Eschalon : Book II is the second installment in the Eschalon series of role playing games published by indie game studio Basilisk Games. While the game does follow off where Book One finished, it is set a number of years later in the game’s internal time-line. This creates a convenient explanation as to why your character has forgotten all the skills they had built up from the last game. You can’t port your character directly, but you can just as easily re-create him in the character creation screen. You also have the option of creating a female character this time around. The gender of your character does have a slight effect on your stats and also makes the game more immersive for any female players out there.
A number of improvements have been made to the game engine since the last installment. The play interface has had an overhaul and the most of the buttons are better positioned for a smooth gaming experience. Probably the biggest changes have been the inclusion of hunger and thirst, as well as weapon durability. All three of these aspects add another layer of challenge to the game, but they can actually be turned off at the game launch screen. To be able to customize your game to that extent is a really nice touch. Hunger and thirst are pretty self explanatory. Water can be found in wells spread around the game and food can be found using the forage skill or by killing certain animals; killing a rat often yields a small amount of rat meat, for example. Weapons now wear down over time and eventually break. Weapons can be repaired via the repair skill or by taking them into a blacksmith. Different materials are stronger and last longer than others, but their price also reflects that.
Most of the skills from the last game are present this time around, although a few have been tweaked to prevent any skills breaking the game if they get too high. There are also a lot more trainers in Book II, meaning that you can become quite proficient in a number of skills provided you have the cash to pay for it. There are, however, limits to how high you can be trained. There are more skills in total to be learned, but many of the new skills are directly related to the new hunger, thirst and weapon durability mechanics. Given that the skill system essentially made your character who he was in the last game, Book II plays a lot like Book I, if not for a stronger focus on survival. I would say that Book II prefers specialization in terms of character creation even more so than Book I. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pull off a character with an odd skill set if you wanted to; you could still make a thief proficient in divine healing magic, you would just have focus most of your skill points into fewer relevant skills.
The game looks as good as ever. I mean, it’s not some triple-A, HD, widescreen title with a multimillion dollar budget, but it’s charming in it’s own way. The base resolution has been increased which makes it look even clearer than before, and battle animations look a little better as well. It does retain the overall look and feel from the first game, and the music this time around is top class, much like the first instalment.
The plot has many of the base elements that were present in the first game, but it really is a stand alone story. One could play Book II despite never having played Book I and they wouldn’t really miss out on anything. There is, in my opinion, a whole lot more story in Book II. While Book I had a strong focus on the mystery of who you are and why you lost your memory, Book I focuses more on a wider reaching (in terms of the game world) series of events. There are also a lot more characters to interact with as well. There does seem to be a bit more substance in Book II, however it loses a lot of the mysterious atmosphere of the first game.
The game world is a bit bigger this time around. It is a completely different different section of Eschalon’s fictional world and unfortunately you cannot travel back to areas from Book I. The world map feels more like an actual world this time. There are different areas with different climates, like the icy cold north and the tropically hot south, as well as the rainy woodlands that players have become accustomed to from Book I. There are also weather conditions now, including rain and snow, which have mild yet noticeable effects on gameplay and combat. The one area that really caught my attention was the city in Book II. There is a large city to the north that takes up almost two whole map screens. It is chock full of shops, taverns, interesting characters to talk to, secrets to uncover and quests to take on. It also quite the challenge for anyone training themselves in thievery as there are plenty of private residences with locked doors just ready for the looting.
Basilisk game managed to re-create the look and feel of an old school PC RPG with their first game, Eschalon Book I. With Book II they have gone and done it again. Another rock-solid offering of old school role playing fun that actually manages to improve over the first game. Basilisk Games has announced that there will be a Book III released sometime this year, along with a tool kit to make your own adventures. It’s almost too bad that the series is going to end with only three games, but hopefully the tool set will invoke enough imagination from the small yet border-line fanatical fan base the game has managed to attract to keep Eschalon alive for years to come.