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Since doing the original review/look at Avernum, I've since figured out what I want my review style to be, and I wanted to take another look at Avernum: Escape from the Pit. My overall opinion hasn't changed, but I made a point of trying to present the game from a standpoint of "is it worth your money?" Let me know what you think, because I'm intending to do Crystal Souls and eventually Ruined World. https://youtu.be/8EXTRV5hvQc
Okay, had these thoughts bouncing around in my head for a while, and figured I’d better get them out before they pound a hole in the side of my skull. In this case, it’s just some ideas and thoughts on the Geneforge series, and as I want to collect these in a way that makes sense, I’m going to order them in a structure like this. I’m going to go over three categories. Pros, Cons, and then Remake Points. Obvious what the first two are, the positive and negative aspects of the games, the third is where I think the game could be improved through a remake of it, from better stories, to just general systems I think could easily be improved. I’m going to start it right now, with a small overview of the series using those three categories. Geneforge Series(As a Whole) Pros: This series is one of maybe two I’ve ever played that uses a binary moral choice system in a way that feels organic. It’s not good or evil, paragon or renegade. It’s actually a complex web of morals that I think really gives the world of Terrestria life. Unique gameplay. You’re always a summoner in these games, no matter which class you pick, the major element of the game is Shaping, and like Bioshock and Plasmids, this is taken as a core of both the character and the world as a whole. It really gives the game an interesting feel, and makes party management both easier, and complex at the same time. Only one inventory to mess around with, but one that affects everyone in the party, who all draw from the same pool of resources, almost like a toned down strategy game. Cons Gameplay itself can always get a little old by the end. Near about level 30 for most playthrus, about the half to two-thirds mark of the game you’ve got your character built, and while you might refine it a little, your strategy will vary little. I know this is more about me than anything else, but it would be interesting to have more growth options near the end, like some special skills for people specializing in Leadership/Mechanics, or extra creation types or something. Remake Points Graphics and engine improvements could be implemented easily enough, maybe putting it on the same engine as Avadon. I’m obviously not a graphics snob, considering I like games like this, but still, it would be nice to give every named character their own model, or at least match the models up a bit better with the descriptions of them. Maybe some Old Save Bonus or New Game + system could be implemented to give you a cool feeling. Like, for instance, in game 2, you find a satchel at one point that belonged to the main character of game 1, and in game 3, one of the deliveraries to the school was from an ‘unnamed’ friend of the teachers on the mainland, and it contains some stuff from game 2, etc. More utility creations. One of the more interesting parts of game 4 was the use of followers that raised stats of the main character. It might be interesting to add those into any remake set, something that makes you a better mage, or gives a healing buff to everyone in the party, etc. With that out of the way, let’s get onto the individual games, some of which might surprise you. Still, it’s based off my opinions, so let’s move right along to the games. Geneforge 1 Pros First game in the set, so it began most of the series’ moral complexity from the start. The three servile sects are actually quite distinct from each other in philosophy and tone of their individual areas. Probably the best overall start of the games, funneling you right through a few areas and drip feeding you the world building at just the right level. Enough to make you curious, but never enough to really overwhelm you like some later games. Cons Sucia Island is probably the most disconnected of all the locations in the series, in a lot of ways. The individual areas feel disconnected from each other, with nothing really spilling over between them. The biomes of the island aren’t really together, with lush forests giving way to deserts, which then give way to frozen valleys. The story tries to justify this, but it does a poor job in some instances. And worst of all, the story is the least connected to the overall plot. While Sucia Island is important, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not as important as what was done later in the Valley of Game 2. The factions are meaningless. It feels weird to say that, but here, the factions and the loyalty are at their most useless. They’ll give you a few items, and some neat little stories, but since they’re so disconnected, you end up being able to ignore them. Heck, as all they give you is items and every great once in awhile a canister, this