Developer(s): Basilisk Games
Publisher(s): Basilisk Games
Platform: Mac, PC
Eschalon: Book III – Preview
I’m a sucker for games like the Eschalon series. In truth, there haven’t been many titles lately that manage to captivate me the way certain indie roleplaying games do and Eschalon certainly deserves a spot near the top of that short list. Right now we’re looking at the advent of Book III’s release, Eschalon’s third entry. If, like me, those previous two games got you hooked, prepare to lose another few dozen hours of your life.
Mechanics haven’t changed that much, which should be considered a good thing. You’re still looking down on an isometric world, pretty much every action your character can take, is controlled with the mouse buttons and a tactical grid still divides a huge world filled with all kinds of nooks and crannies just waiting to be discovered.
The game even starts in the same way its predecessor did. You start off in a distant part of the world with parts of your memory missing, most notably those memories related the skills your character supposedly acquired during Book II. A convenient and perhaps clichéd way to start a game, but useful in order to get a fresh start.
As before you can choose to be pretty much any fantasy archetype there is. Fighter, Rogue, Magick User, Healer and Ranger are the game’s five classes, but as in the previous two games your intial class is just a small first step. Whatever happens next is your own choice, as a Fighter can easily develop some skills in Elemental Magick, for instance.
Certain passive skills, like Spot Hidden – the ability to detect trap – or Cartography, which determines how useful and detailed the minimap becomes, have also remained, as did more practical abilities like the skill to repair equipment.
To veteran Eschalon enthousiasts it’s a pretty standard affair. Skills can still be upgraded by gaining levels, with each level gained offering a few points to spend on both abilities and more traditional statistics like strenght, dexterity and intelligence.
Combat then, depends heavily on your own mixture of classes. Ranged characters, be they Magick users or ranged weapon enthousiasts, will often find a safe haven in hit and run tactics, especially early on, while melee fighters will want to focus a bit more on improving their defences. What makes combat somewhat more dynamic in Eschalon, though, is the ability to use traps against your enemies. Exploring one of the dwarven mines early on, for example, will leave you with hordes of cockroaches and scorpions to vanquish. They tend to be somewhat persistant though, so old traps, left behind by cautious miners, can prove to be a blessing in disguise – no pun intended.
Be careful though, as one wrong step and you’ll be the one who’s stuck in an exploding or poisonous trap.
It’s perhaps that depth I described above that made Eschalon the gem people like me came to love. Everything starts during character creation. Gender, race, religion and profession decide what traits you start out with, while you’re free to choose between all of the game’s skills. You’re free to do as you want at this point and while creating a mage-warrior hybrid has always increased the difficulty of Eschalon somewhat, it’s still a perfectly viable choice.
That same ability to choose your own style is present in the entire game. Pretty much the entire world is made available from the start, so wandering into a dungeon or area ages before it could be considered safe, is something that’s bound to happen to anyone who’s keen on exploring.
It’s all very much risk vs. reward and nothing gives the same satisfaction as disposing of a powerful enemy early on, or discovering a carefully tucked away secret. The world is littered with quests, loot and dungeons so there’s always something to discover.
Eschalon: Book III can be a merciless game though. Make no mistake, one slight hiccup might end in a quick death and the risk of losing all progress since your last save. I’ve got two tips: first of all, I can’t stress enough how important it is to spam that quick-save button as often as you can, secondly, I’d advise everyone to at least skim the game’s manual in order to get a more comprehensive grasp on the game’s mechanics.
As for the storyline, expect it to pick up almost immediatly after the events of Book II. Without spoiling too much, know that you’re travelling the land of Eschalon in search of a set of cruxes, magical gems that tie into a meta-science-fiction-fantasy plot. Things can become a bit disorienting for those who haven’t experienced the previous game, although I would call that a good reason to play them right now.
One thing that hasn’t changed, but which has been frequently demanded by fans of the series, is the game’s 4:3 resolution. There has been no native wide-screen support for either Book I or Book II, nor is it available for this third entry. Limitations to the game’s engine prevent the feature from ever seeing the light of day and there’s a very lengthy post by the developer on the how and why of things.
Nonetheless, if this early version is anything to go by, Book III is turning out to be a worthwhile entry in a series I’ve personally admired ever since the first game was released. Add to that a story that’s turning out every bit as detailed and engrossing as that of the previous two games and there’s almost no reason left to doubt that Eschalon: Book II will scratch that old school RPG itch.