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Publisher: Spiderweb Software    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: Any Version    RAM: 30 MB    Hard Disk: 50 MB    Graphics: 800x600 @ 16-bit

Avernum 4
January 5, 2006 | Ian Beck

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Even more gameplay
The nuts and bolts of the gameplay isn't really what makes Avernum 4 a really fun game, however. What makes it fun is a combination of several things: a huge, seamless world, an epic plotline, and scads of NPC characters to talk to and interact with. Side quests abound, many of which are available from convenient job boards located in most towns and forts, and there is rarely a lack of things to do, even if you don't feel like pursuing the main storyline. Avernum 4 has a huge world with many hours of gameplay waiting, and although it starts somewhat slowly (Ooh, I get to hunt goblins? Oh joy) the plot is interesting, engaging, and really pulls you into the world.

Although I've mentioned it, the seamless world really deserves a second mention. Wandering straight into a fort from the caves and seeing how it is built into the environment is definitely fun, as is exploring the nooks and crannies of the world. Somewhat oddly, though, the seamless nature of the world actually can make it feel slightly smaller. For the purposes of the automap the world is divided up into large squares, and there are rarely more than three or four squares between towns. Despite the fact that this is a lot of ground, it visually doesn't really seem like quite so much after a while.

Another interesting aspect of Avernum 4 is that healing costs are dispensed with. Should a party member die (which can happen often if you accidentally venture into an area that is a little above your level or stretch things a little too thin in combat), all you need to do to revive them is to talk to a healer or enter the gates of a fort or town to have them automatically healed free of cost, as well as regaining all party member's health and spell points. I personally really enjoyed this, although the schlepp to town could be aggravating since your party is only capable of moving across about half of a square with one click. The benefits of not having to pay for healing far outweighed the downsides of the walk, though, and being able to heal up and give that last battle or dungeon just one more go kept me up past the time I should have been in bed more than once.

Graphics and sound and performance...oh my!
Graphics and sound have ever been the Achilles heel of Spiderweb games. Although gameplay is strong and dialog and plot engaging, many people are put off by the somewhat older-looking graphics. Fortunately for Avernum 4, it builds on the Geneforge engine and is thus possibly the most graphically advanced title from Spiderweb to date. Although it shares a strong legacy with past Geneforge and Avernum graphics, Avernum 4 has many new sights to see, character and creature models to admire, and ambient graphics to spice up the world. Due to its turn-based nature, there isn't really much animation outside of combat, which is a shame but doesn't take away from the graphics much. When you're moving things are usually whizzing by fast enough that it isn't even noticeable.

The sound is also a nice upgrade from past games. Ambient noises are present just about everywhere, and the classic sounds of footsteps and so forth from past Averum games are certainly present. Enemies have their distinctive noises when they get hit, and overall listening to Avernum 4 is a lot more interesting. That's not to say that having iTunes running in the background isn't a good idea, of course, but I was never tempted to turn the sounds off.

I doubt that Spiderweb graphics haters will be tempted by Avernum 4, but for those who appreciate Spiderweb titles for their gameplay the steady improvements are a nice bonus. Of course for the hardcore Exile crowd, the graphics in Avernum 4 will still fail to recapture the magic of Exile, but unfortunately such is the nature of change.

Performance is actually one of the few areas in which I was dissatisfied with Avernum 4. Granted, my machine has been showing its age for quite some time (ah 700 MHz, how I despise thee), but this was the first Spiderweb title to have jumps in performance. In particular, I noticed occasional slow downs when crossing the middle of sections (while it loaded the surrounding sections) and when the game autosaved. This was never enough to really aggravate me, but it is a small annoyance in an otherwise very entertaining game.


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