Eschalon: Book III is the third and final installment in the Eschalon role-playing game series, developed by Basilisk Games and expected to launch on February 14, 2014, for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Eschalon is famous for its classical role-playing elements and isometric 2D worldview, eschewing from the fast-paced click-frenzy action modern iterations of the genre prefer, and delivering a more profound turn-based experience geared toward old-school RPG enthusiasts.
The Eschalon role-playing game series features large, open-ended game worlds and very detailed character development options, based and improving on the old-school models of stats having a great importance in many of the game's mechanics, with a list of developable skills to choose from for further specialization.
Eschalon: Book III will bring the series to an end, allowing players to finally uncover the mysteries of the character's past, the powerful crux stones and the secret behind the Orakur.
The game starts off reminiscing of the good old days of pen & paper, by rolling the stats, and then choosing a gender, class, race and alignment to serve as character background, all of which offer different bonuses and penalties.
The stat-based system seems very nice at first glance, with some welcome diversity and more than one stat governing each member of the holy triad of warrior/thief/mage.
It would have been nice to have some insight into exactly how they influence your character's prowess though, but they all have synergies with the appropriate class skills.
Eschalon: Book III, like its predecessors, does not offer skill trees to follow, instead opting to fully allow players to customize their skillsets. There are no prerequisites, just decisions to be made whether the first 3 points required to learn a skill are not worth considerably raising another one.
Apart from the usual skills required to use various weapon archetypes and wear assorted armor or cast a certain school of spells, there are also some interesting ones such as Mapmaking, Hide in Shadows and Foraging.
Without Mapmaking, for example, you cannot use the minimap at all. The first point investments will offer a rudimentary representation of the surrounding area, while subsequent ones will gradually increase the fidelity of the minimap.
Eschalon: Book III's interface is another blast from the past, as the screen is not entirely devoted to the action, a big part of it being reserved for the minimap, basic character stats and various menus and interactions.
There are some nice mechanics such as being able to gear your attacks toward doing more damage but having a lower chance to land and vice-versa, and the option to have your character go thirsty or hungry, which adds a new level of complexity to the game, as you have to plan your forays into the wild, and not just wander off.
This is a good indication of how the game plays, you don't just go in and mindlessly spend a couple of minutes bashing heads, you have to be really careful and prepared, and you have to take advantage of every little thing you can, even abusing the AI, because the game is very, very difficult.
If you don't have a torch in range, dungeons get darker, and if you don't carry a torch yourself, you'll quickly find your hit chance severely dropping when trying to teach some pesky cockroaches a lesson. And they can also spray some goo on you and blind you, further adding to the penalty.
You can get bitten by leeches while simply traveling in swamps, if you're barefoot, resulting in you getting diseased. And traveling barefoot isn't just a nod to a popular fantasy series featuring hobbits, it also helps you make less noise when you're sneaking around.
In fact, many of the game's critters and environments are actively trying to get you killed, by either brutal murder or slow, withering disease that you generally have to try and cure pretty fast, because some of them will severely impact your abilities (such as a 75 percent penalty to strength).
You certainly won't be running around steamrolling throngs of baddies; your time will more likely be spent trying to get monsters separated from the group using some trees or a wall, or valiantly manning a choke point, and then taking them on one at a time, or at least more spread out so that you can quickly dispatch one before having to deal with another.
Mages don't have it any better either, because they will constantly be needing to replenish their mana points. A nice feature is the ability to cast several magnitude levels of spells, so you don't have to waste precious mana on a low hp monster.
You can also assign spells (including power level) to keybinds, which is certainly welcome, as you don't have to go through the spell list every time you want to use your bread and butter magical abilities.
Combat is difficult, and even a couple of lowly bugs can quickly put you out of your misery. The game plays in turns, meaning that if you stop, so does the world; but your every move/attack/potion quaffed will allow a similar move to all onscreen characters.
It plays better than it sounds, because turns go very fast, and the end result can be something close to real-time with the ability to pause.
Of course, text is as always a big part of the game, as the narrative drives the action, and you can ask characters for information, opinions and back stories, which they present in some detail, with a good sense of prose that will surely please fans of good reading.
The graphics are the usual package, isometric 2D tiles and sprites, but they look very nice, the color palettes are varied enough from one environment to the other, there are many visual effects for what's going on in the world, in and out of combat, and they all look pretty nice.
Overall, a lot of work has been put into providing a detailed world that really comes across as believable and alive, including day and night cycles and lighting effects, that really add to the game's visuals as well as having an effect on gameplay mechanics.
Eschalon: Book III so far seems to deliver a strong and detailed old-school role-playing experience that doesn't just play on nostalgia, tangible improvements having been made to the classic system, and it comes all wrapped up in a quaint, but gorgeously detailed, 2D world.
The game is scheduled to launch on February 14, on its official website, and then make its way to most major PC distribution platforms.