Currently playing: The incredible adventures of Van Helsing, Ravenloft: Strahd´s Possession

April 30, 2014

Eschalon: Book III - Review


Game reviewed: Eschalon: Book III
Version: 1.021
Created byBasilisk Games
Released: 2014
Formats: Pc, Mac
Difficulty: 5/10
Est. Playing time: 20 hours
Price$14.99

Arghh...Little did I know I was only a few hours from the end of the game when finishing my last post. I have to say I was almost shocked at the quick resolution of the game. I thought the mainstory would at least continue for a few more quests but alas, that was not so.

Without going into any details, let´s just say I finally made it into the Astral range. I was right in my last post. One of the four vital widget items you need to complete the temple was found in the goblin island stronghold. The most difficult one to find was hidden in a treasury hold in Moonrise. It wasn´t easy to find the last piece and I do have to admit I did get some hints online. After that I could complete the temple and walked out into the Astral range. 


It consisted of three new maps that was quickly explored. They where almost empty. A few new opponents made their appearance like the phoenix but not anyone of them was any problem against my level 6 ice-lance spells at level 16.




When I finally met the warlord I gave him the head of one of his enemies and was let in to see the prisoner. In order to reach the prisoner I had to solve two puzzles relating to numbers. The second part of them, I had to check online also. 

I don´t want to spoil too much now but let´s just say the story takes on a huge turnaround here and the end is quickly approaching with some epic scenes you have to be part in. 

When the game comes to an end you are presented with a final score and some statistics about how many hidden treasuries you found or how many foes you killed. I like that kind of statistics.

But even though the ending story in itself was quite good and unexpected I cannot help but feel a little empty inside. I had thought there was more to do. Twenty hours is definetely much less than what it took to complete the first and second game and they both have better feeling and atmosphere. They contained more texts and information and they were both harder and more challenging. This third game lacks a bit of soul or is it because I have already played the previous ones ? I don´t know, but the game is still good and I do recommend it but I wouldn´t recommend starting with it because it doesn´t help you much with the previous story.



It was also by far the easiest of the three. I had a pretty easy walk through the game combat wise. I did focus on only my magical skills but if you put enough skill into divination so you reach 30 or more and then surpass 40 in perception, you get a very good mana regeneration bonus which means you can flee from your enemies in the later stages and regenerate enough mana to strike back after just a short walk. Perhapas it has to do with the fact that I am a magician. I don´t need melee weapons or armours that needs to be repaired so I alsmost never had to spend money on such things and ended up with at least 6.000 gold in my pockets.

 Well, over to the ratings....

Gameworld & Story

During these three games the unique world of Eschalon has been built up with different races, factions and powers. The story has been good from the very beginning even though I must say the last series has the weakest part of it. You are not given much information about your part in the main quest. Everything seems to be to stop Malukar from gaining all four cruxes. 

There are almost no information about the world gained from books or other sources. Even the descriptive texts in the message area that tells you of specific areas are far between. They should have used that part more to fill in with more atmospheric information at certain places to give the feeling of a world that is alive. 

Rating: 2.5


Economy

In the beginning you really feel the lack of gold and the first few level advancement keep this at a good and challenging level. But with some invested points into the forage skill I don´t need to spend too much money on food. There are a lot of chests or remains in the world that gives you many items you could sell for money. One thing that spoils it a little is the randomness of chests contents. From something useless to a very powerful mage scroll. It is really worth to reload a lot in the beginning of the game if you want to powerbuild you character. You could turn off this randomness at the start of the game. I didn´t do that. So one could say I did spoiled it a little for myselves not doing that.

Even though I had a lot of money, there are only 2-3 places at which you could buy magical items and they are always worse than what you could find. So I think this is flawed. I had no use for my gold to upgrade anything. It seems there are hundreds of items but in the end I almost found nothing useful. I couldn´t even buy any magical light armour for my mage.

Economy was better balanced in the previous games as I recall it.

