Review: Eschalon: Book III

Eschalon: Book III

If you have been around as long as I have you’ve probably wondered why aren't things as cool as they used to be. From music to movies everything seems to have lost some magic. Even video games seem to have lost the shiny glow of brilliant newness. It used to be a grand adventure playing a video game, way better than playing in the park or reading a boring book. What is a person to do in times like this, what will come of the children? Am I putting too much ham on this sandwich(probably). Fret not my friends for the fine folks at Basilisk Games have come to save the day. Their classic rpg style games trilogy Eschalon, which has just released it’s latest iteration Book 3, may just be what you’re looking for.

Story

So there I was chilling in a decent enough chamber getting ready to destroy this pretty cool gemstones I had. When out of nowhere some gnarly faced little dude, calling himself “The One”, appears and demands I give him my awesome stones. Well I looked the weirdo dead in the eye and, using my best Charlton Heston, said you can have it when you pry it from my cold dead hand. Well ugly didn’t care to negotiate further and pulled out some shiney want and fired an energy beam at me. It looked like it would kill me, but it didn’t hit me it hit my precious stone. There was a flash of light a rush of air and when I came too I was laying in some sort of swamp with nothing but one of my beautiful gemstones and my incredible skills.

The game’s story itself seems somewhat safe, there are three things I need to get. There is a bad guy looking for them too. I need to find them or the bad guy will and do something undoubtedly horrible with them. The exaggerated fetch ques is probably the most overplayed plot device in literary history. Revenge however, while also overplayed, is something that always gets my blood boiling. The antagonist kills someone special to our hero, or tries to kill the hero him/herself and boom now it’s time to take the gloves off. Well that’s just unacceptable Mr. Badguy, prepare to suffer.

Eschalon: Book III

Graphics and Sound

When it comes to old school games like Eschalon: Book 3 there are certain expectation regarding graphics and sound. We are not expecting fancy 3d models and performance demanding anti-aliasing. For the most part the only flashy in the graphics department should be the spell casting animation. I expected the game to bear resemblance to the early Diablo and Fallout games, yes I played both of those and I’m still alive to talk about it. It is on those expectation that this game doesn’t disappoint. On a bright sunny day outside the colors are crisp and brilliant, when you’re in a dank and depressing dungeon the colors are earthy and cold. And spell casting shines prettily as it should. Unfortunately, screen resolution is locked at 1024x768, a rather popular resolution for the age of the game engine, which can become awkward for us fullscreen gamers with widescreen monitors. There is, handily, a help guide in the manual to overcome the stretching, but it seems in our time such efforts would be unnecessary.

The creaking of old trees swaying in the breeze, the squish of wet moss covered ground, the croaking of hidden frogs, I must be in a swamp. Sound in a game can be just as damaging to a game as a glitchy interface, or jumpy graphics, there are two main aspects to look at. Music which sets atmosphere and sound effects which relate to character interaction with the world.

Music can either be a distraction that needs to be turned off or pleasant white noise with rambunctious undertones that pop up to remind the player ‘I’m still here’. In Eschalon the music hit just the right notes, it escalated during battle and calmed during less exciting times. What I didn’t find was myself doing was searching for a way to shut if off.

The sound effects of this game stand up from foot step flawlessly transition from cobblestone to grass, to crickets who stop chirping on sunrise. Atmospheric and elegant they punctuate the essence of every situation. Whether you're enjoying the sunny day with the chirping birds or running for your life from the swarm of flesh hungry killer bees, the sound effects will be there helping you feel the moment.

Eschalon: Book III

Gameplay

Does anybody remember pen and paper games? Some of you probably still have a group of friend who gather regularly to don the hats and imagine far away realms of fantasy. For those looking for something requiring less human interaction this game bares many of the hallmarks of a great pen and paper.

The character creation screen is mild throw back to Dungeons and Dragons, as well as a handily put together invitation to understanding many of the game mechanics. Starting with you basics, Gender, Race, and Alignment, followed with an ample list of learnable skill and what character sheet would be complete without a rolled out section of player stats. Conveniently the games outlines the various stats and skill and how they interact with game play. Unlike newer games, there are no preset builds to dumb down the experience, one must be thoughtful and cautious assemble their character, keeping in mind preferred play style.

When you do enter the fray the game is heavily burdened by interfacing leaving only a portion of the screen for the hero and gamefield, reinforcing the old school feel, but reminding you of that stubborn resolution issue. Controlling is unpleasant with the mouse being primary movement option, and the keypad setup for a secondary movement command. I would have preferred a “WASD” control option, or at least an opportunity to remap the keys myself, but sadly no love for keyboard movement controls.

Now is the part where we split the hardcore from the casual gamer. This game is difficult, and rightly so it is designed to be unforgiving. From severely crippling disease to bothersome hunger and thirst gauges. Eschalon: Book 3 doesn’t pull its punches. There is no Auto-Save function to save you from losing hour long play sessions, and monsters aren't weaklings who jump on your sword. This game is cruel mistress, both enticing and painful with enjoyable and frustrating moments. Like wanting to pet the 700lb tiger at the zoo, and keep your hand at the same time.

Final Verdict: 

While Eschalon: Book 3 is a great example of old school RPGs, I’m afraid you just can't take paris out of the girl. We’ve become too attached to our modern day features, like Auto-Save. Fast paced game play has all but replaced slow deliberate thoughtful action. Instead of one man(or woman) standing up against the tyranny of evil, whole mobs must gather against foes to bloated to be real. Eschalon: Book 3 stands tall and provides it one brand of entertainment, but falls just short of the mark.

RATING: 3/5 Stars

Eschalon: Book III