Ask someone to name their favorite “casual” game and chances are they’ll mention a time management sim, such as Diner Dash, a match-3 game a la Bejeweled, or a hidden object game, like the Mystery Case Files puzzlers.
Fortunately, many other game genres are now part of the casual space, including real-time strategy games, point-and-click adventures and sports titles.
Even fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) are available as try-before-you-buy downloads, such as Basilisk Games’ Eschalon: Book 1, the first in a planned RPG series not unlike the classic Ultima or Wizardry adventures of yesteryear.
The game first lets you create a custom character by selecting from various races, physical features, base attributes and evolving skills. Spend your points to design a fighter that matches your preferred play style, be it a melee warrior who specializes in swords or blunt weapons, a range fighter adept at bow and arrow or a mage who does the most damage via spell-casting. Regrettably you can only play as a male fighter in this first game and unlike many RPGs it’s just you and no traveling “party” of well-balanced fighters.
When you set out in this top-down adventure you learn of a war being waged against deadly creatures, who have laid waste to most of your town. You also will unravel who you are – though you suffer from amnesia at the beginning of the game – and your role in this epic conflict. Yes, it’s trite as many RPGs start off with this scenario, but what can you do.
Missions are given to you primarily by meeting up with characters who have specific quests (find such-and-such person or item) but you need not complete them in any specific order. Other missions are given to you by little notes you’ll find here and there.
Click on barrels, wells and chests to find items for your inventory, some of which you might place on your fighter (in the character screen), such as better weapons, armor, shields, special rings, and so on. As you click to fight baddies – beginning with fanged salamanders and giant bats – you’ll eventually gain enough experience points to “level up” to a stronger character.
If you’re damaged you can drink a red potion or camp out for the night to regain your health. Fighting takes place via a turn-based grid system, but real-time fans can simply click on an enemy (like Diablo) repeatedly until they die. The game features nearly 10 huge areas, and plenty of underground dungeons, with randomly generated create and item placement so no two adventures should play out the same way.
Fantasy role-playing fans in search of an “old school” click-fest might enjoy Eschalon: Book 1, but at the risk of insulting the talented developers at Basilisk, the game-play gets a little, well, bland after a short while. While the dialogue is well-written, the clichéd story and somewhat repetitive hack-and-slash-then-rest gameplay might bore some eventually. Yes, you can try to improve your cartography or lock-picking skills and try to unlock new areas to explore, but likely only RPG fans will have the patience to sink hours into this fantasy adventure.