Rating: 2.5

NPC & Interactions

There are quite few NPCs in the game if you don´t count all shopkeepers that make up the majority of all side quests you will get. You never have any advanced dialogue trees. In this respect it is much like Dark Disciples. You could always choose all possible dialogue options.

The dialogue and information present is well written though and help building the atmosphere for the game.

The interactions with the environment is better. You could grab torches, pick up explosive barrels and use them at strategic places. There are levers, barrels, remains etc to be examined.

Rating:  2

Monsters, tactics & combat system

There are a few dozen of monsters in the game and they are very well animated. They have some different abilities like stun, poisioning, ranged attacks. Since I myself have been a ranged fighter I haven´t had to meet them in melee so I don´t know how hard it would have got. As a mage I have a powerful nimbus spell that protects me from ranged attacks which was very useful against goblin archers and others. As is expected
Strength affects melee damage, dexterity to hit chance of ranged weapons etc. Different kinds of armour gives different armour classes that are deducted from damage received. They will also degrade over time so you need to repair both weapons and armours.

There are no tactics involved in the fights whatsoever, except that one has to keep the distance as a mage and retreat and let them follow until you have regenerated enough mana to kill them, or you exit the map and reenters again. Some enemies can retreat when wounded but that´s about it.

I do like the simplicity of the combat system though. You get clear information about how much damage you are dealing and any modifiers applying like darkness, bad weather etc.

Rating:  2.5

Magic system

While combat might be fairly simple. Magic is a little bit more elaborated. You basically have two skills that determines wether you would prefer priestlike spells or magespells. The skill divination in combination with high wisdom gives you access to priestlike spells, while the skill elemental together with intelligence give you access to mage spells.

As I´ve said in my previous posts, scrolls could only be read if you have a high enough skill level. And even if you do, you must have a high enough attribute level in wisdom or intelligence in order to learn this spell. Fortunately you could unlearn old spells to give place for a new one if your attribute level is not high enough. Then to cast a spell you have to assign it to a casting level ranging from 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest). The higher the level the more powerful the effect of the spell will be (damage dealt, duration, range etc). The drawback of using high casting power is that the mana consumption is greater so you have to have enough mana as well to make it effective (investing in perception and meditation is the best way to go for that).

This system works extremely well and is well balanced. You could build a character that can cast both priest and mage spells but you would probably not have enough skill points invested in all skills and attributes to make them powerful enough.

My spells of choice as a mage was sparks, fireball, ice-lance, nimbus protection, trapkill and lockmelt. You get a powerful Portal spell but because of the many teleporter stones and the relatively easy game I never missed to use it much.

Rating:  4

Character generation & development

You decide for yourself which kind of character to build by spending skill points and attribute points during startup. There are no class choices at all so you could mix all classes if you wish. But I would recommend specializing since not doing that you might not get strong enough. I only managed the opponents by investing heavily into my magical arts to get the best spells as quick as possible and with the highest amount of mana generation.

At each level up you get 3 skill- and attribute points to spend freely. The system works really well.

Rating:  4

Map design

Each map is very well laid out. It is not very big and you could travel from one end to another in perhaps one minute. The underground complexes are also very well laid out in irregular or regular ways with rooms, corridors etc filled with paintings, torches, chests, furniture, corpses and other things to fill upp the spaces with. There are places you could only reach by accessing it from other maps or by using magic or other means. Scattered around the world are 30 secret places. I managed to find 17 of them when I completed the game.

Rating:  3.5

Manual

The manual is well written and even gives you hints and tips of how to play.

Rating:  3.5

Graphics, Sound and Interface

Even though it was two years ago I played the last Eschalon game I can say that it is obvious this game has the best graphics. The animations is better, there are more details everywhere and small improvments in the terrain can be spotted. It is easy and clear to see what everything is and the game runs very smooth.

The sound effects is clear, goodsounding and adds to the atmosphere. The same goes for the music that is very good and have always been in this game.

I really like the interface and the fonts used. It is crisp, clear, easy to understand and quick. I have to judge every game for its time though and even if this game is better in all respects to most old crpgs, it was released in 2014. I deduce 1 point for that.

