Final Chapter: Eschalon Book III Out, Demo Available

By Adam Smith on February 17th, 2014 at 6:00 pm.

Eschalon isn’t a Spiderweb series of traditional RPGs, with an isometric viewpoint, turn-based combat and free-stylin’ character customisation. If you were to watch a video you might think that was the case but Eschalon is actually a series of traditional RPGs from Basilisk Games. It features an isometric viewpoint, turn-based combat and free-stylin’ character customisation. The third and final entry has been a long time coming, and now that it’s upon us, I’m forced to consider replaying the previous games so that I can play the trilogy back-to-back. They are quite long though and my time is short. I’d strongly recommend the games to anyone hankering for slow-paced pen and paper style roleplaying, and you don’t have to start from the beginning – there are recaps for latecomers. The trilogy is available at a discount until February 28th though. Just sayin’. Also, demos.

Quick word of warning – everything in Eschalon is turn-based. There’s no ‘switch’ when combat begins so even when exploring, every tile that the player moves allows enemies to move as well. This can make the game seem painfully slow but it is possible to hold the mouse button down and jog along at a steady clip until interrupted. If the animations are agonisingly slow, switch to OpenGL rendering when starting the game. The animations shouldn’t strobe but I know some people assume the game is simply that slow.

You may have noticed that the ‘demos’ link above actually points at a single link, for the demo of the third game. That’s because the official Eschalon website is undergoing maintenance after a server upgrade. While the site goes under the knife, I’ll keep that link up and replace with the link to all three demos as soon as the surgery is complete. The full game is available at GOG or Steam.

Old-fashioned demos to go with old-fashioned games. This post was brought to you by the eighties, decade of many classic television shows, cut short in their prime.

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Top comments

  1. Red Tonic says:

    The story with the website is more or less this: Basilisk Games’ site went down on launch day due to demand. The dev called his hosting company, GoDaddy, and the site basically evaporated during the call. GoDaddy convinced him to upgrade, so the dev agreed. Then GoDaddy screwed up the migration. It’s now 3 days out from launch and the only change is that GoDaddy has finally put up an uninformative generic “a website goes here!” page at basiliskgames.com. Since Basilisk was selling the game at full price from their own page, as well as coordinating all support from there, the outage has been a pretty disastrous event for them in terms of lost sales, refunds, and pissed off customers. Now most of the dev’s communication is going on through Twitter and their Facebook page. The sad cap to the story is here: https://twitter.com/BasiliskGames/status/434743559241998336

  1. ResonanceCascade says:

    Dang, that screenshot had me all excited that this was an Ultima VII clone. Still, this looks pretty promising outside of the turn-based movement. That’s always a chore.

  2. MrNash says:

    I’ve fiddled around in the first game but never got around to finishing it. With the third game here, I’m kind of tempted to revisit the series. =)

    • SillyWizard says:

      My recommendation: don’t bother. After a number of abortive attempts to get in to the first game, a couple of months back I re-installed and booted it up determined to play to completion.

      Among all of my attempts, I have close to 30 hours in this game. Most recently, my determination died after a good 8-10 hours, upon the realization that Basilisk does not want people to play their games.

      There’s a lot of games in the world, and not a whole lot of time to play even the worthwhile ones. When something expressly indicates that it would prefer that I move along and do something else, I tend to oblige.

      The first game — which leads me to assume the follow-ups, as well — is poorly (and for me, infuriatingly) designed.

      I strongly recommend avoiding this series. And I just wish I could have those 30 hours back.

      • Red Tonic says:

        What tripped you up? And not to be argumentative–but you invested 30 hours into playing the game; there must have been something compelling about it. (If it’s a completionist urge, I get that too. All those hours down the drain on chocobo-breeding minigames… I don’t even care for birds.)

        • SillyWizard says:

          About 20 of those 30 hours were me creating new characters over the last couple of years and seeing how far I could get. I really wanted to love this game, and I tried to get in to it quite a few times. There were so many different character creation options, and I had a good time running through the starting area…like the first 6 or 7 times.

          When I finally decided to Win or Bust, I looked up some suggestions for character builds, and went with something that was supposed to make the game a breeze. Still no dice. Frankly, I’m not sure how people play such a broken, obscenely rude (in terms of how it treats the player) game.

          That’s why I’m so vehement in my condemnation, now: I gave this piece of crap so much time and effort, and this is how it repays me?! I’m having nightmarish flashbacks to my senior prom….

