Eschelon: Book III is the final chapter in the Eschalon series. Set in your typical Dungeons & Dragons inspired fantasy world, there is nothing overly unique about this game. The story did nothing in particular to catch my attention, and the mechanics are noticeably dated, but for some reason, I love it. Finding a turn based rpg in the vein of the original Fallout nowadays is no easy feat, and finding one with a pseudo-3D graphic style is even rarer. This game feels old, but in a good way. Its story, visuals, and mechanics bring me right back to my early days of PC gaming, and I couldn’t ask for more.
Picking up where the series left off, Eschalon: Book III could easily be confusing to those with no prior knowledge of the two previous titles. The story itself did not grab me, but I feel as if it came secondary to the world. It may be “Generic” with your typical host of fantasy races and tropes, but that is what I love about it. This is clearly an ode to old-school rpgs and it nails the setting perfectly.
From a modern perspective, this game is pretty difficult. There are no auto saves or checkpoints, so if you die, go back to your last save. Not thinking ahead can easily get you killed. For example, at the very start of the game, I received a quest to enter a mine, and slay scorpions. I never seriously thought they would be that much of a threat, so I didn’t pick up any antivenom before I went into the mine. I paid dearly for this, I got poisoned and before I could make it out of the cave, I succumbed to the venom. Dying brought I all the way back to town, and I lost much of my progress. This was a very stupid and simple mistake, but you really have to think about every factor when playing this game, which is very rare nowadays.
The turn based gameplay allows for many things to be happening at once, while still making things manageable. Trust me there is a lot to keep track of. At all times, you need to watch your health, magic, food, and water bars, and make sure none drop too low. Also, you need to watch out for diseases and traps that you can stumble into. There is a sort of calm chaos to Eschalon: Book III.
The amount of freedom you have with your character is really appreciated. Though any experienced player of roleplaying games will spec their character to maximum efficiency, you are not restricted by anything. Want to be a spell caster proficient in heavy armor, shields, and weapons, and put all your ability points towards strength? Go right ahead. Maybe the most refreshing thing about this title is the amount of freedom the developers trust you with.
Every situation in the game can be approached in several different ways. Maybe you help a man deal with a treacherous task, or maybe you rob and murder him in his own house. You don’t have a bar telling you how many good and bad deeds you have done. With no morality system, and scarce resources at times, you may do things you are not proud of, but that will be for you to decide when the time comes.
A lot of games that strive to be “Retro” often come off as very lazy, and this is the main reason why so many of them irritate me. Eschalon is not like this what so ever. Everything is done with such painstaking detail, that it can almost be overwhelming at times. The details of the world, in game menus, and character visuals are anything but lazy.
I love the visuals to this game. There has been a movement as of late focusing on making games in the 8-bit style, but for some reason, there isn’t a lot of games using Eschelon’s pseudo-3D style. At least for me, this is way more reminiscent of the past, especially if you played PC games in the 90s. It actually looks old, instead of trying to look old.