Eschalon: Book III (PC) Hands-on Preview – Finally an Old School RPG with No Microtransactions!

I’ve long been a fan of role-playing games. Whether they be on paper, board games, or video games, I always tend to lose myself in them. Taking on a whole new character that I could make my own also had its appeal. Back in the mid-90’s I bought my first true gaming PC which introduced me to a new realm of RPGs to explore. I instantly fell in love with such series as Ultima, Wizardry and early Ravenloft games. As time went on computers became more powerful and the games got a lot fancier and advanced, but there’s still a special place in my heart for that old-school look and feel. When I was given the task to preview an RPG that promises to bring back the feeling of the “good ol’ days”, it brought a smile to my face. I hadn’t heard of Basilisk Games’ Eschalon series before now, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Before adventuring out into this brand new world, I had to create a character. Right from the start, the interface screamed “old school” at me, with its tabbed layout to select various attributes on how you wanted your character to be. I had a good selection of details to work with, such as where my character came from, their religious beliefs, and their class. You had to really think how you wanted your character to play. For example, depending on your character’s religion, if they were a Druid, your health and mana could regenerate faster outdoors compared to underground.

There is also a whole slew of skills to choose from when building up the character of your dreams but you have only so many skill points to start with, so choose wisely. It really felt like I was in my early teens again playing D&D on paper. After my character was created, I was dropped into the world with just the clothes on my back. Controlling your character is fairly simple, just point and hold the mouse button where you want to go on the screen. There is a bit of a catch though: when you move, the world around you moves with you. If you stop, the world stops too. Every step could bring enemies closer and surround you quickly, so you really need to plan your moves when entering hostile territories.

There are a few other gameplay elements that you need to be aware of, such as the need to eat and drink, equipment that wears out with use, and not being able to save your game when you are cursed, diseased, poisoned, or critically injured. However, in keeping with tailoring the game to your tastes, there are options to toggle some of these effects on and off just before starting a new character.

Going back to the controls, attacking is just a simple click when in range of a target.  It, like movement, is all turn-based, so you do have time between attacks to plan your next move. You can even attack objects to break them open for loot. The rest of the controls are laid out on the screen so you can easily access your inventory, journal, and character layout with just a single click. I liked how everything was presented. Not the fanciest interface I’ve seen, but clean and effective.

While adventuring you will be doing some interacting with local NPCs to get quests and buy/sell goods. I found there is quite a bit of reading and storytelling. Everything you do seems to pops up on the screen in a dialog box just below the main local map screen your character is displayed on.

The graphics are presented to you in an isometric view and definitely harkens back to games like Ultima Online. I liked the overall look, and everything is well-animated too. They also use day and night cycles to their full advantage, because when night comes it gets very dark, so it’s handy to have torches on you at all times. Before I learned this lesson, I found myself wandering around in the dark barely being able to see, and then getting jumped by some creature!

The game’s audio surprised me with just how good it was and how suited it was to the game. I was treated to some really good music as I traveled the world. Not to be outdone, the sound effects work nicely too, and fit well with everything you interact with.

I have to admit I was surprised by my experience with Eschalon: Book III. It was a nice trip down memory lane, and makes me want to go check out the first two games in the series. Fans who want an experience that may bring them back to earlier days of PC role-playing games should check this game out.  It’s scheduled to be released on February 2014!