I recently got my hands on a preview copy of Eschalon Book 3. Since this was a preview of the final release, and not the final release, I’ll be giving my thoughts on the game while ignoring any and all issues with the game’s running stability, as those aspects have not been fine tuned for this build.
The two easiest words I can use to describe Eschalon Book 3 are intense and intimidating. The character creation is similar to a D&D character sheet. There is an easy way around this, where you simply choose one of the classes and let the game build a character for you, but doing this leaves every single attribute to the discretion of the system. You will have a character that works in the class you wanted, but you will not have chosen their gender, name, race, religion, or any of their unique skills. I chose a randomized character, not knowing that the attributes I had my character randomized.
Difficulty selection is done in a very interesting way, in that you don’t select a difficulty at all. Instead, you choose whether or not to use four different rules. The first rule makes food and water a requirement for you character’s survival. The second makes your weapons degrade with use. The next two get into insane territory. The third rule makes the player unable to save or load the game while diseased, poisoned, critically injured, or near enemies. It is worth noting for this rule that I was diseased almost immediately after starting the game, and remained diseased for several hours as I could not afford to cure myself. The fourth rule makes any probabilities seeded instead of random. This means that if you are trying to hit something, instead of doing a 20% probability dice roll each time, the game follows a pattern to ensure you only hit that thing 20% of the time. Depending on the rules you pick, you are assigned a difficulty level that describes your gameplay. Each level affects the score you will receive with either a penalty or a bonus. I wanted to at least stay at Normal difficulty, but hate weapon degradation, so I activated rules one and four.
After you have created a character and selected the difficulty rules you are given a brief story introduction. Your character was attempting to destroy two powerful items known as crux stones. Alien Voldemort showed up and tried to kill you. He failed and destroyed one of the crux stones, teleporting you without your memories some place far away. You wake up lost, confused, and with the Crux of Fire. Your goal is now to find out more about the Crux of Fire, and the land you are in. Another goal is to not die. This one’s going to prove a bit difficult.
This game is hard, from the moment you start any combat whatsoever you’ll understand this. When you are a level one character you’ll spend most of your combat time wishing you weren’t constantly missing your targets. I started as a ranger, which is sort of hard, given I had no weapons skills other than a bow and arrows are hard to come by and get wasted because of all the freaking missed shots. The one advantage to the gameplay is that it is entirely turn based. You don’t have to worry about getting everything you need lined up quickly, but rather with as few actions as possible. If you need to open your inventory, you won’t be attacked a bunch while searching for the items you need. Only when you use an action to actually use the item.
Once you’ve managed to actually get yourself a character that can handle fighting cock roaches (this takes a lot of time) you’ll note that you must now go and face greater challenges. It’s not possible to grind in Eschalon, as enemies don’t respawn. This has upsides and downsides. It does make for a better gameplay flow since you can’t just beef up your character so that all things in your path are like mere insects. But it also means that you can’t level to just the point where you feel comfortable with the difficulty curve. You have to handle whatever the game is going to throw at you. The other issue is that the game is entirely non-linear. You are meant to explore new areas and complete quests based on what you are capable of. Without the ability to grind, you’re generally left finding out where you should go by entering an area, having a near death experience, and then running away. This often wastes your food, water, and gold on recovery.
Overall, Eschalon Book 3 is a fun game if you enjoy a seriously difficult RPG. Its story is based around total mystery, its world is entirely unknown, and it is seriously freaking hard. You don’t enter the game feeling like the messiah from on high that all have awaited. Instead, you feel like some jackass with minor combat skills being thrown into a situation that you are not prepared for and hardly understand. This makes Eschalon Book 3 a realistic and engaging game.