Generation: Gamerz Eschalon Book I - Review

Posted by Christophor Rick (TheSuperGuido), Dec 31, 2008 06:00

{tag [Review]} {tag [PC]}

The fantastic thing about progress and change is all the great new things that come with it. Sure you can look back and take ownership of the past and even revisit it now and again. But a visit is just a nostalgic look back at how things used to be so that we appreciate how things are now.

Eschalon Book I is the first installment in a trilogy we're told. I have to admit, I was excited when word of Eschalon Book I came to my inbox. Maybe it was the anticipation of playing an all new, unknown RPG and world that built it up in my mind, but all of that build up was for naught as this game failed to entertain me on so many levels. From a gameplay perspective all it would have taken to make the game far more fun are simply some form of camera controls and some higher resolution than 800x600. But there's some potential here.

 The story behind Eschalon Book I is that you wake up with no memory of who you are or where you are from. You eventually find a note telling you that someone did this to you for some reason and that is why you should continue your travels. It's weak if you ask me. There's not enough interaction or motivation to actually move forward, there's no real reason it seems to keep playing so far.

Graphics: 70%

They might be really beautiful tiled textures, but at 800x600 in full-screen they are jagged. In Windowed mode they're too small to actually see. You can't manage to even resize the window, it is locked to 800x600. It does the basics of an RPG well, the look and feel are there. The interface is greaeschalon book I 1t as well. But the low resolution or tiny gameplay window detract from the beauty of the game to the point where it's nearly lost. It's a shame because it looks like a lot of effort went into the graphics on the game

Sound: 80%

 The music in the game is fantastic. Unfortunately, some of the other sounds are bland and drag the game down further still. The lofty reaches of the fantastic score by Glorian and Victor Stoyanov, Mark Deaton, Kevin Macleod and Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz (say that 5 times fast!) is truly transcendent. Even many of the environmental sounds are exquisite. But some of the monster sounds, combat and magic sounds could be recreated on my mobile phone which is essentially a portable SNES. Definitely not the quality one expects from a PC-based RPG since around the release of Baldur's Gate.

Gameplay/Controls: 30%/50%

Where do I start? The fluid turn-based play of the game is truly well done. However, if you don't do something, time freezeseschalon book I 2. No mana regeneration, no movement of the sun, no HP healing. Yet the environmental sounds continue. You have to tap the space bar to 'stand passively for a moment,' I thought standing and not doing something was standing passively but apparently that requires you to hold down or repeatedly hit the space bar in this game. Surprisingly this is listed as a 'feature' in that you can walk away and not miss any action. Isn't that what a pause button is for?

The mouse control for movement is nice, being able to lock it to the 'always walk' is also nice. But what happened to being able to run? There's no such thing as running in this game. Also there's only one way to 'rest' in the game to regain hit points and mana and that is to actually pitch a tent. No sit, lie-down, nap, or sleep (except in said tent). None of that. I accidentally slept for 38 hours while writing this. There's not an auto-stop or wake function either. You could pretty much sit in your tent until you aged to death in real life.

The relative strength of items is ridiculous. I broke a stone ax on a wooden chest after hitting the chest repeatedly with the stone ax. Additionally I tossed a dozen Level 2 fireballs at the same chest and it was still only down to 54%. That's a hell of a chest and I think I need to get the contact info for that guy because I have a ton of things I want him to make really strong for me, like my laptop. It took 36 Level 2 fireballs and then a couple good whacks with a sword to bust that puppy open, all for a measly brass ring. *yawn* Then, you'll love this, I found 15 gold pieces in a wide open barrel. Like someone was tossing them into a barrel of water and wishing but then all the water evaporated.

As I mentioned in the intro, the complete lack of camera controls is a huge flaw in the game. You are constantly locked into this isometric bird's eye view that makes things ridiculously small and you have to search with your mouse behind walls and such to see if there is anything to interact with. Talk about taking the fun out of it. RPG's have had camera spin and zoom capabilities since what? eschalon book I 3Neverwinter Nights, maybe even back to Baldur's Gate? Speaking of which, I think they could have made a more interesting game by using the Aurora toolset from that [NWN] to build this.

Speaking of RPGs of old, I think even they had some speech in them. This game has none and makes for a lot of small-font-sized reading which gets aggravating as well. Also if you're not standing smack on top of something in this game and click to open it, the game tells you what you see instead of moving you toward it to open it, though a right click does attack it with a spell if you have one readied.

Additionally there are creatures, notably the fungal slimes, that are unbeatable if you don't have something to damage them, so if you happen to get trapped in the impenetrable forest with one behind you, you're dead and might as well restore your save game or start over. Don't even get me started on the impenetrable forest that has managed to retain control of most of the land mass in the game.

In one area you will meet a badly wounded man, he tells you a story and gives you a quest and then dies. Once he is dead you can't talk to him, of course because he's dead. But you also can't strip his armor or do anything useful. You just get a 'this person has died and cannot talk' message, which you know because you watched him die.

Summary: 57.5% - Sounds great, probably looks great, yet infuriatingly small and stiff.

Overall I found the game more frustrating than fun. The story support was weak, the utter lack of camera options annoying and the distance from your character was just ridiculous. It was as if I was controlling an ant that I could barely see on the screen. As a matter of fact it seemed like building the character was more fun than actually playing the game at times. It's a shame that such a potentially great looking and sounding game had very little fun factor in it.

Yes I understand that it basically got a 6 out of 10 in my summary score but it's mostly recognizing the work of the artists. This game exemplifies why we break down our reviews in this fashion. I'm not sure I could recommend that anyone buy this game to play it. You would be better off putting that money into some of the older games like Baldur's Gate, Dungeon Siege or Neverwinter Nights and playing them. Speaking of which, I'm off to play NWN right now. But I'll definitely look into Eschalon Book II when it's ready. I just hope they take this into consideration. As I said, there's a lot of potential for some great games here.

For more video game reviews on this and many others head to Game Rankings

Our Rating for Generation: Gamerz Eschalon Book I - Review
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