Review: Eschalon: Book 1
by Basilisk Games
by Troy Hepfner
April 2009 newsletter featured a brief write-up of Eschalon:
Book 1, but I wanted to write a full review. I have been playing
through the full version of this game during the past several weeks, and I
absolutely love it!
Book 1 is the first of a trilogy of classic role-playing games from
Basilisk Games. It is a single-player game and it is turn-based, which
means that you make a move and then the computer makes a move. Nothing
happens in "real time". The game is essentially paused while it
waits for you to perform an action, although there is nothing to prevent
you from playing quickly so that actions happen in "near real
time". After you take a step, open a chest, attack an enemy, or any
one of a hundred other actions, the computer calculates the actions of all
the other game characters in the environment. The results of both your
actions and the actions of other characters are determined by virtual dice
rolls that are modified based on the character's skills, abilities, and
current condition. Strategy is the key to success in this game. Careful
skill management, equipment selection, and magic usage will win your
fights, not rapid button clicking.
you start the game, you begin at the Character Creation screen where you
can design your own character. The game provides a huge variety of options
to choose from. Start by selecting a class: fighter, rogue, magic user,
healer, or ranger. You can then choose the character's origin - depending
on where your character is from, he will have certain attribute bonuses.
You can also choose an axiom or belief system, each of which has its own
advantages and disadvantages in the game. There are 24 different skills
you can select from, and 8 base attributes that affect your character's
every action in the game.
your character will be really weak, so I highly recommend specialization.
A well-balanced character with a wide variety of level-1 skills won’t
survive long. For my first character, I chose to create a fighter with
maximum strength and only a few skills: light armor (which is all you'll
find early in the game), shields, survival, cartography (needed to use the
in-game map), and swords. I dumped as many skill points into swords as I
could. Later in the game, you'll have the opportunity to learn more
skills, so don't worry about missing out on skills that you think you
your adventure begins, you'll start out in this little ruined house above.
Moving around is quite easy, just click your mouse in the direction you
want to go. As your mouse moves over certain objects, like the chest next
to the bed, the object becomes highlighted. Left-click on objects to do
something with them. Click on a chest to open it, click on an enemy to
attack, click on a friend to talk, etc. You can do nearly everything with
the mouse, which makes the game very easy to play.
story in this game is really something. You begin with no memory of who
you are, where you are, or how you came to be there. This means you will
be learning about the world of Eschalon along with your character, which
adds a lot of realism to the adventure. The only clue you have regarding
your past is contained in the sealed note shown in the screenshot above.
This note provides the guidance and direction you need to get started. As
you play through the game, you will discover that things aren't always
what they seem. I was surprised by a number of clever plot twists that I
didn't see coming. The story is epic in scope and very well-written
game itself is largely non-linear. You can play along with the story, or
you can go off on your own adventure. The game world is massive, with lots
of places to explore and things to do. You have the freedom to travel in
any direction, although you have to be careful you don't wander into
places that require a more experienced adventurer. I sometimes stumbled
into situations where I was hopelessly outnumbered or confronted with an
enemy who was much too powerful for me, and had to beat a hasty retreat.
The nice thing, though, is that your character grows and develops as you
gain experience, so you can always return later and try again.
of the many things I really enjoyed about this game was all the attention to detail. I
could tell that this game was a labor of love on the part of the
developer. There were a lot of little features and minor details that
resulted in some pleasantly surprising and very satisfying gameplay. For
example, I was looking for a place called Bordertown, and as I was getting
closer, I ran across a group of bandits. I was outnumbered with only
partial health and no healing potions, so I decided to run. The bandits
pursued. I ran in the direction I was already going, hoping to find the
town and a shop I could duck into to buy some healing potions. As I
approached the town, I was surprised to see the townspeople rush out to
intercept the bandits and start fighting them! In some games, the
townspeople would just stand there while you were being killed, oblivious
to what was happening. But not this game! This little detail made the game
world feel so much more real and immersive. And I've had lots of other
experiences like that too, where the game world just seems to come alive!
game comes with a player's manual in PDF format, in which you will find a
lot of helpful tips. It describes all of the different character
attributes, skills, game controls, and more. There's also a nice full-page
map of the game world that you can print out and keep in front of you as
far, I've been playing this game for about 60 hours, and I estimate I'm
about 2/3 of the way through. I've talked to some folks who claim they
finished this game in about 20 hours, but they must have missed a lot of
stuff. I've been taking the time to explore every nook and cranny of the
game world, and it has been a rich experience so far. There are a lot of
hidden places, and it is easy to miss them if you don't stop to look
around. And even when I eventually finish the game, I can see how fun it
will be to replay it using a different character class with different
skill sets. Granted, the story and game world itself is relatively fixed
and won't change much. But the treasure is all randomly generated, and
playing as a wizard or a rogue will require a very different approach for
dealing with enemies and puzzles.
Eschalon: Book 1 is a very satisfying adventure game that gives you a lot
of bang for your buck. It has a lot of replay value, and it gives you a
lot of freedom to play through the game at your own pace and in your own
way. The game is rated Teen on our site, however, due to some mild
language and mild fantasy violence, so it is not for younger children. But
it is relatively clean compared to a lot of games that teens are playing
is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.