feels pointless. Like they should have a greater effect than they do, especially as only one faction, the Takers, actually ties into an ending, as you kind of need their help to get o Trajkov. The endings. This is a problem to a lesser extent in game 2, and barely present in the remaining three, but it feels like there’s only one good ending, out of about five bad ones. The one good ending is loyalist, almost nothing else gets you one that doesn’t plunge the world into war, and even that one is suspect for later, as Trajkov being the only one able to resist the geneforge’s corrupting influence, when he’s clearly been affected by the canisters, is just weird in the continuity of the series. Remake Points Map redesign. This is the only game in the series I’m going to say this, but this game needs a full redesign of most of its maps. It feels like Mr. Vogel(Can I call you, Jeff?) was really not sure how to make the maps right, and went with the same design philosophy that Avernum used. In that game, you would, at most, have probably five characters(It was possible to do eight, but unlikely as that would require all four being summoners), the tight hallways and narrow passages helped by keeping things out of sight, and building a sense of dread. In a game where almost everyone not doing a challenge run will have eight party members, it gets cramped and they tend to get in each other’s way a lot. Give more options. For the most part, a large selection of the maps and events require you to have great combat ratings, and they don’t really like the sneak/tech/charisma builds that are of great use in the later games. Make more connection points. There are events in this game, like resurrecting mind four, or assisting the renegade Sholai that seem like they should provide actual gameplay benefits, but either don’t do anything at all, or give you an item. Sometimes it is indeed a good item, but it would feel even better if these had some effect on the world at large. Like the Renegade Sholai actually moving in with the Obeyers, or the Takers sending warriors to assist with clearing a hard area, or things of that nature. Geneforge 2(My Personal Favorite) Pros Best overall story in the game. Where game 1 felt like it didn’t really have much of a point beyond setup, and the later three games feel like only parts of stories(Because they are), this is a complete tale from beginning to end. Everything here feels more complete because of that, as it doesn’t really need you to play the first game to get it. Excellently put together, and very cohesive world. Best factions. While the other three are anti-shaper, the version they take on are actually unique, as each has their own overall goal, and their reasons for doing what they’re doing. Most of these would be reflected in the Rebellion of the later games, but it would mostly take its stance from the Takers, with only a few bits from the other two. Really good here. Your choices are your own. You can even reject the valley’s conflicts, and just leave, though that leads to a bad ending, it’s still an option. And unlike game 1, where doing so felt weird, as you leaving the adventure half finished seemed just odd by that point, here it was actually something you could logically think would work, even though you’re warned it’s a bad idea by a few people. Every major combat encounter can be avoided or mitigated in some way. Anyone that has to die for any of the endings can either be mechaniced around or talked down, or just made very easy through non-combat options. This includes faction bosses, something the later games sometimes forget to do. Shanti. I’m going to list her here because she’s so much...more than what she seems. This is your teacher, and in the whole series, really the only person who is nice to you, not only because it’s her job, but because you’re her student. She cares about you because you are her responsibility, and she wants you to learn and grow as any teacher would. This is most shown in that fact that you can snark at her, and while later games would have you slapped down for doing that sort of thing, she laughs along with the joke. Really short screen time, but very important in my eyes. Cons The factions could help you more. Like in game 1, it sometimes feels like your actions should result in more aid than just a few items. Especially the Takers, given you can easily betray them at several points by either killing people they need, or stealing stuff, and yet they seem to trust you. It feels off, like they should have sent someone with you to watch you. There are times where you can learn things, but never are able to bring them up in conversation. In the Demo/Beginning area around Drypeak, you can bring up what you’re finding to Shanti, and she has things to say about it, but then later on, you can discover stuff like the fact that the Awakened leader has an escape ship, but can never do anything with that information. It just feels like there’s things to do there. The inventory. In game 1 it was bad, but for the most part, you only found a few items of real worth, and most of those were quest