There’s a little bit of a lull in the Fantasy Role Playing Game genre for video gamers at the moment as we wait for Dragon Age 2, The Witcher and Diablo 3 to be released, so I spent a little time and searched for a game to pass the time while I waited for these massive games to be released.
What I found was a game that took me right back to the origins of RPG games, similar to some of the simple games I used to play on the very old Spectrum 128k I still own! Eschalon Book II is a throw back to those times when RPG games weren’t about fantastic graphics, or sound but were more about the adventure and the joy of finishing some quests and leveling up a character.
Eschalon Book II isn’t graphically fantastic, it has decent enough animations, and has some interesting rain and storm effects, but the 2D graphics look dated and are more akin to a PSP or Nintendo DS RPG game than a fully fledged PC game.
However, as you begin to play the game and go through the simple character creation, choosing from four traditional classes (warrior, thief, ranger and mage) you begin to get a strange feeling of nostalgia, especially when you begin to play the game and realize that the initial class is only important for the start-up and you can essentially make your own class as you go on.
The mechanics are pretty standard, with each attribute affecting some area or other of the game – I won’t go into details here as the game does a great job of letting you know what each attribute is used for!
One thing I note is that you shouldn’t just make arbitrary choices as you go along -the game is pretty complex and you’ll be surprised what skills are important as you go on – don’t neglect alchemy skills or lock picking – they are very important!
As you begin the game, you soon find a village to explore and this is where the fun begins. Slowly, you begin to see a plot developing (this is slow at first but does speed up) but there are plenty of small quests for you to take on. The first thing I note is that the game does require a lot of patience – early on, if you get surrounded by enemies you will die quickly, so a great deal of thought is required when deciding what quests to take on; there are also some tactical elements – well not really, but you can use the ‘terrain’ to the best effect to get one enemy to come at you at a time, making the game a little easier to progress through!
Like most RPG healing and potions are important, and I found that I restarted the game to get some healing skills as I simply couldn’t afford enough healing potions initially. This is what’s interesting about the game – there are so many little subtleties that it’s actually hard to decide on which character to start with – foraging for instance is a very useful skill that allows you to gain regents that you can either sell, or make potions with – so perhaps I should change my character again!?
The quests themselves aren’t that complex, although there are some ‘chain’ quests where you have multiple tasks – they aren’t as deep or moralistic as some of the more modern games, but they are satisfying in their own way. The game is pretty huge, with plenty of areas to explore – the quests and general game play is set up well to guide you to new areas with more difficult monsters as you progress and level up, and while you can wander the world if you want, I found sticking to localized quests was really the best way to succeed in the game. One very important point I should make, and one I didn’t find out about for a while is that there is a mini-map – I was very frustrated not having that initially until I discovered the skill ‘cartography’ – and voila, there it was – the mini-map I’d been hoping for! Again, this shows the subtleties of the game and you begin to realize that concentrating on Sword, Shield and not much else, isn’t particularly the best way to go.
Travel is generally slow, although as you discover new places you are able to use a ‘quick’ travel mode that gets you there instantly.
Combat goes back to the old traditions of RPGs being turn based – enemies don’t particularly show much AI, and simply move directly towards you. The combat itself is pretty simple – simply click on the enemy to hit, cast spells or do ranged attacks – the simplicity is actually a nice change from some of the more complex games.
Magic is important in the game – there are attacking and defensive spells, as well as healing – and any character can learn them. The spell system isn’t that complex and reminds me of good old AD&D (or some of the old games that were on the Amiga and Atari ST) – I did find it important to have some magical skills though.
The story itself is a pretty bog standard good v evil story with you as the only person who can rid the world of evil – why is there always just one hero??? The progress is good though, and the story opens up nicely as you play and complete quests – there’s not much complexity but that is actually a refreshing change in a way – it’s nice to play an RPG that doesn’t require that much thought!
Overall, this game is a very interesting RPG that is a throwback to some of the games from the late 80s and early 90s! If you’re looking for top drawer graphics and sound, and a deep involved game play, then look elsewhere; if you’re looking for a game that has plenty of hack and slaying, a decent plot and a vast world in it, in which you can simply spend time having fun, but not taxing yourself then this is a great game for you.
It’s a fun game, that isn’t going to please everyone, but older gamers who’ve been playing RPG since the 80s will love the nostalgia!