          • Red Tonic says:

            I agree, optimizing is extraordinarily fiddly, and the gameplay is geared towards a narrowly built character. The narrow, concentrated build feels like you can’t accomplish whatever you want however you want to go about it at any given moment (in terms of, say, how you handle locks, traps, foes). I think that’s a dev decision that is looking at a particular audience–the tolerance or enjoyment of vicissitudes of dice and choices. I don’t mind taking things slow, so I build sloppily and spend points indiscriminately. Your build definitely determines the pace in terms of how many beatings you can deliver and what you can open up before you have to retreat and rest. (I have to retreat often, but by god I’m going to rob everyone and everything with bombs, beatings, fireballs, or lockpicks.) I can see how that fiddliness and the pacing would be a turn off. But is it unskillful design, or someone targeting an audience? I feel pretty satisfied with my experiences in the games so far.

          • SillyWizard says:

            The type of thing that broke the game for me were the diseases. “You have been afflicted with dungeon fever.” Any time you loot a corpse, there’s a chance you’ll be stricken with this disease, but resources are so scarce that you can’t afford not to loot every corpse you find. There’s no indication whether some corpses are safe or not, and nothing you can do (aside from maybe having a high Wisdom stat?) to avoid the disease when it’s triggered.

            To be cured of the disease, you can go pay an obscene amount of money — which takes for-fucking-ever to acquire — to the church; you can buy a potion for a similarly obscene amount of money; or you can brew up your own potion, assuming you have the recipe…and all of the ingredients, one of which does not appear in the starting area of the game.

            Your best bet for avoiding dungeon fever? Save immediately before checking any corpse, and reload if you contract the illness. Every time I quit the game it was due to forgetting to save right before checking a corpse and getting dungeon fever. And after getting 10 hours in? Yeah. Not going to make that mistake again.

            Any element in a game that is best addressed by save-scumming is bad design.

            Seriously. Fuck this game.

          • Red Tonic says:

            I have to agree with that. The sicknesses are aggravating. Recently I got tape worm in 3 from rummaging around a corpse’s pockets for dried meat and bread. That’ll show me not to grave rob, right? The cure ailment potions aren’t horribly expensive, though, and you can make them fairly easily if you opted out of divine magic. The expensive cure thing is basically an RPG trope one hangs one’s hat upon. Personally, I took the ‘seed’ option while playing, so savescumming wasn’t much of a practice of mine.

          • 2Ben says:

            invest heavily in Alchemy, and you won’t have this kind of issues, plus you’ll get filthy rich fast and craft +3 weapons and armors everywhere :)

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  3. Anthile says:

    Anyone else got Destroyer in the first game? This is your chance to brag.

    • Supahewok says:

      Destroyer wasn’t that hard… Well, at least not for my melee build. Maybe it was tougher as a caster, I dunno. All you need is the entire set of Adamantine Armor, that super sword, (no idea what its name was, but you had to rob that vault to get it) and a good enough Alchemy skill to craft yourself a lot of healing potions. Anybody who went melee in the game probably already got all that, particularly the Alchemy, since its hard to get enough potions for yourself throughout the game without making your own. When you kill the king, there’s an alcove in the wall behind the throne that limits the number of potential attacks coming at you to 3. It takes a while, but I never found myself in any real danger.

      • BTAxis says:

        Nope, I was a caster and it just came down to setting that whole room on fire and then watching the guards burn.

    • Gonefornow says:

      I got that too. It was the only right thing to do. My amazing archer didn’t even break a sweat or so I recall.

      I have other good memories of the first one as well. Lots of free exploration and challenging combat with tricky dungeon design to boot. I can totally recommend it.

      The second edition continues on the same track, yet it felt more constrained and story focused. The ending reveal was quite disappointing too.

      As such I’m hesitant to get the third one at launch, which I did with the second one.
      I also had more free time to spend on lengthy games like these back then.

  4. Saarlaender39 says:

    It’s also available on GOG.com, just saying.

    http://www.gog.com/game/eschalon_book_iii

  5. aliksy says:

    I think I played the first one and found that mana regeneration was agonizingly slow. Is that still the case? Or am I thinking of some other game?

    • Red Tonic says:

      Mana regeneration is and was tied to your perception stat and a skill called “meditation.” A pretty decent meditation skill score (like 10) will have you spewing up spells like nobody’s business.

