May 072011
 

Dialogue is text-based, giving it a classic Zork feel.

In today’s modern world of gaming, it’s not often that you stumble across a game that pays tribute to the classics. While newer titles have certainly evolved in terms of technical capacity and style, it is often difficult nowadays to play a game that’s classically-based and have it be comparable to a modern gaming experience. To answer this difficulty, Basilisk Games has created Eschalon, a classic role-playing experience built from the ground up. The company has already released its first title, Eschalon: Book 1, which won several awards as the indie RPG of the year. Today we are reviewing its secondary installment, Eschalon: Book 2.

For those of you that haven’t had any experience with what Basilisk games has to offer, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you receive. Don’t expect any shiny Crytek engine graphics—this game hearkens back to something you might see in the first Blizzard titles. It’s in fact very similar, utilizing an isometric perspective to give the player a three-quarters viewing angle at the world he is exploring. Clearly the game is intended to be enticing for the gameplay and plot it offers, so graphics aren’t really an issue to debate. In fact, its games like these that belong to a specific era and culture of video games (being the early retro days where RPGs were still heavily influenced by D&D), so if anything, the graphics are well-suited for the experience that it offers.

Some immediate changes to the Eschalon series give the player more customization in terms of gameplay.

Let’s take a look at what the gameplay actually has to offer. Working off of their success with Eschalon: Book 1, the developers give you a lot of what made the original title so successful. The world you explore is mapped to a tile-based grid, where every square of the grid operates independently of the other. Consequently, these squares will yield different rolls for your character depending on your movement. This was certainly an unexpected layer of depth to encounter, as it makes it more difficult for the player to play the game simply for the action component available. Let me tell you, this game is hard. That’s why it’s very important for you to customize your character appropriately—otherwise you will be unable to slay the plethora of monsters that face you in the game’s numerous dungeons. I had to recreate my character at least three times before I got a working model that could actually show some progress. For some this might be a turn-off, but the game gives you difficulties to choose from so don’t be too discouraged.

In Eschalon: Book 2 players receive some new features in terms of customization. While the game originally gave you twenty-four unique skills to choose from in addition to your character stats, Book 2 gives you some additional ones, as well as the ability to choose your sex, for all the ladies that love the old-school. Furthermore, Basilisk has added new weather elements to mess with your stat rolls even more! I say this sarcastically, but in truth, it’s a very pleasant touch. If anything, it keeps gameplay challenging and refreshing. The GUI has also been tweaked, making it easier for players to navigate menus, swap armor, and the like. Overall, I can’t argue that any of these changes are anything to complain about. I felt that they definitely meshed well with the classic richness and density of the RPG theme, and still kept it straight-forward enough where you could intuitively learn how to play the game without shoving your nose in a Dungeon Master’s manual. I never had any problems figuring out which stats were necessary if I wanted to be a Druidic Assassin (they call it a Shadowlark), for instance, and choose to avoid enemies instead of directly confronting them.

Doin' the dungeon crawl.

The clincher exists in the plot. This is perhaps where the game is most limited by its dedication to classic gaming. Simply put, the game places you in the shoes of your old character, which in the last game was responsible for saving the kingdom of Thaermore from Goblin Invaders. The new plot does, in many ways, what it should have done which is expand on the concepts presented in the original and place them within the context of a larger conflict. Being a fantasy RPG, there was just simply not that much room for growth here. For the multitude of quests that were offered as side missions, and the nonlinear format that your character could follow, I didn’t feel as if the core of the plot matched up to the greatness and detail that was put in the rest of the work. Instead of growing, the plot seemingly trots along with your character based on the decisions you make. Perhaps this is a sign of the times for fantasy writers, but when it comes to resorting to a more traditionalist affair such as this, the plot could have used more development.

Overall, it’s hard to be unimpressed with this game. It renders a beautiful role-playing experience, giving what’s best of the old with what’s good in the new. Non-linear gameplay is something I’m still a bit new to, so the fact that I could juggle three or four different quests in an old school format kept it compelling and certainly added to my overall playtime.  If you feel like taking a little trip though time and playing the RPGs of old, this is your title. Naturally, there isn’t much of a market for classic RPGs anymore, but Basilisk did a fine job at showing what was so great about it in the first place.

Eschalon: Book 2 receives an 8.5 out of 10. It’s a casual feel-good kind of title, with solid gameplay and impressive design. However, less patient players may find themselves a tad bored with the plot and difficulty of all of the missions.

PC Game

Graphics

65
 

Audio

70
 

Gameplay

87.5

Creativity

80
 

Execution

80
 

Offset

85
    

7.8

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

Players can find more info here, as well as download a free demo or purchase the game directly.

Pros:

  • Good amount of depth to gameplay
  • Easy to learn and pickup
  • Classic vibes from the days of old

Cons:

  • Appeals to strict RPG-players in terms of stat development
  • Monsters are almost cruel in their ferocity
A copy of this game was provided for review purposes.

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