Game Review: Eschalon – Book I

by byamabe on January 2, 2009

I don’t play nearly as many games as I used to, AKA life before two daughters. But I do love old school computer RPGs (CRPGs) like Baldur’s Gate, et al. I know Eschalon – Book I is over a year old (I can tell from my old saved games), but I thought I’d review it as part of my plan to write a review every Friday.

Classic

Eschalon – Book I is pretty much everything I enjoy about old school CRPGs . You start a character by selecting an origin (race), axiom (alignment), and class. These choices can affect your stats and skills. You then roll, and re-roll, your stats and tweak your skills (lock picking, unarmed combat, heavy armor, light armor, etc.). This is all pretty standard for CRPGs with Eschalon’s tweaks to give it’s own take on character development.

From there, you proceed to go on quests to find items, deliver messages, defeat enemies, etc. Once again standard stuff, but that’s what I enjoy about the genre. The game isn’t overly long, I mean I didn’t have to abandon my wife or daughters to finish it. Not to say I felt short changed, I think it was quite appropriate in length.

90%

One thing about playing CRPGs is that I like to complete them to about 90%. I don’t want to just blaze through the game to say I beat it, but I don’t mind if I haven’t completed every side-quest. Eschalon – Book I fell right into this sweet spot. There were plenty of non-essential quests to help explore the world, but I never felt I missed out on anything when I checked my quest log and there were a few that were unresolved.

Feature or Flaw

One feature that affects the way I play a CRPG is the save system. Most games use a slot system, but some older games use save points. The reason the save system is so important to me is because I like to… “optimize.” Sure, call it cheating, gaming the system, whatever. I’ll play recklessly/carelessly knowing that I have saved recently. In Eschalon – Book I you can use this to optimize your search for items. It seems that many treasure chests and barrels randomly present items the first time you open them. So if you save before you open a chest and don’t like the contents, you can restore and open it again in hopes of getting a better item. The process can be tedious, but beneficial. I didn’t start using this technique until later in the game. I don’t think it gave me a hugh advantage, it just allowed me to accumulate gold a little faster.

Worldview

So here’s where my reviews are going to differ from the standard game review. I want to explore the worldview that Eschalon – Book I puts forward. In the old days, anything you could fight was a bad guy and any items you found were treasure. This pretty much locked the player into the role of good guy hero. As in most modern incarnations of the genre, Eschalon – Book I allows the player to make choices like stealing from merchants or killing innocents. This falls pretty much in line with our cultures notion that choice is supreme.

There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of repercussions for living the dark life. I guess if there were I would have felt less satisfied as it would have required me to play an evil role to get to the 90% threshold I spoke of earlier.

There does seem to be an attraction by a lot of people to play these games as an evil character where they make all the bad choices. As someone who already understands his fallen and sinful nature, I actually prefer to see the good role as the one that is more in the realm of fantasy and that’s why I think I derive such pleasure in playing the hero. I know in the real world there is only one that is a virtuous and good as the hero of these games. And that is Christ who died as savior of the world.

Summary

Eschalon – Book I is par for the course in pretty much all respects. Not a whole lot of the unexpected, just a very well executed CRPG. If you are a fan of the genre and you haven’t picked it up, please do. If you aren’t a fan of CRPGs I can’t say that there’s anything for you in this game.

That’s it for my first Friday review.

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