  6. JP says:

    I haven’t played this game, but am wondering something: are peoples’ complaints about the game being slow due to animation delays and other implementation details specific to this game, or are people just down on the idea of turn-based RPGs in general? I kinda like reflexes not being an issue with these kinds of games…

    • Red Tonic says:

      I haven’t found it to be terribly slow. The maps are dense but not huge. You’re not sprinting along, but you jog through at a decent clip. Part of the issue is ameliorated by using the fast travel option, and mages have another technique they can use (at least in 3, I don’t remember if the spell was in 1 & 2). I think at least part of the problem is that people aren’t using the best settings in terms of animation framerate, but it’s hard to tell what those are. At least, I have no idea how I’d go about optimizing my own performance if it were unsatisfactory, but I’m not into these computer devices.

    • SillyWizard says:

      The game is slow not because it’s turn-based, but because there are a bunch of artificial and utterly needless elements that drag things out interminably.

      And it’s slow because the game is designed to be save-scummed, so to play it “right” you need to waste your time saving/loading perpetually whenever a random bad thing happens.

  7. Borodin says:

    You linked to the Macintosh demo download page (which, admittedly, is titled “Eschalon: Book III Demo for Windows for Mac”)

    Windows download is here

    • aepervius says:

      Between “authentication key is not working” and “this file does not exists on this server” I think none of the link are working.

  8. Red Tonic says:

    The story with the website is more or less this: Basilisk Games’ site went down on launch day due to demand. The dev called his hosting company, GoDaddy, and the site basically evaporated during the call. GoDaddy convinced him to upgrade, so the dev agreed. Then GoDaddy screwed up the migration. It’s now 3 days out from launch and the only change is that GoDaddy has finally put up an uninformative generic “a website goes here!” page at basiliskgames.com. Since Basilisk was selling the game at full price from their own page, as well as coordinating all support from there, the outage has been a pretty disastrous event for them in terms of lost sales, refunds, and pissed off customers. Now most of the dev’s communication is going on through Twitter and their Facebook page. The sad cap to the story is here: https://twitter.com/BasiliskGames/status/434743559241998336

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I’m honestly amazed that after at least a decade of horror stories and sleazy behavior, people are still using GoDaddy.

      I guess it’s proof that advertising and name recognition work, but I wish people would do the tiniest bit of research about what options are available before spending money.

      • Red Tonic says:

        Price-wise, I think they’re still a pretty strong competitor. But yeah, I agree. I was surprised to learn that his host is GoDaddy as well. Maybe this will serve as a stern warning to other small businesses to do some more research before selecting vendors.

  9. InternetBatman says:

    I bought Eschalon expecting it to be more or less the quality of a Spiderweb game. It is not. I played for about five hours and then quit, because I mostly found it to be a slow dungeon-runner and that’s not my kind of game.

  10. pseick says:

    I’ve tried to play the Spiderweb games in various forms once a year for about 7 years, and I keep bouncing off of them. The interface just doesn’t work for me.

    I tried the Eschalon II demo when it came out, immediately pirated Book I, played it for a whole weekend and bought both games. For me they hit a lot of the same points that all of these newer graphical roguelikes are hitting, w/o the perma death of course, while still using tropes and systems of classic CRPGs. I’ve never had a problem running them on ancient laptops. After a point Book I got a little tiresome, but Book is just amazing with 100% more customization and open to different character builds. The free expansion dungeon is awesome.

    I don’t understand the complaints about being too hard at all. I am definitely a ‘play on medium’ type and had no trouble getting started with numerous character builds. I guess it helps that they have/had a pretty active community forum. I can’t wait to play Book III. The turn based system is much closer to a Rogue like (1 to 1 player/world movement) which leads to much different tactics that a team based RPG or a CRPG with movement points. I also specifically love the lighting, both in terms of gameplay implementation and the graphical representation.

    As far as being ‘built for save scumming’ both Book II and II have the option to build the overworld on a single seed, eliminating the option. I wasted hours save scumming in Book I and turned it off in Book II- its much more enjoyable. You just have to focus your character and let loot go if you can’t carry it or if it isn’t useful. (which is pretty hard, I admit, especially after playing Skyrim or something where you have multiple copies of each type of weapon and armor depending on the situation.)

    TL;DR

    Man I like these games, excited for this one!

    • Red Tonic says:

      Yeah, Spiderweb and Eschalon are very different breeds. To be fair to Spiderweb, the interface in that guy’s games has changed (for the better) over time. I’ve actually been kinda playing them chronologically backwards, since I started with Avadon.

      Of the three, I think Book I is my favorite–I got hooked on it due to a demo (yay shareware) and maybe my nostalgia for it is that strong. But I felt like Book II had the stronger start. Maybe that is because I filled up my cottage’s backyard with explosive powder kegs?