Eschalon: Book III Review
We're told that good things often come in three's, so after enjoying the first two Eschalon iterations from small Indie developer Basilisk Games I was eager to play this third instalment. I'm pleased to say I was not disappointed. Was it a perfect experience? Of course not, but it was certainly a very enjoyable one.
If you've played the earlier games, then you pretty much know what to expect since the game uses basically the same engine ase and not much has changed. Character creation is fairly quick and painless, but has enough choices to allow you to customise your character within the basic framework of fighter, mage, and thief. While it is easy to specialise, any hybrid mix is possible. Want a healing Ranged archer; simply specialise in Bow and Divination. There are plenty of skills to choose from and you can learn new ones quite easily throughout the game, either from trainers, or from books which drop randomly in chests and which can be bought from merchants.
One piece of advice when creating your character is to avoid taking too many skills at creation. Learning a new skill costs 3 Skill Points, while increasing an already known skill only costs 1. A trainer will teach you a new skill for 100 gold and a skill book costs about the same. Training costs increase per level (200 gold for level 2, 300 gold for level 3), so it is FAR more economical to buy a new skill and raise it with skill points. You receive 3 Skill Points each level and 4 Attribute points which you can use as you wish on your key attributes such as Strength, Endurance, Dexterity, etc.
This versatility enables you to plan and develop the type of character you prefer, though the general consensus seems to be that playing a mage type is the easiest and the thief the most challenging. However, for the masochists among you, the game also offers a choice of separate Challenges to boost your final score such as not using any weapons, or never getting healed by a healer to name only 2. Other options you can choose for an easier game include no weapon degradation and no need to eat and drink. Flexibility is, I believe, one of the strong points of the game.
This is a solo adventure with a simple though engaging story which has built up over three games. It shines though in its primary focus on exploration and turn based combat. I lost track of just how many maps there were, but there was something important to discover on each one. Some were pore wilderness, some contained towns and others hosted dungeons, while nearly all had monsters to kill. Quick travel is possible between many of the maps once a key marker is found, but it does take time and shoes can wear out and it's quite possible to leave one map in bright daylight and arrive at another when it is pitch dark. You'd better have a torch or light spell handy.
Combat is an ever present possibility either with a single enemy, or in many cases anywhere from 2 to 8 or more. Some are quite easy while others can prove a real challenge. It's the game's way of keeping you out of certain areas until you're ready for them. You can travel anywhere at any time, but you'll soon learn that the creatures in some areas are FAR too difficult for you at your current level. Return once you've gained a few levels and you'll find that they are much easier to deal with. Armour, rings, and pendants help against both physical and magical attacks and all can either be found in chests, or bought from merchants if you can afford them. Money can be hard to come by in this game, with plenty to spend it on.
The game uses a simple paper doll system so you can see your avatar in all its glory wearing that pointy wizard's hat or rounded skull cap. There are slots for all the usual pieces and the option to set up and change your weapons quickly. You also have several quick slots for potions, or to swap rings and pendants. The UI is extremely easy to use with left mouse button for most movements and attacks while the right button casts spells and drinks potions.
I really enjoyed the dungeons in Book 3. They not only varied in size and complexity (one of the dungeons you visit late in the game was massive) but they contained a variety of interesting puzzles as well. I really like dungeons which are more than just walk down this hallway and kill a few monsters. None of the puzzles were overly difficult, and many were based around levers, but a few were definitely original. There were even a few clever puzzles to be found in the wilderness maps as well. There's a certain sense of satisfaction which comes from puzzle solving that has been missing in many of the games released in the past few years. Younger players who didn't grow up playing games like 'Eye of the Beholder' for example, may find this a shock to their delicate system. I found it a delight.
The magic system is relatively unchanged from the previous games, though some of the spells are different. You can assign spells to different number keys, along with a power level based on your skill in that type of magic (Elemental or Divination) and either your Intelligence or Wisdom Attribute. However, one thing I didn't like was the manner in which most spells became available. While some spell scrolls might appear in a random chest drop, most needed to be bought. However, the inventory available in the shops was also not only random, but often painfully so. You might find 5 copies a relatively useless spell like Draw Water available and no copies of a simple light spell in any of the shops. There are plenty of merchants selling spells, but there's no guarantee that even if you quick travel to each one that you will find a copy of the one you want even after several re-loads. Would it have been too hard to program the game so that the store inventory was not cluttered with multiple copies of the same spell? I actually found this the single most frustrating thing in the entire game.
There are a ton of quests available in the game which you obtain by talking to the various NPC's. Some are quick and simple while others will take most of the game to complete. If nothing else, they provide a guide throughout the game as to what you should be doing since there are no quest markers to assist you. If you want your hand held, then this little gem is definitely not for you. I managed to complete every quest and had a quiet satisfaction that I was able to do so by game's end. Perhaps there could have been more variety, but they certainly weren't all of the Fed-Ex kind.
So far, so good
So far, most of my comments have been positive. What then were the shortcomings of the game? I think it lacked balance since it was clearly far easier to play a mage type character than any other. Magic was definitely more powerful than most ranged and melee attacks. During most of the game money could be hard to come by, but near the end, when I didn't need it, I suddenly had more than I could spend. I've read that some people found the game too short. My playthrough took 30.6 hours according to the in-game clock which for an Indie game is a solid length in my opinion, but I'm a completest so others may find it takes them less time. Sometimes all the walking back and forth could be tedious especially since there was a constant need to buy and sell which generally meant a quick trip to a town and then a walk back. There wasn't much need for fancy tactics. Kite and kill worked best with groups and with a single opponent you could either overpower it, or you ran. At least that was a viable option.
So, in summary I found this third adventure in the land of Eschalon enjoyable, fun and rather addictive. It was always just let me finish this current map, but I wonder, what's awaiting me if I cross over to the next one. I really found it hard to stop playing. Sure the graphics aren't earth shattering, but neither is the price. I certainly found them more than adequate. One tip, be sure to take the Cartography skill if you want the use of a mini-map. Level 2 should suffice.
If you played either (or both) of the first 2 games in the series, then You won't want to miss this one. I actually enjoyed it more than Book 2. Unfortunately, Book 1 was so long ago I don't remember it well enough to make a comparison. It's a delightful little gem which shouldn't be missed by anyone who enjoys Old School gameplay with turn based combat.
Information aboutEschalon: Book III
Developer: Basilisk Games
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2014-02-14
· Publisher: Basilisk Games
- Continues on from Book 2
- Old School RPG
- Turn Based with Puzzles
- Flexible Skill system
- Addictive Fun
- Some Balancing Issues
- Store items too random and often useless
- A lot of walking back and forth
- Some may find it too short