DGS Games

GrogHeads Reviews Eschalon Book 3

Hop on GOG.com and pick up some old-school RPG action.

by Avery Abernethy, 6 July 2014

Eschalon Book 3 (EB3) is the final release in the Basilisk Software trilogy. It is a single person, turned based role-playing game. This review is based on more than 25 hours of game play and the completion of all major quests. Although the game developers were kind enough to offer me a review copy through Steam, I purchased a copy from www.gog.com. I bought a copy because I like having the game in DRM-free mode, in a form easily playable on the road when I lack an internet connection. The www.gog.com download was fast. I did not have any technical problems with the game crashing, freezing, or similar problems.

EB3 follows the conventions of the previous two releases which are common to many computer role playing games. The player has the choice of four different types of starting characters: a melee fighter, an offensive magic specialist, a defensive/healing magic specialist, or a missile weapon oriented fighter. Your character starts very weak, with poor armor, weapons, or a few weak spells. Your initial opponents are also weak.: your first enemy encounters are against rather large roaches which you beat to death with wooden clubs.

start out weak

Start out weak

roach meet club

Roach meet club

 

As you win battles and find treasure you become more powerful with better weapons, armor, spells, and potions. Your character will also gain additional skills which can be used in combat or to assist in non-combat aspects of your adventures. While it is somewhat possible to cross-specialize away from your initial character type, your general destiny in terms of general game play is determined when you choose your initial character class. There is a main quest along with many side-quests.

End up strong

End up strong

 

There are no barriers preventing novice characters from moving into most maps at the start of the game. But inexperienced characters will be unable to win, or even survive, combat on many maps until they become stronger. This is a game design trade-off. Either the designer blocks off certain areas at the beginning for weak characters, or the characters may wander into areas where survival is unlikely. EB3 handles this balance pretty well.

 

Players who are paying attention will quickly realize that they cannot survive on some maps early in the game and will need to run away. The flow of the game also leads characters towards specific maps where the level of danger provides a challenge. But the game is not so hard that players will become overly frustrated.

 

skull dungeon

Skull dungeon

 

The game controls are logical and easy to use with a keyboard/mouse combination. Because combat is turn based the specific mapping of keys is not vital to success. The music fit the game,but I quickly muted it due to boredom, as I do with almost every game I play. Players can mute music, background noise, or even play in total silence if they want. Movement speed across maps was reasonable. In sum, all of the background elements of the game performed well. Graphics are basic, but completely adequate for the game. Graphics are similar in quality to the RPGs produced by Spiderweb software.

 

Giant Frog Lord

Giant frog lord

 

The game played without any technical problems on my three year old Falcon Northwest machine. Computer requirements are very low which means that an older desktop or laptop should be able to run the game. A demo of the game is available. The demo can be converted to a full game upon purchase. The demo is long enough to give the player a good feel for the game.

 

 

The game is not without its flaws.   A straight fighter character has a big advantage in completing the game. The very limited number of ingredients for alchemy and the very high cost of spells make a magic user a challenge to play. I doubt if a straight healer type can succeed. A ranged-weapons oriented fighter should be playable because arrows are (finally) readily available in EB3.

The game convention for mapping follows the same irritating pattern as the earlier releases. Without spending precious skill points on cartography the player will have no map of the area. Without a considerable number of points invested in an otherwise worthless skill the player’s saved map will not show the location of doors and other topographic features. I used a readily available character editor to provide my starting character with a mapping skill sufficient to overcome my irritation with this game convention.

 

some map humor

Some map humor

 

put on a happy face

Put on a happy face

 

Other game flaws are more serious. The game is much shorter than the current version of Eschalon Book 1 or Book 2. But the software developers did provide considerable free extra content after the initial release for the first two games. The game has many “special awards” for playing the game a specific way or achieving certain milestones. In EB3 the special awards are really annoying because many are impossible to achieve with the length of the original game release. I finished the game and tried to obtain and complete every side quest and found that many special achievements seemed to be impossible due to the short length of the game.

 

towns are small

Towns are small

 

The main plot was my biggest problem. Close to the end of the game the player is given a choice between siding with one of two factions: no other choice is available. But both factions seemed to be playing with the lives of everyone on the planet and neither faction was appealing. The final plot choices seemed to me to be a choice between “bad” and “even worse.”

 

A passible gameplay goal for an RPG or even a series of linked RPGs is pretty easy to write. Common themes include:

  • Rescue somebody;
  • Kill the tyrant/demon/evil overlord,
  • Bring peace between all the factions,
  • Stop the horrible evil threat that will enslave/kill/or seriously annoy the world,
  • Or simply kill all of your enemies and retire super rich and famous

 

But the final plot in the Eschalon series seriously annoyed me, and it shocked me to feel this way, becauseI’ve completed at least a score of RPGs. I’ve occasionally been impressed with the plot with examples being Icewind Dale and the two Avadon games. I’ve sometimes been confused by the main plot like Wizardry 8 and Morrowind. I was astounded and amazed by the main plot in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. And I was so shocked by the ending of Fallout 1 that I screamed “No No Noooooooooooo” at the monitor. [But Fallout 1 is a great game with a great plot that I highly recommend].

I’ve been bored by any number of RPG main plots. But EB3 is the first time that I thought that my character would have been better off staying home and drinking beer instead of attempting the main quest. The writers tried something new here and I think their choice was poor.

I like RPGs. Dated graphics do not bother me andI’ve seldom thought that the time I’ve invested in completing an RPG was a disappointment. I recommended Eschalon Book 2! But the short total gameplay and disappointing main plot of EB3 prevent me from recommending this game.

 

Avery Abernethy has enjoyed completing a lot of computer RPGs. In real life he is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University.


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