related. In game 2, it has a proto-crafting system, but because the sprites of many items are repeated, you can easily miss some nice items for it, and never realize it. Also, it was just a pain to mess around with. Pacing. After you get through the Drypeak area, the game’s pacing goes down the hole. It constantly repeats stuff, making sure you know things, as you can sometimes come into areas from separate routes, and it just feels so weird. It’s why I think this is the easiest game to start, but the hardest to finish, as by the time you’re through one area, you kind of already know the story for the rest, and it’s just a matter of getting there and doing things. Remake Points Expand on Shanti a bit, give her more of a presence at the beginning of the game, and maybe give a way to end her story differently. A bit of a spoiler, but she dies in the main game, and I’d love a way to either catch up to her if I get to her soon enough, or to find her being healed by serviles or something. The creations around the valley that you can get to join you are a neat idea(There are 7 of them, not counting Nora and three Ornks), but maybe expand them a bit too. Give them conversation options like with Greta/Alwan from Game 3. Not quite so extensive, but more just feelings they could give you, that sort of thing. Make more sprites. As I said in the Cons, the lack of different sprites for this one really hurts it at times, both for equipment, but also for some scenes. In example, when you finally find Shanti’s dead body, you’re told you buried it in a bit of dialogue, but it just kind of sits there instead. Give us a mound of dirt or something. Geneforge 3 Pros The most focused story in the bunch. There is not one part of this tale that isn’t tied directly into the main plot, as the Rebellion’s opening attack is what kicks everything off, and it’s what makes everything matter. Companions. Greta and Alwan, while a bit two-dimensional here, are still great characters, and really add something to your quest, both in how they interact with you, and how they interact period. These two are going to become big faces in the later games, and they start out here just getting their feet wet, so it works. Varied mission types. This one is probably the best at giving you missions on your quest. Not just go kill the thing or go steal the thing, but get me these things here that require talking to, or stealth around the back end to prevent being seen by this one guy. And almost every mission has more than one ‘success’ condition, so it all works out to really make a neat tapestry. The only game in the series where, regardless of which faction you fought for, your use of canisters in commented on, and in a way that makes you feel awesome either way. Cons Least connected overall world. While everything happens because of the main plot, the main plot itself can’t change at all because of your actions. This means each island is it’s own little story, and even when your actions should cause reactions from people, they don’t, at least not till the end game on the Isle of Spears. Harmony Island. This place sucks. It’s the second island in the chain, and it has the worst put together story. I complained above about the lack of connection between islands, and this one is the worst for that. Heck, there are just sometimes here were it feels like you should be able to do things, like talk down the island’s rebels or the like, and the game straight up says no. And then you get the sides here. Help the rebels means leaving the roaming monsters that no one likes. Help the shapers means leaving Diwaniya with his broken mental state. This game does the least to justify why you’re so important. No, really, you have almost nothing here to make you special. You’re not the only shaper on the islands as in 1 and 2, where even the few shapers that where there sat in cities and never moved. Here, there’s several shapers moving around, but they never seem to get anything done. Heck, only once do you even find on to help you out, on Dhonal’s Island, and that was Erika, who then vanishes after this, and never appears again. She should have been the one sent to Gull Island, not you, as she was already fully trained. More about this in the Remake Point. The Rebellion is at its weakest justification here. Even in games 1 and 2 those siding against the shapers are given good reasons, and actually made sympathetic. Here, they’re straight up terrorists, and while that makes sense, given their actions, they’ve done too much bad to get my sympathy. Worse, they have exactly one normal human in their bunch, everyone else is a shaper or mage they got to join them. Really makes them feel off putting to me. Remake Points Fix Harmony Island. Literally, that’s a point here, but the story there has a lot of stuff to fix. I suggested in another topic on how to do a few things, but a major one is either make Lankan more sympathetic(Seriously, he hit someone, and then ran off rather than face punishment), or make Diwaniya less so(A put upon guy who’s doing his best in what was supposed to be a make work assignment turned