Back in 1994 Spiderweb Software released their first game, Exile: Escape from the Pit. They then followed it up with two sequels and Blades of Exile, a game that put the world of Exile into the hands of the fans. Then, after changing things up with Nethergate they announced the first game of a new series: Avernum.
Except Avernum was actally Exile, with a new name and game engine. Granted, Avernum expanded on the Exile world (as if it weren't expansive enough), but at base it was still a remake. As were its two sequels and Blades of Avernum.
Now, however, after forays into the completely new world of Geneforge, Spiderweb Software is returning to the underground caverns of Avernum with the upcoming Avernum 4. Unlike its predecessors, however, Avernum 4 is a completely new game, and takes place after the end of the three previous Avernum games.
Like the previous Avernum games, Avernum 4 starts out in the underground caverns of Avernum, a large system of caves which used to be used as a dumping ground for society's undesirables. You start the game with a party of four adventurers looking for work in a remote fort that has a bit of a goblin problem. While this may seem like a bit of a mundane beginning for a group of adventurers, the plot develops quickly as greater and greater problems begin to mount up in true Spiderweb style. A combat-fraught journey to the nearby Fort Draco reveals that there are problems springing up throughout Avernum, from murderous shades appearing in the middle of the cities to mysterious monsters inhabiting the rivers and lakes and preventing all travel by boat. Charged with discovering the source of a local infestation of undead, your party will gradually stumble deeper and deeper into a plot of vengeance hatched by some of the oldest creatures in Avernum.
To be quite honest, I had a very mixed reaction when I booted up Avernum 4 for the first time. While I was excited to get a chance to play the next Spiderweb game, I had been hoping that the game would use the real-time engine of the Geneforge series. Contrary to my desires, the game is much more of a mixture between the classic Avernum games, and while the game engine is essentially the Geneforge engine, it also has the standard Avernum turn-based gameplay grafted onto it.
I must admit that when I clicked on my first portion of Avernum and my party moved there in a quick series of jerky movements that I experienced a pretty sharp stab of disappointment. One of the big reasons that I preferred Geneforge to the later Avernum games was the real-time gameplay, which seemed much more user-friendly (particularly after playing games such as Neverwinter Nights).
Avernum 4's system is an amalgamation of the Avernum totally turn-based system, and Geneforge's point-and-click navigation. Although every character movement is treated by the engine as a "turn" (and thus other characters move simultaneously with you, and the game is essentially paused if you are not moving), you navigate by clicking on the spot you want your party to move to. This simple interface change gives the game a completely different feel than the past Avernum games, and makes the turn-based system much more accessible and fun. Thanks to this merger of two different engines, Avernum 4 in many ways inherits both the classic style of the Avernum games and the more modern experience of Geneforge.