Rating:  3

Gameplay

I played this game for two weeks on all my spare time without ever getting tired of it. That if something is a good value and even though I think 20 hours is not much and the game ended too quickly, I can still recommend it. 

Here and there the game forces you to use at least some brain to figure out numbers, avoid traps or finding illusionary walls or secret passages. It gives you the very important feeling of just playing a little longer and just explore a little more of the new map you have discovered. It is extremely easy to play and understand, yet hides some complexity in your character builds and utilisation of skills. The underlying combat and magic mechanism is well done and you always want to buy the best items there are. Too pity there are too few good items to buy but I found a lot of good weapons, useless for me as a mage. 

Yes, it is the weakest part in scale, atmosphere and storywise in the series but it still lands a solid experience and is well worth its money. We´ll see if I will return to the game engine if any third party adventures will be released since the editor is released at the same time as this game.

Rating:  4

Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2.5
Economy
2.5
NPC & Interactions
2
Monsters, tactics & combat system
2.5
Magic system
4
Character generation & development
4
Map design
3.5
Manual
3.5
Graphics, Sound and Interface
3
Summary CRPG value
27.5


Gameplay
4





April 29, 2014

Dragon Age - Inquisition release date

I cannot wait for Dragon Age - Inquisition that will be released 2014-10-09. Storywise I thought both Dragon Age games where good even though they where very linear and too combat focused.
 

April 26, 2014

Eschalon: Book III - Game mechanics

I´ve invested almost all my spare time into this game since my last post. I have played for over 17 hours now and it feels I have a pretty good grip of the game so far. Eschalon 3 takes place on a continent that is built up of dozens of maps that you will travel through, each with its own unique terrain, climate and atmosphere. From dense forests, to beaches, from loomy mountains to swamp regions. Scattered around these places are points of interests like villages, mines, goblin encampments, ruins, isolated cabins, shipwrecks etc. 

As said in the previous post each step is turn based. Day and night cycles are implemented and affects the gameplay. In darkness you get disadvantages in combat unless you have good lightning source. On the other hand your ability of hiding in darkness increases so as a thief I would guess that could be a good thing if you want to sneak past enemies you have no chance of killing. Underground complexes are filled with different types of lightning sources and you could always grab the torches and use for yourself. Don´t try to lit them during rain though. And when speaking about rain and thunder, a spell like sparks inflicts a lot more damage during these weather conditions. There are more that affects darkness but this is just to reassure you that it is not only an esthetical thing.

Fortunately you don´t have to travel across each - already visited - map to get somewhere. Here and there you could find travelstones and touching them enables you to fasttravel to that location from anywhere above ground in the game. A very useful feature that also existed in previous Eschalon games.


I have spent most of my time to build up my character and complete side quests and I am now at level 14. It is obvious when you reach areas with enemies that are too strong for you to overcome. Just retreat, build up and return later. Or use some sneak attacks to try to grab something useful before retreating. Since I am a mage I have no experience of using any melee or ranged weapon at all. I have had to totally rely on my spells. 

Magic

You find or buy scrolls that contain the spell you want and you must have enough skills invested into the elemental skill (for mage spells) or divination skill (for priests) in order to read them. Then you must have a high enough intelligence in order to memorise them. The higher intelligence you have the more spells you can use at once. Fortunately you could "forget" a spell to learn another one if your intelligence is not high enough. This allows you to disregard lesser spells in favour of more powerful ones. But it also means you have to buy or find a similar scroll later on if you want to relearn it. A good tradeoff I think.


But that is not all. Once you´ve learned a spell you have to put a casting level into it that decides the power of the spell from level 1 to level 6. A spark spell - for example - might do 2-4 points of damage per casting level. But in order to put a high casting level into a spell your elemental skill level must be high enough. Everything is tied together. I have had to put all my attribute points into intelligence and perception to get more mana points and better mana regeneration points during rest. My skill points have primarily been put into the elemental skill, with a few points invested into meditation and medicin. The first is used to regenerate my mana points overtime and the other for health points.

