPC’s, item gathering, things that make you use abilities (like thieves stealing weapons and armor or using arcane lore to read magic), and even numerous side quests off the main storyline to give you a diversion if you don’t feel like just playing the story mode. You can also just simply wander around and treasure hunt or build skills up and find a few hidden caverns or dungeons along the way to keep you entertained. So while it isn’t perfect, the old saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” can most definitely apply here.

Review Scoring Details for Avernum 4

Gameplay: 7.5
The game is simple to learn and play, with everything from moving to combat to inventory or checking character info being simple point and click with the mouse. The fighting, like everything else in the game is all turn based, and there’s not a whole lot of strategy involved. With most melee enemies you can just wait until they come up to you, and with ranged attackers they may get a jump on you before you have a chance to try and do anything.  

Graphics: 4.0 
Mostly the game has a flat, 2D look to it with squared off walls, and you can expect to see a lot of repetition in the overall appearance. There’s really no animation except for small combat movements, and while there are things added in like tables or other landscaping items, it’s definitely old-school graphics based.  

Sound: 5.5
Most of the sound in Avernum 4 is water dripping or the periodic scream of a monster in the background. Combat sounds mainly consist of a clanking weapon noise or a jingly spell sound, and most of the time you’ll simply hear the “plop plop” sound of the character’s footsteps.

Difficulty: Easy
The game mechanics are simple to get into, and while a lot of quests may have you running long distances (but are easy to figure out) or just simply walking around and looking for the items that you need, some are a bit more challenging and require completion of other things or figuring the puzzle out.  

Concept: 7.5 
This is a great way to spend a few hours re-living some old-school style RPG gaming, but there was some opportunity here that could have made it better.

Overall: 7.4
Overall, Avernum 4 is a simple looking, old-school style RPG title that doesn’t try to dazzle you with anything fancy. It’s basically a dungeon hacker’s title, but has a decent story, some twists, and a lot of elements that make some of the more big budget titles a lot of fun without all the flash and pizzazz that they offer. If you enjoy RPG gaming in an older style setting which will provide hours of good hack and slash fun, at least check it out. You can get it at


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