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15 June 2020

Avernum 3: Ruined World Review

by Florian

I thought “Avernum 3: Ruined World” was all-in-all a good experience that suffered a slow and steady decline beginning around the 20 hour mark.

The Beginning

I played the shareware version of this game as a kid when it was “Exile 3: Ruined World”, which looking back is kind of odd. I have no idea how we got ahold of this game? We had internet and a computer and all, but downloading things off websites wasn’t something we did back then. Maybe it was on a demo disk? Oh well. All this to say, my experience with this game may be colored by my childhood biases.

The best part of this game is definitely the beginning. Exploring Fort Emergence and discovering the plagues was a lot of fun and it definitely brought back that sense of wonder/excitement from the original. I feel like the modern art style relies too much on drab grays, but, then again, the original was aggressively colorful so it may be an unfair comparison.

The combat is engaging, the progression is well paced, and the game is pretty great. In fact, it remains at this high peak for a good long time, up until about when you meet Empress Prazac which I’ll semi-arbitrarily term the midpoint of the game.

The Middle Section

This is where the game begins to show its faults. The core quest loop if you will is: Find plague, defeat, go back to Avernum, find next plague, defeat, etc.

This is pretty fun, but it starts to tire around the point of the Hill Giants (I’m assuming here you did the plagues in order). The Hill Giants are interesting, have an eternal feud with another race, and have a sensible enough fortress. Then you get to the Golems.

Why did Jeff think these were a good idea? They are inanimate objects brought to life by magic. They are inherently uninteresting. Combat with the Golems I found to be more tedious and RNG based than any other race. Most of the engagements were either trivially easy if all the Golems were melee, or a total toss up as to whether their casters would out cast my casters. Needless to say, I save scummed a lot here.

The Golem Factory

This chunk of the game came very close to making me quit. You have to wander through a factory while getting zapped by lasers. The solution to avoid the lasers is to use combat mode the entire time, which takes forever and often gets you killed because when you exit combat mode there’s no determinative algorithm as to where you end up so you spawn into the lasers themselves. Annoying.

What’s more, the factory has four levels and each takes ages to progress through because of all the damn lasers. I’m not sure why the mirror puzzle mechanic exists at all. It felt tedious to push mirrors around to “trick” the factory into doing something and often the mirrors wouldn’t go in the direction you pushed them.

All in all, I found this to be a grating game mechanic, though, to be fair, it was a way to introduce a puzzle element to the game that meshed well with the lore.

The Endgame

The games’ ending was great thematically. I liked the idea of the Vahnatai betraying the Avernites for imposing on their home world. It was a nice twist and led to a natural happy ending between Avernum and the Empire. The devil is in the details though.

My biggest grievance is in how this betrayal is revealed. You would expect this to happen in a gotcha sort of moment where a Vahnati steps out from behind a curtain or something. You would be wrong. Instead, you take some crystal shards to a magician and he pretty much goes “Yep, it’s the Vahnatai.”

This was just a little anticlimactic to say the least. Even when you reach the end game territory there’s an in-game line that says something to the effect of “It looks like the Vahnatai are behind this, which you already knew.”

I feel like it would have been much more satisfying for the evidence to still be out on who was causing the plagues until the end. It would have been really easy to write it that way too, Berra could have just not been able to identify the crystal shards - then you find the Vahnatai city empty, Erika missing, and it’s ambiguous until the end.

Erika’s help in the end is itself a little odd. First, where has she been the entire game? We were given her boon at the beginning of the game and she’s been MIA since then. Also, I was curious what would happen if you refused to accept her boon? It seemed like the end-game would get a lot more tedious but that’s it. No real plot differences if you leave her in the dust (other than that she survives I suppose).

The game also fails to scale well in the end. The Vahnatai are far easier to defeat than the alien creatures or the golems. I could dispatch a group of them without losing much health at all. So, instead of crescendoing to an epic fight, the late game felt like a lot of busy work in semi-mindlessly killing Vahnatai warriors. I did think the final “boss” fight, if you could call it that (?), fun. It wasn’t challenging but there was a lot happening which I felt mimicked the chaos of the moment well and gave the player a lot to juggle.


All that said, this is a great game. I had a lot of fun playing it and the throwback style was super enjoyable. If I were to replay it, I’d recommend skipping the plagues that don’t interest you. You don’t need them all to finish and don’t be afraid to skip over one. It’ll probably be a more challenging and engaging experience.


- Florian

tags: video games - reviews - misc