A few weeks ago I noted the upcoming release of the sequel to the indie game Eschalon Book 2. As noted, the release was May 12th – same as Steam for Mac … so I’ve been quite busy with all of these new gaming opportunities! I’ve only had a couple of hours to get started, but wanted to give some early thoughts.
If you played Eschalon Book 1, the new game will immediately feel familiar. Which is a wonderful thing for me. As background, I thoroughly enjoyed txa1265’s “Baker’s Dozen” Best RPG’s of 2007, and pronounced Book I as my Indie RPG of the Year, saying:(in fact, if you look on the link page you’ll see the 4.5/5 star rating from GamerDad … that was my review). Way back in February of 2008 I wrote an article called
“This single-player game has a story that finds you waking up in the wake of a disaster around you, with some clues what has happened to help drive your motivations. This is not a party-based game, you control the lone character you create (from the standard fighter, mage, ranger, rogue, and cleric classes) and customize them with specialized skills as you gain experience. The game features day and night cycles and is fully turn-based – this includes movement as well as combat. You can rest to regain health, but you need a big enough – and secure enough – area to set up your camp. The game looks good for an independent effort and is fairly good size – you can expect to spend a couple of dozen hours working your way through the story. Then you will return to play again with another character – because the game is so stingy with skill points that you really need to specialize, making each character build quite unique. This is an excellent game – one of the better RPG’s of the year – and has many fans of classic RPG’s waiting anxiously for Book 2!”.
The story starts after the end of the first game, with the introduction providing some linkage. It is nice that they provide enough context to keep fans of the original connected and also allow new players to jump right in without feeling lost. You start off building a character from scratch, selecting from gender (new!), as well as a complex set of background characteristics that help define your class.
You also can assign skills and attribute points, which combined with your background characteristics make up your overall player effectiveness. A default starting set of characteristics are provided, but you are given a ton of points to customize your player quite extensively.
Once you have figured out your character settings, you are launched right into the game. There are a few moments to get your bearings, but straight away a quest comes up that sets things to a thrilling pace.
But while it is similar to the original, don’t mistake that for meaning there hasn’t been any progress. As mentioned, you can now choose to play as a male or female character, and there have been a whole bunch of visual enhancements including the game now running at 1024 x 768 native resolution. But even within those changes there are a number of usability improvements that make the game even more fun to plow through!
You can now customize the difficulty quite a bit – one of the additions was a hunger/thirst meter, and you can switch that off if you don’t want to be constantly worrying about hunger on top of dealing with the trivial issue of staying alive.
When I say ‘trivial’ I am being facetious, of course … Eschalon Book 2 maintains the same hardcore combat system as the original. Everything is turn-based, with loads of stat-based action happening all the time. You also have plenty of combat options regardless of what character type you play. Once again it is easier to be a warrior than a mage early on, but it is likely that as you progress things will balance out.
My only issue was with registering the game. I bought it without issue, got the serial number and went immediately to register the game. I entered the code as issues and got an ‘error’. Assuming it was a delay in propagating the code, I waited a little while and tried again. Fail again. It turns our that although the entry display doesn’t differentiate case, you have to carefully enter the code because it is actually case-sensitive!
One subtle thing I noticed was the incredible polish and sense of maturity in the overall development. Things look, feel and play a bit smoother, I haven’t run into a single bug, mistake, typo or other issue as I’ve been playing. The pacing of the story is much more evenly handled and really grabs you from the start.
As I said, I’m only a few hours into the game (though I noted my save from last night was at 1:20AM!) … but I really can’t wait to get back into it and pursue the story further!
Eschalon Book 2 is available to buy now as a5. Yet another cool thing is that the game is DRM-free, using only a single unlock code for your purchase. So once you buy the game, you simply download the demo (which is the full game but content-locked) and enter your serial number. That way you can buy the PC version now, and then play the Mac or Linux version when they arrive at the end of the month.