I’ve had a mixed bag of feelings when it comes to Spiderweb Software’s games. None of them have been negative, but it’s their approach to character development that usually sets the tone for their games. Avernum 2: Crystal Souls lands on the “correct” side of the formula for me. I haven’t completed the game, but feel I’ve got enough time in the game to give the internet my opinion. (I only wish Steam would update time played when off-line.)
Avernum 2 starts in the depths of Avernum where the top-side dwelling Empire has decided to not let the banished people below the surface live after an assassination attempt on the ruler of the Empire. (Makes sense.) The people of Avernum fought well enough, but even with familiarity of the area the Empire slowly worked down their defenses. You show up with three others hoping for some glory in fighting for your homeland and instead find manual labor. There’s nothing as fancy and digging tunnels for the greater good eh? Also, some mysterious barriers popped up all over the land and nobody seems to know where they came from. (That’s the beginning story in a nutshell. They flesh it out better in the game.)
You are eventually tossed into the fight against the Empire, the fight against some other factions and people groups that also live underground and are also charged with figuring out who in the world created the magical barriers that are now disrupting some access to and from numerous places in the underworld. You set off on your journey to explore the huge world of Avernum. Even though I’ve played other Spiderweb Software’s games, the world size always seems daunting. The kicker is I love to explore everything… you never know when you could stumble onto a secret room with gear that will knock your socks off. You’ve got to touch everything, don’t you? Of course you do!
Going back to character development, it’s done a little different here. In other games like Avadon 2, I feel like your character had more personality and that helped drive the story through your character. In Avernum 2 your character kind of “lacks” personality. It’s not that it’s not there, but it really is given by you, the player. In Avernum 2 the story carries the story (for lack of a better word) and isn’t dependent on a specific protagonist. So this is neat, there’s no real chance of you not liking your character (unless you choose a human with a blue robe and expect it to look different from what it does and then realize that you can’t change it after you find out that it is weird-looking…. but I’m not bitter… much. Also, I’m not sure if the Character Editor allows you to mess with the look, but it taunts me into not touching it so I’m not sure what that feature does.) The reason that you can’t conceivably dislike your character is that you are the one making the choices and making the personality. So if you don’t like your main character, for the most part, it’s all on you and not the developer. It’s also important to note that so far, you seem to be a group of four with the same mind. Individual party members may be called out for their heritage, but you are the mouth of the group. It’s a very interesting method and I kind of like it.
Moving on, Avernum 2 is a tactics game. Some fights you can face-roll through, but some fights will definitely punish you for not setting up your battlefield in your favor ahead of time. There are a few ways of doing it be it summoning creatures or buffing right before a fight. The difficulty of this game is hard for me to measure. If you want a challenge now and then, play on the normal setting. There are fights that just came out of nowhere to me and just wrecked my party something fierce while others were just a “who do I want to kill first” type of difficulty. If you want to enjoy the story, play on casual. That’s what I’m doing and there are still tough fights, but for the most part it allows me to enjoy the story more and get to more of it quickly. With the game being as long as it is, I’d like to experience more of it sooner. (Keep in mind that I like to explore everything.) I don’t even want to think what the Torment difficulty is like.
I’ll hit on the aesthetics just for the fact that some may not fully appreciate the look, but I’ll say it again that I totally dig it. There is an added bonus that I hadn’t really thought of until recently. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my netbook recently and let’s just say it’s not a beefcake of a computer. It is, however, the only thing I’ve got that’s portable and can use while at lunch at work (where most of my playtime has been). I’m not able to play full-blown heavy-graphic games, but with the Spiderweb’s choice of graphics I’m able to play a full-scale RPG with a great story on the go. That’s awesome! I believe they even put the Avadon series on tablets; how great is it to get a great RPG like that for a tablet?