Here is the camp where the woman waited for me

I am extremely weak at melee and my aim is never to get trapped in a spot where I cannot flee. My tactic is to retreat when the mana is low and then rest to resupply my mana pool and get back into the fray again. The drawback of that is not that it is hard to retreat. It almost never are. Neither is it hard to find quiet spots to camp on. The problem is the food one is consuming during a long rest. Despite my forage skill I still need to buy some stocks to have with me for longer journeys. Money has not been any major issue at all in the game so far and even though there are quite some equipment in the stores to choose from it is not very varied. As a mage I am only interested in mage scrolls and light armour. Right now I have more than 3.000 gold which feels stable enough. 

Main Quest


My only real goal was to find the woman who had been looking for me at the store and left a message that said I was to look for her encampment at the dunes in the west. After having done several sidequests and advanced a few levels I eventually found her encampment in the dusk. She had a fire going and was going back and forth. Her encampment was quite well concealed behind some rocky formations. When I stepped into the light she draw a sword and attacked me on sight. I had to kill her and found a letter on her body that she had obviously intercepted that was meant for me, written by Erubor Stonebeard.


The letter said that the Orakur race - a race introduced in the previous games - was led by one named Malkur. He was in search of the four crux stones. I have the crux of fire with me and Malkur has the crux of ages. I need to find the other two. They are very powerful and it is not clear why Malkur want´s them except that they will make him too dangerous and powerful.

The letter said that the only one that might have more information about the whereabouts of the other two one Karamiklan the silver, an old friend of the writer of the letter. I should seek his wisdom. The problem is that he is imprisoned by a warlord named Alundar deep down in the Astral Range. I cannot just walk in and demand to see the prisoner. Erubors advice is that I find a gift to the warlord and then I might be able to visit Karamiklan. What that gift could be, he doesn´t know but suggests I travel to the town of Moonrise and speak to the owner of the Blacked bone tavern who might have some information.



I have got there and even found the gift for the warlord - without knowing it - in one of my exploration trips to another island. Right now I have explored most of the main island and I haven´t found a way to reach to the warlord yet but I think the passage is to be found in a temple. In order to progress into the temple I have to find at least two important items elsewhere. One of them I have found, the other one am I still looking for. I hope to find it in a goblin stronghold.



There are some places where you must solve at least some sort of puzzle or at least use some thought. For example, it took some time until I realised I could send spells through doors. If there is a lever behind I could switch it from a distance. That is how you must solve certain areas. At another one I found an illusionary wall that  led me to a secret place which gave me much needed experience points. 

I have focused hard on my magic using abilities and can hold my own at any opponent so far at level 14. I am still having much fun with the game but I have no idea how big the game is. According to the maps I´ve found there is only the Astral mountains left to explore where the warlord lives but I haven´t found any of the other two cruxes yet so they must be somewhere else if not there.


My next post would probably be somewhere near the end of the game. I still have had a really good time with this game but I hope it won´t get easier because neither moneywise or powerwise I feel underpowered right now.


April 13, 2014

Eschalon: Book III - A fresh start

I have to admit. I yielded before I was finished with Inquisitor. I bought Eschalon Book 3 now when the patch 1.021 was on the way. My patience for trying to complete Inquisitor failed. The game is huge and I´ve probably already put over 40 hours into it the last months and even though I am in Act 3, It feels there are a lot more to do. That´s why this blog has been so silent this year.

There is no coincidence that I have talked highly about the Eschalon series before on this blog. Actually, Eschalon is the reason I first became interested in playing old-school RPGs again. In autumn 2010, in one of my longer consultant jobs I had to endure very long waiting times for zip files to unzip or be transfered across networks. It was then I first heard about Eschalon. A game that said it was made with the old-school RPG feeling in thought. With a heavy story and skills and attributes that decided the outcome rather than your leftclicking finger, it was said to be challenging.

The title screen is accompanied by very good music

As the manual states: 

Eschalon: Book III is what we call an old school role-playing game. What does that mean? Well, to us it means we’ve tried to capture the feeling of a classic RPG from the 80’s or early 90’s, often referred to as the “golden era” of computer role-playing games. 

