Thursday, April 20, 2017

Eschalon: Book I - The Friday FREE GAME Feature!

Eschalon: Book I is an open-world, turn-based isometric RPG released in 2007. If it looks older, that's because it was purposely crafted in the classic style of the games it pays homage to. So, how does it stack up against these memorable titles?

It's rich in lore, description and atmosphere. As you venture to new locations, the text log drops a detailed account of any points of interest. You can find a decent amount of history to help understand the world as it currently is, and the ambient sounds set the mood perfectly.

Much like its predecessors, E:BI has little hand-holding and a bit of a learning curve. I'm not certain if there's a perfect build, but it seems that archers suffer a bit more than magic users (and melee is often considered fairly dull). In addition to having to constantly purchase arrows, they weigh enough you probably shouldn't carry too many. Instead of playing "inventory Tetris" with items taking up multiple slots, the game uses encumbrance, which harkens all the way back to traditional tabletop D&D (and fits what this game was going for).

Similar to traditional RPGs, combat is relatively slow... even for a turn-based title. You'll notice that it's entirely possible to hit something and deal no damage (which I absolutely dislike unless it's used sparingly as a special ability), and damage numbers overall are somewhat low.

Character progression (and item/spell restriction) is based on skills and stats as opposed to classes. Choosing an effective set of starting skills is part of that learning curve, as you can't learn new skills unless you find an appropriate skill book or trainer. This means you'll either spend time trying various character builds until you find something you like... or you'll go look up a guide somewhere so you can make a viable character and actually play the game. While I'm a huge fan of skill-based progression, having to start over due to a critical build mistake (that you didn't know was an issue in the first place) is one of those antiquated ideas from the past we should probably leave behind. It's essentially artificial padding to make a game feel longer than it really is. As E:BI's intention was to capture that oldschool feel, it kind of makes sense here, though I'm personally not the happiest with it.

Speaking of antiquated ideas better left behind, how about that game resolution? This title runs as either fullscreen (stretched to your monitor) or windowed 800x600 with no way to change it. I even tried a couple of programs to see if I could get a larger window or borderless fullscreen to no success. Again, it captures the feel of classic titles - perhaps a little too well sometimes.

Though I didn't make it far during the stream, I'm not too impressed by the main character's storyline. It begins with the overused "you wake up with amnesia" trope and you quickly learn your true identity is being protected by an unknown person that is supposedly a friend. They claim you were once very important and powerful, and it's not wise to ask a lot of questions about your past. The first history book I found had a blacked out section that led me to believe my character probably isn't a nice guy. Maybe I'm wrong, but I get a heavy KOTOR vibe from it, that's all.

Overall, Eschalon: Book I seems like it does pretty well at recapturing the classic feel of traditional RPGs. Give it a look if you're a fan of the genre - it's available free for Windows, Mac and Linux at GOG as well as Steam.

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