Video Games – Eschalon Book 1 (Part 2)

Skills! There’s a bunch of them in Eschalon: Book 1. Some are classics like lock-picking or swords. Others are a bit strange, like Cartography or Skullduggery. I like that there’s a wide range of skills. I don’t like that not all of them are useful.

My biggest problem with skills is Cartography. If you don’t have any points in it, you don’t get a mini-map. At all. Your character is apparently too stupid to draw on paper. What’s worse is that you need a certain level with Cartography – I think it was 5 points – to know how to use blue to mark water.

Yes. A character in Eschalon: Book 1 with less than 5 points in Cartography is worse at drawing maps than my 4 year-old cousin.

A bunch of points in Cartography will indicate chests, enemies, and other stuff. I love the idea, but I hate the execution.

Lock-picking’s okay. You have a percent chance to unlock any door or chest you come across. Lockpicks can break, and I never had more than a 55% chance to open any lock, no matter my skills or ability points. I bought maybe 15 lockpicks through the entire game, and went through maybe 4 of those? It was an okay system.

My real problem with locks in the game is that I never knew which keys went to which lock. I had to carry every damn key I found for the entire game until it unlocked something. The keys only weigh 0.1 pounds, but they just cluttered up my inventory. Irritating. But I always had room to put items I found, and I could store extra stuff in barrels in Bordertown if I needed to, so not a deal-breaker.

Oh, but if I needed to clear my inventory because of encumbrance, anything dropped from your inventory was immediately destroyed. I hated this. I understand that indie games can’t code for everything – saving items that you drop is an unnecessary hassle. Actually, the ‘indie games can’t code for everything’ is probably a good caveat to throw over every complaint I have. It’s just that I felt a lot of potential for this game, and a lot of aspects fell short.

Problem: I’m about to drop the Crux of Ages, the big whoz-a-whatsit that’ll save everyone or whatever. And you can just make it vanish forever, perhaps by accident.

Anyway, I found myself going back to town to sell things a lot, instead of just dropping them. With the speed of this game, going back to town was a pain, even with fast travel. In Crakamir, you aren’t allowed to fast travel, which is a huge pain in the ass. You just waste time walking out, or going to the teleport that brought you to the Blackwater region (a town where you can rest or sell things). The fast-travel restriction felt unnecessary.

Yeah let’s talk about Encumbrance. It plays into a desire for realism – make the game adhere to realistic expectations where possible. You can’t carry everything you find. That makes sense.

I’ve never seen an Encumbrance system that worked seamlessly or felt real.

I think, in part, it’s because I don’t understand the drive for realism in games, especially fantasy games. Oh no, I’ve been carrying too many things. Well, I’ll have to spend a few minutes going over what I’m carrying and what’s important to keep and what I can leave here, just like King Arthur used to do. Heroic stuff, this. Also, encumbrance systems never make sense because it only focuses on how much stuff weighs, not how bulky it is or how I could rationally carry this stuff around.

I mean, you can carry as many potions as you want. You feel like you need half a hundred potions of Health and Mana each? Yeah, go ahead. You can carry their weight, but if we’re talking about realism, where the hell are you putting them? In a sack you drag around? For that matter, for realism’s sake, shouldn’t there be a percent chance that every attack against you breaks a certain number of the potions? I mean, if someone hit me with a fucking hammer as hard as they could, and I was carrying sixty or so potions in glass bottles, I bet some would break. If not the first time I got hit, then the second or the third time.

Save your empties and return them for the deposit.

Anyway.

One of the other big problems I had with Eschalon: Book 1 was that, although there were many skills, you had to take a few core skills unless you were trying to really challenge yourself.

There aren’t many ways to play this game. There’s maybe three or four. You have to have some melee skills because you are forced into melee whether you want it or not. I tried to play a magic-user – kept dying because I kept running out of mana.

There are two distinct endings. There’s the good ending, which is the human centric ending, and the bad ending. The bad ending is a little more compelling, because there are two different ways to get it, and there’s only one way to get the good ending. The good ending is this – you kill Gramuk, the evil goblin wizard, then return the Crux of Ages to the good human council, which frees the human leader from evil goblin mind-control. Hooray.

The first way to get the bad ending is to betray the humans and give the Crux of Ages to Gramuk. He pays you with a sack of gold and tells you to leave forever. You do. Goblins storm across the land, slaying humans etc etc. This option makes little sense, because as part of the main plotline you discover that your brother has been tortured to death by goblins. By discover I mean you find him being tortured by goblins, and then he dies in front of you. Kind of a leap to just turn around and let goblins rule everything. Then again, you have been mind-wiped, so maybe you don’t care or don’t believe that this guy is your brother?

The other way to get the bad ending was fun, and also made no sense. You kill Gramuk, take his teleport to the human council tower, and then kill the human leader while he’s still weak from mind control. Hooray! Then a bunch of guards teleport in and attack you – I guess it’s fine to walk unopposed around the tower after you teleport there in secret but not to kill old men. Humans – go figure. But you can actually kill all the guards if you are strong enough, and get a special message. Here it is:

I actually ran back to the teleporter right when the guards showed up. I thought I could teleport out, maybe run the goblins with an iron fist, take Gramuk’s place as a dire threat to the kingdom. But the teleport didn’t work. From the little alcove the teleport was in, however, I could take the guards on one at a time. So I did, and it was kind of fun. You get the same ending as if you had given Gramuk the Crux.

Yeah, fuck this whole region. Life is good, toiling away endlessly on a farm until the goblins come for you.

It made me wonder, though – if I had just shown up at the human council tower with the Crux, a legendary artifact, wouldn’t that have been an easier way to return it than single-handedly battling my way into goblin lands, past acid grubs and bandits and taurax and all those fucking goblins? Even if I had to sneak into the tower, it’d be easier than getting into the goblin castle. At least I’d look like I maybe belonged in the human tower.

So that’s Eschalon: Book 1. I didn’t hate playing it. It was kind of enjoyable as a hack-and-slash once I wasn’t dirt poor and childishly weak. It’s promoted as an ‘old-school’ RPG, and it holds to what I think are some of the faults of older games. It does have some nice updates – the Journal in particular was nice. There are some chests that had slider locks, and you pick a number between 1 and 200 to open the chest. Sometimes, as rewards, people will tell you the combinations of specific chests. The Journal then records this, so it’s always there to reference.

I’d tentatively say you should at least check out the demo for Eschalon: Book 1 – but only provided that you are into ‘old-school’ RPGs, enjoy difficult and boring melee combat, and don’t mind sinking time into figuring out which skills are useful and which aren’t.

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About seansynthetic

"...so I says the the guy, I says to him, 'No, YOU ain't allowed back into this Chuck-E-Cheese.'"

Posted on November 16, 2012, in Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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