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Eschalon: Book III Preview; throwback RPG that delivers on the promise

Eschalon: Book III Preview: Nostalgia encapsulated
Eschalon: Book III Preview: Nostalgia encapsulated
Eschalon: Book III Preview: Nostalgia encapsulated (photo via Basilisk Games)

Eschalon: Book III is an interesting concept that stems from the wish to play a “good old fashioned RPG”. Eschalon: Book III pulls you in at the start, and will keep you engaged for hours to come. Gamers looking for a throwback title that screams value and depth, need look no further.

Book III does what it aims to accomplish, and well so far. The time machine factor is immediately apparent upon getting to the game’s title screen, and carries through a majority of the game itself. While the visuals aren’t going to rival anything like Skyrim or The Witcher, that’s the point. That’s part of the charm and draw for a title like Book III, they are trying to wax nostalgic for those players that remember games like this, or those that want to have a more traditional experience with their RPG. While it might be easy to write the game off at aiming to just play on nostalgia, the game does have some great concepts, interesting art, and its fair share of challenge built right in.

Eschalon: Book III is the third in the isometric, turn-based Eschalon: Book series, which saw its first title release back in 2007. Book I was generally well received, garnering positive reviews, and receiving the dignity of being runner up for GameBanshee’s Indie RPG of the year in 2007. That reception also translated into decent sales for the first title, with series selling about 25% better than anticipated, and turning a profit for developer Basilisk Games.

The success of Book I no doubt paved an easy path for the developer to release Book II as planned, and the developer concedes that while the original did sell better, the reviews for Book II were solid as well, some in fact exceeding the original title.

With Eschalon: Book III, Basilisk looks to continue the success of the series thus far, and enhance the already proven formula that nostalgia + depth + mechanics + challenge = experience.

Not everyone will be able to jump into a game like any in the Eschalon series and immediately understand what they are going for, and what the game aims to do. What Book III does so well is offers that classic mix of challenge and control, within restrictions of the game world that are entirely fair, if sometimes unforgiving. During our playthrough of a preview build of Eschalon: Book III, provided by Basilisk Games, a few things became quite apparent, and quickly;

  • The game is challenging at early levels, being that all areas in the game are immediately unlocked, it’s entirely possible to run into a dungeon that you have no business being in
  • Running away is for champions and the brave. But really, this is a viable strategy, and one that should be utilized as a tactical/panic decision.
  • Character creation is deep, and the paths are clear. Immediately apparent is the fact that you can pick up anything you want (encumbrance does factor in) and utilize it, only if your skills dictate that you can. Got a fancy new hat? Better be light armor level 2! And so began the quest to increase the light armor skill.
  • If you want story, you will get it. The writing in the game is a welcome depth addition that most current games seem to fluff or just pipe in, not in Eschalon. The lore is solid and makes sense within typical fantasy archetypes and beliefs, while still adding elements that make the world interesting.
  • Systems are deep, so take care. The character creation, menus, inventory, leveling, camping, and pretty much all systems in the game have received a ton of TLC from the dev team, and it really shows with how much time you could spend in game. From random books found in chests, to the effects and detriments a certain type of armor or spell can grant, time is your friend in this game, so take plenty.

While the time spent in Eschalon is engrossing and captivating, some players that want to just “jump in” may find that things are not as easy as picking it up as they go. For instance, players need to know a hard lesson this Examiner learned all too late – repairing is only active while camping. The amounts of weapons that simply exploded in the characters hands was a little shocking until a vital skill came available outside of the game world; reading. The user manual is a must read for those wishing to get acclimated quickly. Some may find this a bit frustrating, but echoes the aim of the title at its very core, and speaks volumes to the experience that Eschalon creates, not only in-game.

What this title really accomplished during the playthrough, was land the marketing message for the game thus far; made us yearn for a title that we could put a ton of time and care into a character, while being challenged and rewarded. Eschalon: Book III comes at a time that is extremely conducive of indie success, and it won’t be hard to imagine this finale being one that becomes the most successful for the series, and perhaps gets gamers to take a look in the old way-back machine for some context to newer and upcoming titles. One thing is for certain about Eschalon; this Examiner thinks it’s worth it to check out, and RPG fans will be well at home with this title.

Books I & II in the series are currently available at more than reasonable prices both on Basilisk's website, and GOG.com and DRM free.

Eschalon: Book III releases on February 14, 2014 and joins its predecessors in being a Mac, Linux, and PC title with absolutely zero DRM.

Basilisk Games, developer of Eschalon: Book III, provided Examiner with a "Pre-Alpha" evaluation copy of the title, used solely for that purpose.

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