wrong). I have some more suggestions for doing it, but really, just make it happen somehow. Greta and Alwan, allow us to make them stay til the end of Gull Island, if not beyond. Especially with Greta, but even in a way with Alwan, you should be able to convince them, with a high enough leadership, to stay with you. Not only are they good combat companions, but it would allow more interaction with them. For instance, with Alwan, you can claim you’re assisting the rebellion to get closer to the leaders, a real Agent sort of tactics. With Greta, you can just point out how the rebellion isn’t helping anyone but themselves, make her doubt that these people are anything but selfish. Give more reason why the Shapers are sending small forces, i.e. just the player character. A good for instance here would be for Rahul is that there literally are no boats left. When you make it to the dock, there’s only one ship, and it’s got a spell on it that makes it so only the weaker shapers, meaning the students, can use it. There, now there’s a reason why you are alone there. Just an odd thing to note, and something I want to comment on here, as it comes up in discussions of game 3. In this one, you find several times, promising to help people not only annoys Alwan, but also lessens your loyalty to the shapers. The reason for this is interesting, and one I had a thought on in later replays: If a Shaper promises something, it happens. No ifs, ands, or buts, if a Shaper says something is going to happen it is. That’s why Alwan gets mad at you for promising things. Oh, he wants you to do them, no question, but not promise to do them, as it means you have to, without reservation. It also causes you to look more rebellious, as you’re willing to follow orders of non-shapers. Geneforge 4(My personal least favorite) Pros The most well connected story of them all. Everything is well setup, with lots of foreshadowing of events. Characters will make offhand mentions of things that become important points later. Monarch, the Drakon’s Scheme, just about every major point is talked about long before it becomes important. Miranda, Greta, and even Alwan to a lesser extent get more than enough screen time to really flesh them out, and make them real characters. They each justify their existence, and really bring a sense of self to the factions that they don’t have in the other games in series. This is probably the fairest balance between the Shapers and the Rebellion in terms of the story. You learn more motivations for the rebels than just power from the people, or killing the shapers from the creations. Also, the Shapers come across as more totalitarian than before. In some ways justified, but still, they’re much dirtier, and not the only people bringing order anymore, as they were in the first three games. Every section is very well set, with the biomes here connecting in logical ways. Extremely well done there, and really gives each section of the story its own feel. The factions feel different. As you can only support one side or the other, your rewards are locked in, and each one gives you something for finishing major quests, usually something special, and just having them means you might base part of your build off them, giving each faction a different play style. Cons Invincible enemies. These do not exist, or do so in only small ways in the previous three games, and even in the final game, they’re never so blatant as they are here. This is, of course, because the story has to have them survive til the end, but lacking the justification of others, they feel cheap. Heck, game 3 let you kill Hoge early, even in the school(Though there’s no way you can win that without cheat), so the lack of ability to do the same here feels off. The Shaper Camp. This area feels like it was a chekhov's gun that failed to fire. In games 2, 3, and 5 there are testing areas, ones with places you’re not supposed to go yet, but can get some nice rewards when you’re stronger combat wise later. It felt, especially given the guard outside Southforge’s lines, that the camp was being setup for the same, but it never happens. Worse, it infinitely respawns enemies, which, while I’ll allow it in border forts, makes no sense here. As stated above, it just feels off. While the plot is well set up, the pieces don’t always connect as well as they could. Now, this is because it can’t always insure you’ve saved certain people, like the caravan from Southforge, but still, it really does feel like you should encounter these people later. My biggest one are the people in the Safehouse. Your told directly that they want to leave, but they never do, even if you kill all three guardians. Monarch feels incomplete. Not just because you never learn his origin, but then there’s the option at the end of his fight. You can let him go, without demanding to know his story(Mind, he could lie, but it would have been nice to be given the option). Here, he’ll just say he’ll go bother the Shapers, and you don’t lose reputation with them if you allow it(At least I don’t think so, it has been a while). I don’t think there’s an equivalent