My history with PC gaming is non-existent. I've touched a few, here and there, over the years, but by-and-large, I didn't have any relationships with them. I do remember hearing about different key games as some friends got their hands on them; Diablo, Masters of Orion and Baldur's Gate to name a few. I even tried them, but never developed that relationship with each game. I was strictly a console player over the years.
I started playing Avernum 4 by Spiderweb Software. Wow is it fun. Mind you, I don't have any of the burn-out factor to make me feel like the genre grew old and stale. I don't have any references, not really, or comparisons. I've talked about and added a number of older RPG games to my Steam Wishlist over the months, in anticipation of trying great RPG titles from the history of PC gaming, but have yet to get to any of them.
Really, I'm only, in part, guessing based on graphics and features that Avernum 4 is a throwback RPG. Not one to throw anywhere. I love it. But it must harken back to the glory-days of RPGs
Let's rewind. A4 is not ye-olden-time RPG. It was released on Windows in 2006, which depending on when you were born is either ancient times before men came out of caves or just feels like yesterday. What I mean, and from my understanding, is it followed in the footsteps of notable games from further back in the genre. A4 is also an indie game.
So. A4 is an epic indie RPG in the vein of some of the great and epic RPGs of old, but I by no means can or am calling it a copy. From my understanding, it has its own engine and plenty of its own ideas.
I've read that A4 is using a combination of the Avernum and Geneforge engines, so it may differ quite a bit from previous Spiderweb games.
Enough Boring Crap. The Game
I really love the way Avernum 4 plays with movement and combat, and if the move to fuse the Avernum and Geneforge engines together is integral for that, then I salute Spiderweb and send out a lovingly, if not shameless plea to continue using the new engine in future titles (Unless, of course, they think they can one-up themeselves even further).
Everything in the game seems to be calculated from tables of numbers. Movement and combat is turn-based, but they are also separate mechanics. When not in combat, you move around as if in real-time. So you are able to quickly scamper from one end of town to the next, but behind the scenes, those are each calculated as one turn, and that means other things are happening during those turns as well. Those other things are most evident when running into combat.
Combat is much more recognizable as a turn-based activity. Also, to note, while there is a definite switching to combat mode, it somehow doesn't feel jarring or like a separate game or even game-mode. I think that's partially due to the fact that every aspect of the game runs on a turn-by-turn nature. So while a grid appears and you have a few recognizably turn-based combat choices, it feels like it's still the same game.
Out of combat, your party moves as one; you basically control a main character and the others follow you. In combat, you get control of each individual and, like a good turn-based game, you can have turns to move, stay, attack, use items and so on.
It's by no means, generic. The on-and-off switching between exploration and combat feels both unique and should be instantlyrecognizable by fans of the turn-based genre, yet it still feels to me as though it's a good translation of a game shooting to be in-between a real-time-strategy and turn-based game. A great attempt at the best of both worlds.
The world, from what I've read and am starting to experience is gigantic, with plenty of quests and story. Hidden gems everywhere to discover. A robust character-building skill and leveling system and a healthy amount of dynamically changing content based on the fact that the game runs on calculating the enormous number of separate turns that tick as you perform any action. It feels like a really old PC game that can change how an NPC reacts to you, based on some actions you took, the only difference is theirs a vast multitude of these actions, because every thing you do is an action and the game is huge. As a result, if feels like the world is dynamic, simply because so many actions are taking place.
These are all just my opinions and I could be off on many of my guesses as to how the game is crunching the numbers, but the important take-away is how they made me feel, while playing. I both am really enjoying Avernum 4 and more than ever can't wait to try some of the larger footnotes in the genre, but I'm left wondering if A4 has prepared me to be blown-away by past, notable RPGs or if I'll discover that A4 has improved on many past concepts and I'll end up favoring it over those past games.