Those RPGs were mechanically simple to play yet featured deep single-player storylines and complex character stats, as well as an open environment to explore. 

If you remember playing any of the outstanding Might & Magic games, or wandering through Britannia in an Ultima game, or marveling at the detailed stat system of the Wizardry series, then you should have a good idea of 
what we’ve tried to make in the Eschalon series.

To cut it short. I bought the game. But not the first one. I started out with Eschalon: Book II. I got totally hooked by the charm it offered. I also bought and completed Eschalon Book 1. Ever since, I have been waiting for the third and last installment of the trilogy and it is now here.

So let´s take a look at the game and see what it can offer in 2014. Hopefully there are readers out there that have never heard of, yet alone played any of the Eschalon games. Then I could just congratulate. If this last episode is as good as the first I can promise you much enjoyment. But I will allow you to judge that for yourself since I am now ready to start up the game....


Character genereation

...which begin by creating your character. This is a single player experience so choose carefully. You could re-roll your stats until you are satisfied. You then distribute your 20 available attribute points freely and choose a gender, origin, axiom and class. Each part gives you different advantages or both positive and negative sides.

I choosed to play a female enchantress-mage called Ranja and spent my points on intelligence and perception. Both are important for a mage since the first controls how fast you regenerate mana points and the second how much mana you start out with. Endurance is always important for a mage since your hitpoints is dependent upon it. Concentration is also required for spells so that cannot be neglected either. I had to sacrifice strength, dexterity and speed. I have very faint memories of how to build a strong character here so I am only guessing at this stage.



You can select certain rules that will make the game harder depending on how much score you want to aiim for. I choosed to go for normal difficulty which means that water and food will be a factor and equipment will degrade.

The last game ended with me being beamed by a creature called "The One", resembling what we today call Grays from the modern UFO litterature. The beam hit a very powerful crux of fire gem instead of me which meant I was teleported to what seems to be another world. I wake up in the middle of a jungle without a single equipment on me. My first task is to find out where I am and try to reach the nearest village, as well as finding out what power lies in the crux of fire gem I have.

Not the best place to wake up at

What strikes me quickly is the clear and detailed graphics the game offers, despite only being played out in 1024x768. It is clear it is as improved as it can get since it is the same underlying engine that was used in Eschalon Book 1 from 2007.

My inventory is empty and I have no spells at my disposal. Fortunately, a quick search in the nearby surroundings let me find a scroll of sparks which is a weak but functional offensive elemental spell. I also pick up some gold and food while I had to follow the only way that leads through the djungle to a swamp river. Here and there giant beetles attacked me but by preparing a level 3 sparkspell I was able to take them out in only one shot. I had to make camp a few times to restore my mana and during that time your food and water levels depletes quickly. Fortunately I found a waterskin as well. I had put three points in foraging so occasionally I find some cabbage I could eat but other than that I really had no reserves of food at all.

This is my equipment table and character sheet

You can only make camp if you have enough space and is not near any danger

My exploration of the surrounding land revealed a few chests and barrels. Some chests where locked but I found keys for them or I could try to destory them with my spells. But that is seldom worth the mana cost.

I found several skeletons or remains from humanoids and many of them had a few items I could use to my disposal. I found some armour and a bludgeon weapons but since I lack skill in both of them I couldn´t use them.




You move by holding down the mouse button or by using the arrow keys. Since the game is turn-based you cannot point to a location and expect your character to walk there. I eventually reached the town Rockhammer. It was a small mining town consisting of a tavern, blacksmith, gemstone expert, the mayor and some houses. I was looking for work so the Mayor said the dwarven mine had been infested with cockroaches (have we heard that one before ?) and if I clear them out he was willing to pay me some gold.

After that, I picked up several subquests like retrieving a crafting hammer for the blacksmith or help get back some debts. Even though I could leave the town at any time and in any direction - this game is not linear -, I preferred to go down through the mines.