option for the Rebellion, like recruiting him to bother them, or capturing him for them. It’s odd. Once you’re locked into an ending, it’s very hard to change, and that’s a shame because once I hit the end of the Rebel storyline, I really want to change. The Drakon’s plan, even according to the character, is just a larger scale version of Monarch’s, and that’s an awful thing. Especially since not only did we see how bad that was, but we’re then told that there’s no other options, when you could have been kicking the shapers butts up and down the provinces. The final battles. The battle at the Unbound area is different depending on if you’re a shaper or a rebel. I know this is because of it being a game, but it feels cheap when the game hits you with all these defenses if you’re playing a shaper, but then you have almost none of them if you’re a rebel. Neither Cons nor Pros Shotwell and Khur, interesting idea here. One for each faction, and so much like Greta and Alwan, giving little story tidbits and just some extra muscle for areas you go to. I find their inclusion a bit confusing, as both will join you only for a single province, before falling away. For their own reasons, of course, but still, I’m not sure how to feel about them, I just think they deserve a mention. Remake Points Fewer invulnerable enemies. I know it only happens a few times, but either make them a cutscene completely, like have Alwan leaving the keep when you meet him, like with Miranda and the creations at the checkpoint, or just something to keep me from noticing he’s invincible. More ending options. While game 3 gave us two endings, game 4 gives two and a half, when it really should be giving four and a half. One ‘win’ ending for each side, one ‘neutral’ ending, and then the Trakovite ending. In this case, for the shapers, expand it a bit. We merely have to pick if we want to open the gates out of Gray Ghost to open an escape route early. It will give them more warning we’re coming, making more forces, and giving you the current ending fight to win. If you just go straight after them, you fight a much smaller force instead, as the attack is so sudden. Mind, now you don’t escape, and while the rebellion dies, so do you and Alwan. In the rebels case, the neutral ending is the current one. For the win ending, you have to go assault the shaper strongholds on your side of the continent. Specifically Rivergate Keep, and the Shaper Camp, with a few optional targets that will help you in the final assaults by gaining more npc allies. Upon beating the camp, you’re told you won the war because most of the more proactive shapers were in that camp, and without them, eventually the sheer weight of the Rebellion won the war. Geneforge 5 Pros Difficulty level does the most to change the play experience here. In the previous games, it really only had an effect on the damage formulas, making you hit harder and enemies hit softer. Here, it controls the enemy levels directly, and that has a lot of major differences on them, allowing them to hit more, and more powerfully. Really good job here. Lots of options, and lots of ways to damage enemies. You can win the whole game only killing a few guys now, especially as even a few points in stealth allows me to seemingly sweep invisibly through certain areas. I really like that. Combat options are expanded, and now, as there are spells for all damage types, and more importantly at least one enemy in the game resist each damage type, you’re more varied in your combat. Thanks to the way Shaping and Spells work, it never feels wasted when you get more power. Cons The images. A weird thing to bring up, but in the other games, you mostly got unique images in the beginnings and endings. Here, those loading images you see, yeah, those are the ones you’re going to see for the endings too. It makes them feel less special, and worse, due not only to repeating on loading screens, but most of the endings themselves using the same ones, it feels like there’s few differences between them. Heck, that farm village scene is used in all five endings, regardless of who you helped. Pacing. In the opposite way of game 2 though. Wherein game 2’s paces was bad because it constantly had to repeat things, just to make sure you didn’t miss them by skipping around the map, here it’s because nothing repeats. Every story is unique, and the details, even if you find out there’s stories there, aren’t told til you arrive. Like the Dera Reaches. You know there’s something weird going on, but you learn nothing about what exactly until you’re already in the middle of it. Very few stories connect. Not quite as bad as game 1, but honestly, closer to that than any of the others. None of the plots connect here, even when it feels like they should. Bennhold for example. He is a major bandit, somehow always raiding shapers(Even one of the guards, I think, says he’s been doing this since before the war), but we never really find out how, and you just kill him. It’s the end of a questline, true, but nothing comes of it. You kill him, and it’s over. The Final Battles don’t work for some