Spiderweb Software is well-known among CRPG fans of doing pretty much one thing – isometric RPGs – and doing it damn well. They’re one of the oldest indie dev studios around, having been founded in 1994. Their creations include the classic Geneforge series, Nethergate and the mobile/PC hits Avadon and Avadon 2. Today, though, we’re talking about Avernum 2: Crystal Souls – basically a rewrite of the original Avernum 2, itself an update of 1996’s Exile 2. So it’s a remake of a remake. Don’t worry though, it’s not as terrible as that sort of dilution might sound.
As always, I like to start by discussing the elephant in the room. Avernum 2’s graphics, like those of pretty much every Spiderweb Software game, are…functional. Not “bad” per se. They do what they’re there to do. I certainly prefer that to yet another “retro 8-bit” game, though this isn’t much more than 16-bit. The skill images are cute, at least. Likewise, it’s not exactly an aural masterpiece on par with the greatest symphonies, but it works. You’re not here for graphics or sound, anyway. You’re here for ADVENTURE.
There’s certainly plenty of that to go around. Your heroes, originally a bunch of newbie basement-diggers, are eventually tasked with helping to save Avernum, an underground kingdom of exiles. Things were just hunky-dory in Avernum (yeah, right) until a bunch of weird magical walls popped up everywhere and cut everything off from everything else. Oh, and the Empire, whose Emperor was killed in the original game, has decided they’re sick of those plucky Avernites and decided to come murder everyone. So you’re going to need to deal with all that. And don’t forget to finish that basement you were digging when you’ve got those things taken care of, alright?
You don’t actually have to do any of that, of course. After the first hour or so you can do pretty much whatever you’d like. Avernum 2 is reminiscent of older Bethesda games like Fallout 1 and 2 both in its turn-based, action-point-focused combat system and its approach to free-form storytelling. There’s interesting little things to see, do and kill all over the place outside of the main quests. What’s more, pretty much everything is described with some of the best prose in video games. If you don’t mind reading – and reading a LOT – you’re going to love Avernum 2.
The aforementioned basement-digging newbies that will assist in your endeavors are fully customizable; you’ve got warriors, archers, mages and priests available and you can mix and match skills to your liking. Warriors are mostly great at soaking up hits while the squishier members of the team do the real work, archers tend to end up with a few extra skill points to help deal with things like locks and traps, and finger-wagglers are great at waggling fingers, healing allies and taking out entire hordes of foes. I didn’t have any problems getting things done with my ineptly-customized party as it’s not an especially difficult game, so you’re free to mess around a little without fear of making a bunch of losers.
Fans of Spiderweb’s other games are sure to fall in love all over again with this updated Avernum 2: Crystal Souls. Newbies who understand that they’re getting an old-school experience are sure to have a good time as well. More graphics-focused gamers…well, they might be best suited waiting to see if Bethesda announces Fallout 4 at E3 this year. You never know…