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Eschalon is a turn-based RPG that has been developed by a small game company called Basilisk Games. A few months ago it was announced that Eschalon has been made available for Linux so I decided to give it a try.
Keep in mind before moving on that I do not look upon myself as much of a gamer. I'm that type of Linux geek that likes to solve real-life puzzles such "what development libraries am I missing to beable to compile this source code?" So no, I'm not into gaming and spending hours of my life trying to defeat virtual monsters. But something about Eschalon made me put aside all these facts and next thing you know I was slaughtering Tauraxes in the Western side ofBlackwater.
The first thing that strikes you about Eschalon is the music. It's soothing, calm, makes you feel comfortable while playing. And play you will. Alot. This is not the kind of game you can finish in a week then move on to another turn-based game. You'll give up your social life,you'll start arguing with your girlfriend about going to sleep late and in a few more day you'll be calculating everything in turns. I swear toGod I was seeing tiles on the street by the third week.Chose your faithIn the beginning of the game you a represented with the choice of creating a character. You can be a fighter, ranger, healer, rogue or a magician. You can chose a belief system and turn yourself into an Atheist or chose the path o magic and become a druid. Your character can be of Nor'lander descent or Therish descent, he can be a Kessian, Barrean or a Rifter. Each choice you make will give you some kind of advantage over your enemies. Fighters for example are skilled in Swords. Rogues can pick locks and rangers are good with bows and arrows. For example, becoming an Atheist means you are immune to curses that will be cast upon you and Druids can regenerate at a faster rate.
You'll be given 15 Attribute Points to distribute as you wish between a set of skills. As a warrior you'll need Strength and Dexterity. As a mage you'll better make use of Intelligence and Wisdom. There's also Speed, Perception, Concentration and Endurance to take into account. Each will be useful in on or more parts of the game so decide wisely.
There's also a set fo skills you can get by exchanging Skill Points for them. The more Cartography points you have the more clearer the mini map will become. Lore allows you to identify strange items you'll encounter and Spot Hidden allows you to notice traps before they become active and hurt you.
Pump up your Armor and Weaponsskills. There are different types of weapons you can use, from short-bladed weapons to bludgeoning or cleaving weapons. Armor is also divided into subcategories, ranging from light to heavy armor. Simply put, the more skill you have into a certain area, the more use you can have out of it.
The gameNow that you're ready to go, you'll find yourself in a strange world of magic and mystery. The game is so complex you'll probably need a couple of days to get used to it, but after that the fun is yours. You'll have to fight salamanders, pirates, goblins,spiders and other nasty creatures. As in other turn-based games, the rules are "you hit once, they hit once; you make one step, they make one step."What pleasantly struck me about Eschalon is how powerful your enemies are. Most times, if you find yourself surrounded by two or more creatures you'll probably die quickly. That's why you'll have to do a lot of running, hiding. "Hit and run" will become your religion at the beginning of the game.
Whenever you get hurt, you can either go into a town and take anap at one of the inns (for a certain fee), or put up your tent in the wild and hope that during the night you won't get visitors. There's nothing more irritating than having to wake up at night, no torch in your inventory, your health at 10% while three salamanders are chewing on your legs.
The rules of playing Eschalon resemble those in real life: you get hurt, you have to rest. At night you can't see well enough without atorch or some other source of light. To get things you have to eitherpay for them or look for them in treasure chests and barrels. You must interact with some NPC's in the game. NPC's are Non-Playable Characters and all they do is talk with you, sell you items or buy stuff from you. The bartender will let you sleep at it's inn, sell you torches, lock picks and some food. The village magician can sell you health potions, mana potions and other items that will help you in your quest. At the armory you'll be able to acquire weapon sand armor. Some NPC's can also teach you the art of sword fighting,help you learn Cartography or enhance your magic skills. All for a price of course.
You'll find money on the way, either hidden, either in the form of bags being dropped by some of your slain enemies.Some NPC's will ask you to do quests for them. Retrieve items, find missing people, assassinate enemies - all will pay off in some way upon completion, in the form of money or experience points. There's an Experience bar in the main screen of the game. Whenthat bar fills up you'll be allowed to add extra points to your skills and further calibrate your character. You can gain experience bykilling creatures and other types of enemies or by completing the aforementioned quests.
As you go deeper into the game you'll be able to buy better weapons and amour, find new and interesting items and reveal even moreof the surrounding territories. You can carry items with you, but there's a limit to just how much you can store. Your Encumbrance barwill tell you just how many pounds you are wearing and how many more you'll be able to carry. The purpose of the whole game is to find and return the Crux of Ages to it's rightful place. The Crux is a large gem that everyone wants and it is also the only thing standing in the way of total war.To get to it you'll have to cross several maps filled with various types of enemies, solve puzzles, use lock picks to open doors, disarm traps and walk a lot in woods and barren lands.
The random factor of the game is also interesting. For example, ifyou check a treasure chest for items then reload a saved game and check the chest again, you won't find the same stuff in there. Same goes forthe enemy creatures. While sleeping, you might be woken up by three salamanders or by two thugs. Might be four spiders or the dreaded Taurax minotaurs. You never know what to expect next. This give a plus to the re-playability side of the game as you can begin a new game witha different character and not have that familiar feeling of "I know what's coming now".Technical stuffEschalon: Book Iis a commercial game. It's being distributed solely in binary form andhas a port for Windows and Mac. The biggest downside of the game isthat it can only be played in a 800x600 resolution. This means not sohot graphics when in full screen and tiny character while playing in Windowed Mode.The good part is that you can play Eschalon on older hardware and evenleave it in Windowed Mode while doing something else.Final thoughtsEschalon is the perfect example of how a turn-based game should be made. The number of creatures you'll encounter is not as high as in other games of the genre but they'r efive times harder to kill. You'll spend countless hours battling,resting and battling again. Furthermore, Eschalon will make you use your brain because completing a task will not be just about how much blood you can spill. There are cryptic riddles to crack and an incredibly large map to explore.
I'm impatiently waiting for game forums to find answers - people are very helpful there.
Low price for a great game ($19.95)
Available as a native Linux binary
Playable in Windowed Mode
You can replay the game with different types of characters On the minus side
Small game resolution
A little too dark, might make you max your screen brightness