Darkness plays a role not only for aesthetic reason, but it will be more difficult to hit if you find yourself in darkness. That goes for the enemies as well. You could pick up any torches you find on the walls. If it is raining it will be difficult to light them and they could even go out. It is small things like this that make this game stand out.

Observe the lightning effects
In the mines I disposed of all cochroaches and scorpions. I had to rest a lot to regain my mana and food is never plentiful. Fortunately my forage helps me out to now and then give me something edible to eat. When I returned back to the town I got some very hefty experience points and quickly rose to level 4. Each time you level up you have the chance to access the level up button. You get 3 skill points and 3 attribute points for every level and you can save them until next level advancement if you wish but you could only enter the level assignment process once per level. I really like this feature.

It allows you one use to allocate your points when you need them but you have to wait until progressing to the next level until next time so you could not exploit it ruthlessly. In Inquistor for example, you can allocate your points whenever you need them which has made me running around with points worth 10 levels of advancements. Just to be sure...


Environmental descriptions are presented in the bottom textfield and when you enter conversations you get a small portrait of the person in question and several dialogue options. The system is quite simple and there are few dialogue trees. Most of the time you could go back and select one answer in a row. It works without any problems though and so far the texts has been well written. It is definetly more advanced than the Dark Disciples series.

Eventually I found a map that helped me locate my position in the world. This is not to be confounded with the automap that requires the skill Cartography (or the spell reveal map). I am obviously somewhere far away but still in the same world as before.


I begun to explore the western parts of the realm and found a stranded cargo ship, a guild overrun by evil rogues and a lot of small places of interests. I have to say I am very content of playing a mage. I was wise to invest a maxium 5 starting skill points into elemental which means I could cast level 3 sparks. That was enough to take out anything out in the wild in the beginning and by increasing my elemental skill to 7 at level 2 made me cast level 4 sparks that could take out cockroaches and scorptions with a few hits. That is not to say it is too easy. I constantly need to retreat and regenerate mana after downing a few enemies which means the drain on my food supply is heavy. That´s why I invested in the forage skill from the beginning. That alone is not enough though. I feel I have to return to town to buy more food as the situation is right now.

I alter entered the ship from the western side


It is often worthwhile to look everywhere.

So what about the mainquest ? Well, one of my first things was to get more information about the gem I had, the very valuable crux of fire. I found a gemspecialist in Rockhammer who said that a women asked about a person just like me some weeks ago and left a message for me to meet her in her camp in the west amongst the dunes. I am slowly on my way overthere but have decided to complete every subquest in order.

I haven´t met any special puzzles yet, although to open the entrance to the Seawardens guild required me to use two cranks on two separate nearby wells. I have also come across traps in the dwarven mines. There are skills for discovering them but I suppose my innate attributes helped me because I could see faint traces of them before they sprung.

Moneywise, I have around 500 gold crowns. There are a lot of things I want to buy like better magical scrolls, light armour and magical items but for the money I have I can at best get two items right now. Better to save them until I really need them. I invested 3 skill points on a level upgrade to get the light armour skill at 1. That allows me to at least wear the most simple light armour I can found. What I want to say is, that the economy balance works very well until to the point where I am.

So far the enjoyment is top notch, like the previous games in the trilogy. I really like the neat and clean interface, the font used and most of the userinterface. The sound effects are clear and plentiful with many environmental effects like rain or thunderstorms. The title theme is also very good. I´ll return more to the music further on in the game because now I have another 3 cups of coffee waiting for me and the game to start up again....

April 11, 2014

Might & Magic X - Legacy

It was by pure coincidence I recently found out that a new Might and Magic game had been released in january 2014. The last part was was released in 2002 and I did a good try to play it one year ago but eventually gave up because of the dead and empty world.
However, that is not to say I won´t give this new game a try. It is now also on my list to be visited in a near future. My first contact was with Might and Magic II for the Amiga and I am looking forward to play this game also.

Here is a trailer of the game:


If you want to take a closer look of the gameplay (and who wouldn´t ?), watch this: