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Eschalon Book 2 – PC Game Review

Developer: Basilisk Games

Author: Avery Abernethy

Eschalon Book 2 is a turn-based, single-player role playing game produced by Basilisk Games. I purchased my copy on a www.gog.com sale. There is a playable demo which can be found at: http://basiliskgames.com/downloads. I purchased a full copy without playing the demo because the price was low and I tend to like these sorts of games. This review is based on more than 30 hours of play. My fighter played the game to completion including exploring every map and completing every quest. My play style can be described as “overkill” and one should be able to complete the game in fifteen to twenty hours of play.

This was a fun game. There is a huge variety of skills, weapons, armors, spells, alchemy, and side skills that will warm the heart of any old-school RPGer. The combat is turn-based so there is no irritation at having twitched right instead of twitching left and thus causing the demise of a character. There are lots of enemies to smite and quests to complete.

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The world is open. There is nothing preventing the player from wandering anywhere on the huge maps in the game – except the deadly monsters infesting the various maps. Play balance in open world games can be a design challenge. Play balance was done quite well done for my fighter character. I occasionally wandered onto a map with monsters far more powerful than I. But prodigiously using my potions and running really fast enabled me to escape, become more powerful, and return to wreak my pixilated vengeance at a later time.

The player receives a mysterious note at the start of the game requesting a clandestine meeting. As many RPG meetings of this type go, the contact is assassinated while leaving clues which drive the story for the rest of the game. There are a couple of neat twists on this plot which I will not divulge. Overall, the background story is enough to drive the character’s actions without becoming an annoying deus ex machina holding the whip hand over the player.
In Eschalon Book 2 the player can use perfectly adequate prerolled characters or can roll the computer dice until they get a player of their liking. The characters can be dramatically shaped by skill point allocation as they gain levels. Still, the basic characters tend to be a fighter, an archer, or a magic user. A combat-avoiding thief can be designed but I doubt the utility of that play style given how experience points are awarded.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to be both a highly skilled mage and a powerful fighter. The combat bonus system also strongly encourages players to concentrate almost exclusively on one type of weapon. My character concentrated on beating enemies to death with blunt objects. But chopping people up with swords, piercing them with arrows, stabbing them with pointy things, or frying them with magic also seemed viable. Players must also choose to focus on light armor, heavy armor, or be an unarmored artful dodger.

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There are an impressive number of choices available to accountants wishing to juggle the use of skill points to maximize character benefits. There is also a well-developed alchemist system that can provide magical boosts to those concentrating primarily on fighting or can be used to supplement the spell slinging of the mage types.

Because multiple player types and skill combinations are available, there is some limited replay value. The player is awarded a final point total when completing the main quest. Various difficult to well-nigh impossible play style bonuses (such as killing 20 or fewer enemies during the entire game) can further boost final scores if the player is able to accept some highly annoying limits on their game play. People desiring to maximize final point totals can derive considerable joy while most ordinary gamers can ignore these arbitrary limits. Still, this is a fixed world and the quests, monster types, and a limited number of puzzles are invariant from game to game.

The game has low hardware and software requirements. For example, the game is playable on Microsoft systems ranging from XP to Windows 8. The game is also playable on MAC and other software systems. The game is quite stable. I did not encounter a fatal crash, game freeze, or totally unsolvable situation throughout my 30+ hours of game play.

Although there are lots of positives to Eschalon Book 2, there are some annoyances. First, I could not get the background sounds to stay off. When I turned the dial to zero it would reset to low background sound levels when loading a save game or moving onto a new game map. Second, most maps are wilderness with encounters being few and far between. There is a waypoint system which can be used when transport nodes are discovered. But even with the transport nodes players will spend a lot of time walking across maps in which the opponents are all dead, never to respawn again.

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There were two other annoyances which I solved using a character editor. Initially players do not get a player map unless the character has at least a point of cartography skill. This was annoying so I used the editor to bump my cartography skill to the level where, when I saw something (walls, doors, switches, etc…) they were mapped. The heal rate and magic point regeneration rate are also very slow. At high levels when your character has a lot of hit or mana points, it can take days of game time rest to get back to full strength. Because monsters never respawn on a cleared map, this slow heal rate became an annoyance with no corresponding game play justification. Again, I used a user-developed character editor to bump my medicine skill to make the heal rate acceptably fast. Some will not care for the graphics, the lack of party-based groups, or turn-based combat. But I view these criteria as design choices and not game flaws.

By using the character editor I was able to remove or mitigate the few annoying features of the game while retaining everything that I liked. If you enjoy single-player, turn-based, somewhat story driven RPGs I strongly urge you to try out the demo. If you like the Spiderweb Software RPGs I would recommend buying Eschlon Book 2 without trying the demo. I found the game to be so interesting that I played it through to completion, a real-time investment of thirty hours. That is about as high of a complement that I can give a game, other than my rating of 90%.

About the Author

Avery Abernethy has been playing RPGs for thirty-five years. He is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University and has been known to name his characters “War Eagle.”

2 Responses to Eschalon Book 2 – PC Game Review

  1. Leshpar says:

    I find these classic style WRPGs to be the best things ever. Seriously I give eschalon a very high rating and would also recommend games like Avernum and Geneforge (both series by spiderweb games) if you’re looking for more in this style. I’d also have to recommend Shadowrun Returns and Baldur’s Gate if you’re looking for more of a AAA take on this genre of WRPGs.

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