Eschalon: Book III transports you to a time where RPGs didn't really have graphics (or mercy)
Eschalon Book 3 is the final part of the older than old-school isometric RPG trilogy that began all the way back in 2007 with Book 1. The third iteration concludes the storyline of the series although you should not expect to walk into the game and immediately drop into epic adventures, indeed Book 3 practically revels in the kind of low-level escapades that are generally considered a tired staple of the RPG genre.
You will spend the first few hours of Eschalon: Book 3 partaking in the kinds of quests that remind us why 'old-school' is not always used a complimentary prefix. That is – bug-killing busywork. The very first NPC given quest of the game involves entering a mine and stabbing half a dozen bugs to death, quickly followed by one where you will stab half a dozen scorpions to death.
This screenshot provides dire warning of the multitudinous perils you will face
It was at this point that I made a schoolboy error – I relied upon a single save game to record my progress. During the second part of my adventure I pressed a lever that apparently set an alarm off, near to the dwarf who had tasked me with scorpion murder. I assumed that he would probably be a little miffed if I entered the newly opened chamber where three chests lay and decided to scoot on out and finish those pesky scorpions off merrily quick-saving away as I did so.
After vanquishing my scuttling foes, I returned eagerly awaiting my award, only to be punched in the face and instantly killed by the less than thrilled task-master. Oops. This then required me to load up my only other previous save-game, which meant that I would have to begin the mine-slog all over again.
After finally exiting the mine after a second run through, levelling up twice and grabbing some half-decent gear, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this marks the start of your true adventure. On to glory as you seek to uncover the mysteries that lay behind the Crux of Fire – a powerful gem that your amnesiac protagonist holds. You'd be wrong.
Instead you'll come across swarms of paralysing flies and woe betide, if like me, you decided to specialise in piercing weapons – they are completely immune! This resulted in several deaths and many minutes spent staring with a growing resentment as our hero flailed ineptly at them before it dawned on me that perhaps the best course of action here was to run away or avoid them completely.
First, I ran to the south and was beset by green blobby things who inflicted me with a debilitating disease although thankfully I was able to kill them without a single death. 'Things are looking up' I told myself – call it pride before a fall, or call it a temporary reprieve, my new-found success was not to be replicated in as I continued on my way.
'A mine filled with insects to murder, yay!' Said no-one ever
Next I ran north, discovering some blue blobby things, who killed me instantly. After that I tried west and found a mysterious old crone who read my fortune and exhorted me to rescue her stolen kitten from nearby bandits. Deciding that sounded like the kind of low level antic I should be pursuing, I gave that a go and managed to kill two whole bandits before my world came crashing down in a hailstorm of being stabbed in the face.
Eschalon's early meandering is a real slog, you have very limited resources at your disposal and the enemies come thick and fast, grinding your poor under-equipped character into mush. My main tactic involved running away, finding a doorway where only one enemy could reach me and attempting to stab them to death with a dagger. After nearly every encounter I would then be required to either attempt to rest in the wilderness (borderline suicidal) or return to the mining town of Rockhammer to rest in their inn. That you can fast travel there is probably the only concession the game grants in terms of not being a complete bastard to you at every turn.
On top of its somewhat gruelling early game, Eschalon has a system whereby your weapons and armour degrade, as well as food and thirst meters that punish you for resting a lot (almost a necessity in my experience), though you are able to turn these additions off, I felt that I should try and play the 'pure' version of the game - which in hindsight was a mistake.
I'm going to level with you at this point, I did not overcome these early teething issues and find that underneath the hardship is a deep and satisfying RPG with very well considered progression and mechanics. To my shame, instead I gave in.
Many of the conversations take the form of extended lectures on magical crystals
Eschalon: Book 3 does have a wide variety of interesting skills, varied classes and a complex RPG system. I could entirely believe that it morphs into a far better game if you're willing to persevere, or use what you learned from your early adventures to create a new character, more capable of taking on the myriad threats that await you. But after my experiences with the game, I had very little desire to throw away my troubled rogue and begin again, punching bugs to death as an XP bar slowly trickled towards the promise of competence.
Eschalon: Book 3 is an RPG that defeated me entirely. It may be that I have to hand in my badge and my D6 after making that admission. Memories of my crackpot custom party finally defeating Wizardry 8 or traversing the lands of Avernum and being granted access to the Tower of the Magi are sullied now. Eschalon: Book 3 is for masochists, statisticians and the truly hardcore - those made of sterner stuff than I. It's not a game I can recommend to anyone, but I can't truly tell you that it does not get better, such was my failure. If you've played the previous games in the series, you may fare better and perhaps Book 3 will be the final chapter of a journey you started back in 2007 – if so I wish you luck. But for me it was an exercise in humiliation, battered to death by flies and blobs of assorted colour, as kitten-kidnapping bandits shattered my resolve.
ESCHALON: BOOK III VERDICT
Eschalon: Book 3 is an RPG that defeated me entirely. It may be that I have to hand in my badge and my D6 after making that admission. Memories of my crackpot custom party finally defeating Wizardry 8 or traversing the lands of Avernum and being granted access to the Tower of the Magi are sullied now. Eschalon: Book 3 is for masochists, statisticians and the truly hardcore - those made of sterner stuff than I. It’s not a game I can recommend to anyone, but I can’t truly tell you that it does not get better, such was my failure. If you’ve played the previous games in the series, you may fare better and perhaps Book 3 will be the final chapter of a journey you started back in 2007 – if so I wish you luck. But for me it was an exercise in humiliation, battered to death by flies and blobs of assorted colour, as kitten-kidnapping bandits shattered my resolve.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Character creation allows you to pick and choose from a really varied selection of skills, with interesting modifiers that can both help and hinder.