CrazyBernie's Crazy Eschalon: Book I ReviewThe author of this article can not be held responsible for any spoilers contained within. Read at your own risk! Or have someone else read it for you...
Over a year after creating my first character in the land of Thaermore, I finally got around to completing the game. Granted, I have ADHD (if you believe in that sort of thing) and am easily distracted by things that are shiny, but I did
finish it. Thus, I felt it necessary to share my opinions with everyone else, regardless of whether or not everyone else wishes to know them. Without further ado....1. Character Creation
Ah, this brings back memories. Whether it be playing the old D&D based computer games or even some classic tabletop action, part of the fun was rolling the stats and deciding exactly what kind of character you wanted to portray. After spending far too much time re-rolling the dice, I finally settled on a Druidic Rogue of Nor'lander origin. I would have spent far less time re-rolling stats if there was an option to swap stats around, but it's a minor nitpick. My only real gripe with the whole Character Creation concept is the classes. They seem like almost an afterthought, with the inclusion of a single free skill. With the availability of trainers and books to learn the same skills, what's the point? If Eschalon is suppose to be a skill based RPG, why not just allow players to pick one free skill and do away with the whole Class option? You can include the class in with the Title, based on the starting skills. Either that or the classes should have more to differentiate them such as more starting skills or class-exclusive abilities.2. Gameplay
In total, I spent 22.5 hours on a single playthrough with my Rogue. Of course, this is not counting reloads for silly deaths and my initial re-rolling of chests to obtain decent starting equipment (yes, it's evil, but there's good reason... read on...). I particularly like the initial starting storyline for the game... waking up in a destroyed village with no memory of who you are and nothing but a note to put all your trust in... classic stuff for sure. The entire storyline itself is fairly straightforward... offering just enough to keep you going to the next point in your quest. I would have liked to see more sidequests and more fleshing out of some of the townspeople, but I won't beat the developers up too much on their first go-round
I'm big on exploration in an RPG, so much time was spent wandering around, searching every nook and cranny to make sure I get all the loot and find possible secrets. Eschalon delivers in part on this aspect, with chests planted in obscure locations throughout the land. Unfortunately, the "hidden" chests are based on the same random loot table as the rest of the game, so I have every bit of a chance at getting that elusive Adamantine Great Sword +4 as I do the not so elusive tuber. This makes one less interested in exploring the game and more inclined to just plow through the main story. Then you run into the problem of needing to flesh out the story to keep people interested in completing the game. Or, it introduces the so-called "re-rolling" of chests, where one saves before opening a chest since the treasure is randomly generated upon the opening. Then, if you don't get what you want, just re-load the save and open again... and again... and again... until something shiny and new catches your eye.
There seemed to be a bit of imbalance to the development of your character as well. If you didn't max out a combat skill at the creation of your character, initial progression could be quite difficult. This is why I ended up re-rolling chests for decent equipment at the beginning of the game, after being trounced by a couple of lizards. That being said, by the middle of the game I was far too overpowered. Once I hit around level 10, I was a force to be reckoned with. When I reached the end of the game, it was far too easy. I was quite disappointed with how much of a pushover Gramuk ended up being, and obtaining the Destroyer ending was cake. My Rogue had a 98% chance to hit anything, and at most anything had a 19% chance to hit him. This is before any buffing, of course. It appears Alchemy is a big part of this imbalance.... with all my armor enchanted my AC was pretty much doubled. Combine that with Haste III, Healing III and Demon oil III... no wonder I was unstoppable. It's not that I needed
alchemy to breeze through the ending, it just made it that much faster.
The enemies you encounter fit well with their locations. It was nice to not have a rat be your first encounter for a change....
I am hoping to see a larger variety with Book II, and so far it looks like Basilisk is going to deliver.3. Graphics
While simple in nature, the graphics in this game are incredibly well done. Everything blends together nicely, be it the background tiles, the lighting effects, or the simple graphic for the apple in your inventory. Other "new-old-school rpgs" I've seen/played seem to have difficulty with this concept. One of the most notable examples in my opinion is the Spiderweb games. The characters don't seem to fit the surroundings that they're in. It's like one guy did the background tiles, another guy did the characters, and they never talked to each other or compared notes. None of that is a problem in Eschalon.
The only real gripe I have graphics-wise is the fixed resolution. Ok, well maybe two gripes, but they're related. The low resolution of Book I makes it a pain in the rear to run in a window on my laptop; it has a 15" screen with a 1600x1200 resolution. It scales pretty well in full screen, but then the other "gripe" comes into play... the HUD. It's huge
! It effectively reduces the actual gameplay area to ~ 570x456. It'd be nice to see a more streamlined interface, something along the lines of.... say Pool of Radiance
. If it could be shrunk down, maybe some alpha blending thrown in... or have the ability to toggle it on/off. I'd just like to see more of the world of Eschalon, and less of the interface. Is that too much to ask for??
On the resolution thingy.... I know Book II is going to be 1024x768... that's great. The suck part is I want to get a netbook, and they run @ 1024x600... I lose again.
HP gave me hope with the upcoming 1000 series... was supposed to be 1280x800... final specs put it back down to 1024x600... the bastards! 4. Sound
Don't really have much to say here... ambient sounds are nice, creature sounds are normal fare, not really looking for an ear feast with this kind of game. I suppose there could be some improvement in the battle sounds, and it wouldn't hurt to have some voice-overs here and there with NPCs. Hopefully there will be some good ambient sounds in Book II in regards to the weather effects; thunder, rain, wind, and all that jazz will be something to look forward to. On a whole, the audio was pretty average.5. Overall - a.k.a. Fun Factor
Overall I enjoyed playing through Book I. Sure there were some gripes, but they were mostly minor and likely to be addressed in Book II. In the end, it made for a nice nostalgic romp through a fantasy setting. It made me bust out some other old-school rpgs just to play through them again, and maybe actually finish them this time around.
Upon finishing the game, my initial response was.... "That's it? I'm done already?? Wait... there's gotta be more!!" While partially a letdown, it was also partly a sign of solid game design. With the understanding that the game has been designed as a trilogy, the shortness of the game isn't such a big deal. However, it did raise a concern about the initial price of the game. My ex-gf bought it for me over a year ago so it's not so big a deal for me. Also, I enjoyed the game and I have no qualms at dropping the cash on Book II and Book III, but it may be a concern for potential new players. In the end I don't think it will be a huge issue as Book II appears to be shaping up as a larger, more involved experience.The Setup
- Character Creation is fun.
- Story is enough to keep you going, even if a bit on the thin side.
- Graphics are top notch for the game type.
- Lots of places to explore and a decent amount of "secrets"
- Overall enjoyable experience.
- Short. Too short. Need more story and sidequests.
- Treasure/Loot system needs balance.
- Character Skills, Classes, and Leveling need balance.
- Resolution/HUD needs streamlining. More game, less HUD!!
I give it a final Score of 85%
. It has some marks against it, but nothing drastic that will take away from the overall experience. I have great expectations for Book II