Over the Chinese New Year holiday I had from February 19 to 22 I probably played between twenty to twenty-five hours of Avernum: Escape From the Pit. I loved almost every minute of it.
I can’t express how long it has been since I have had the opportunity or even inclination to sink so much time into a game and not feel bad or guilty about it. That is not to say that it is a miracle game. It has everything to do with recent life changes, but the feeling is incredible. Not only was I able to do that, but I was also able to spend time with close friends and loved ones throughout the holiday to make it one of the most relaxing periods of my life, although I’m not entirely happy about the context and causes.
That being said, I have a lot of ground to cover and I will not be able to write or even remember much of it in great detail, so I hope to paint a good general picture and do a little wider extrapolation for other ideas the game got me to think about. If you like RPGs, you absolutely have to try this game. Ten bucks on GOG for such a large amount of entertainment is a steal.
A lot to cover
I spent much of the last entry explaining how the game has a very consistent tone and how it will be difficult to write about. This continues to be true, and, although it may be bad for blog entries, it is great as a player. The overworld is quite huge, but I was able to arbitrarily section it off in my mind into quadrants, although I’m not sure I tackled them in the order everyone does. Even though the player is started in the SE section of the map, the game instructs the party to head north to consult with another mayor who provides fairly easy quests. I found most of these quests to be quite fun, although most are orders to tackle a dungeon and special encounter then return an object. The encounters within the dungeons were well planned and work well with the combat engine.
There were several times I was unable to complete a quest or found myself completely out of my depth, after which I was easily able to find something else to do. Common quests included dealing with encroaching giants in the NE, an undead scourge in the SE, Slith raiders in the SW, and some more end game content in the NW which I am currently dealing with. I felt like the clockwise progression was correct, but with the cheap purchase of boats for sailing and easy fast travel via the Mage Tower’s portal, the game can be handled in almost any order.
I must congratulate Jeff Vogel on balancing the game to feel so open at all points of the adventure. In every area there are friendly towns which act as instant healing and resurrection for characters which takes a lot of the legwork out of the upkeep process. This is a great system because, let’s be honest, everybody is going to save before an encounter and just restore if things don’t go well. This feels much more organic and keeps the player’s momentum going.
Besides the towns and dungeons, there are many optional formations and areas that are begging to be explored that contain secret dungeons, powerful items, and creatures. These are usually easily explored on to the way to the next objective and fit nicely into the story. As for the story itself…
Right, the story
I ended the last entry by talking about my encounters with the Slith and their motivations. Just as I suspected, there was much more motivation to their anger. The Slith race that is in Avernum actually has a lot in common with the humans. The group that is raiding peaceful villages and plotting to take over the land of Avernum was itself banished from the greater Slith kingdom located further underground and was forced into the same prison with the barbarian king Sss-Thss leading the faction. Needless to say, although a band of peaceful Slith broke off to live alongside humans, this guy had to be taken care of, so I did.
Another interesting factor is that even though the prisoners of Avernum have been banished to a subterranean jail… that doesn’t mean they are not still under the watchful eye of the Empire. After investigating a suspect cave full of Gremlins and magical traps that do not match their level of intelligence, I found an outpost of the Empire deep underground spying on Avernum and recruiting mercenaries for their purposes. I have not yet decided how to handle this situation, but my new alliance with The Scimitar, a rebellious group opposed to the Empire, it will probably not end well for the envoy. Speaking of Scimitar, they also requested me to assassinate the Emperor which I think will be a major ending plot point for the game, although I have to assume that it is possible to join the Empire faction, knowing Vogel’s love of player choice and role playing.
The final major plot point is that of the Tower of Magi who seem to have an insane obsession with summoning demons that they are then unable to control or deal with in any reasonable way. Upon arriving at the Tower of Magi the first time, the player is informed that something feels malevolent only to soon find out that a demon is trapped at the top of the tower. After going to the ends of Avernum to reforge the legendary “Demonslayer”, I was able to defeat the demon only to have to face another that destroyed an outpost after defeating the Slith. Then, on top of all this, at the beginning of life in Avernum, the same original Magi, known as The Triad, had summoned an even OLDER demon which had to be trapped in a bottle in a secret fortress. Unfortunately, its power has grown to be able to affect areas outside of its prison, so guess who has to take care of that? As of this moment, I have freed the demon Grah-Hoth but have not slain him, so I bet he’s causing all sorts of trouble down there as I type.
I like the wide variety of motivations and events going on in Avernum that are not all pertaining to any central conflict. It’s almost as if these things are just par for the course in exile and have to be dealt with on a daily basis. It makes the land feel a little more unique, although I must say I do feel good about leveling up and being able to go back to events I should have done earlier and absolutely mop the floor with demons and lizard kinds that think they are tough guys.
My Thoughts on “The Empire”
The Empire is quite a generic oppressive government in the game that serves as a good boogeyman for the player and an overarching narrative for the whole series, maybe. What I find unique, however, is that living just across the border from China has made me very sensitive to these kinds of activities the Empire is involved in such as political prisoners, unjust punishment, and oppressive tactics. When an exiled innkeeper tells me of how she was sent to Avernum because a rebel leader stayed in her above-ground inn, even without her knowledge, my first thought was “Yeah… I get that.”
I will use “The Empire” to comprise any “particular” government that fits these standards for the remainder. I find it very easy to role play as characters who are victims of this type of government. My first meeting with Empire envoys was pretty rough as she promised to outright bribe me with goods from the surface to spy and perform underhanded deeds. This government only understands three things: money, power, and attempting to keep money and power. Then, it has the audacity to ask people it just sent to prison to help it for a pittance. This is all too familiar.
One of the things I hate the most about living in this city, now, is that everything is being slowly degraded and then shored up with “Well it could get worse, so we should just take this deal now and stop it before it gets worse” even though it already sucks! My life has changed fairly greatly over the last ten years and Hong Kong does not resemble what it used to. Everybody is riled up and being pushed to their limits in terms of housing prices, overcrowding, freedom of speech, and freedom of press while the government does nothing and tells everyone to get with the new program.
The recent protests in the city were a great bright point, but were waited out and subversively deflated by some of the coldest hearted and selfish tactics I have seen in recent times. I do not really have much hope for its future, but at least I can do my part virtually in Avernum… As for Hong Kong, it was nice knowing you.