factions. There’s two of them, and they seem tailored to two factions, specifically the Rebel and Alwan endings for the fight against the Council and Ghaldring respectively. The fight doesn’t work for the Trakovites, Taygen, or Astoria’s factions though. For them it actually feels antithetical, as for the Trakovites they’re trying to end shaping, or at least get it restricted, and by doing this, they’re returning the Shapers to power. Taygen, well if his Purity Agent doesn’t work on the Drakons, then it’s worthless. And Astoria just killed the leader of the other side during a peace talk. I hope that shows in brief why I feel the way I do about them. The faction stories aren’t well written. So many of them are on the same maps, but in a lot of cases, the missions themselves seem to prove the faction wrong. The Rebels can’t win without your help, Astoria really doesn’t want peace, she’s just tired of fighting, and the Trakovites are focusing solely on the Shaper lands, because they’ve got a deal with the Rebels to do so, showing how far they’ve fallen from their precursors in game 4. Again, Alwan and the Rebel stories mostly work, which leads me to think they were written first. The Nodye Coast and other such areas are on the map, but unreachable. Not really that big a con, but they’re built up so much, it feels like they were going to be included at one point and then cut. Remake Points Biggest one, take two of the factions out. The Trakovites and Taygen specifically. Fold them into the other stories. Trakovites instead of being hypocrites, go to being the Rebel side of the peace storyline, setting up the meetings and stuff, and helping Astoria. Taygen and Rawal go from Council members, to just Shaper Lords, like what Rahul was in game 3, with both being under Councilors, Alwan and Astoria respectively. With that done, you can use their stories to expand the other plots. In this case, Rawal is a schemer, and actually threatens Astoria a time or two, with you being someone he got via the more ‘underworld’ sort of connections. His experiments are now tolerated because she can’t expose him without doing damage to her cause, and so he’s allowed to be his jerky self. Taygen keeps much of his story, but now has Alwan breathing down his neck, trying to stop him from finishing the agent, which is a bad end if you do release it, similar to the ending with Rawal. In this case, however, you have to assist some of Alwan’s agents in putting down the rebellions in the camps that have gone down, but then escorting them out of camps that are still up. Showing his iron fisted mercy. For the Rebels, keep them the way they are, but add some to both Alwan and Ghaldring. In this case, Alwan’s Pride, and Ghaldring’s ambition. Both have a lot of both, and certain actions you do raise or lower them. For Alwan, things like killing/capturing Bennhold and showing the ‘superiority’ of shaper law makes him proud to be a shaper. Ghaldring meanwhile has ambitions to become a new lord at the end of the rebellion, and if you help him, your star will rise, even as he goes iron fisted on everyone. Killing his rivals, allowing him to take credit for your victories, etc. cause his Ambition to rise. Give two variations to the three endings, with different images to go along with them, though each faction gets similar ones. For Alwan, if you get his Pride up enough, he joins you, in Shade Form, in the final battle, becoming a very powerful NPC, but also taking some of your other reinforcements away, to attack other points. Ghaldring meanwhile will only join the assault on the Citadel if he’s going to be crowned king at the end of it all, and is likewise a powerful NPC, but one that turns away a few others via his presence. For the Peace Faction, you get two final battles, a choice. Assist the Rebels coming down the valley from the north side of the Citadel, or assist the Shapers coming up from the south. From the north, you run into Alwan’s people, who try to block you, regardless of the peace process, and you can talk them down with a high enough leadership. From the south, three named Drakons, the Blazes, and an Unbound are waiting for you. You can take control of the Unbound, if your leadership is higher than their’s, and have it help you kill them. After all that, the ending varies if Alwan or Ghaldring was there, or which route you took to the final conference, as you assisting one side gives them the better position. Nothing too extensive changes, just who’s in charge after everything's said and done. Anyway, that took a lot longer to write than I thought it was, but I think I got everything out. Tell me what your thoughts are, where I’m wrong, or where I’m right. I look forward to hearing from you all.
I've made a 7-minute video review of Avernum: Escape from the Pit. I believe it's one of the better ones out there, showing viewers what makes it superior to its competition while being honest and unbiased enough that it won't be viewed as a fanboy piece. Here it is: I've also made an in-depth review; the link is on the video review's description box. I hope newcomers will find this helpful!