Indie CRPG Bumper Crop

By: Derek Yu

On: May 26th, 2010

Eschalon: Book II

Today, Basilisk games released the Macintosh and Linux versions of Eschalon: Book II, following the Windows version which came out earlier this month. Book II is the second game in a planned trilogy of RPGs, and continues the story where Book I left off. According to an interview with one of the creators, Book II also improves on the first game in a number of ways:

For Book II we’re sticking with the same old-school design principles and focusing on gameplay improvements and elements that were left out of Book I. We’re taking 99% of the improvements from fan suggestions such as increasing the game’s resolution, improving the interface, adding female characters, weather effects that influence stats, powder kegs that can be moved around, improved dialog and quest options, and much more. Some of the 60 improvements are less tangible, such as engine tweaks to allow the game to consume fewer resources than Book I and run smoother, but they all lead to a better gaming experience.

Eschalon: Book II can be purchased for $24.95 and Book I, which was released in 2007, now costs $19.95. Demos are available for both games.

TIGdb: Entry for Eschalon: Book II

Avernum 6

Also, I noticed that Spiderweb Software’s long-running RPG series, Avernum, has finally reached its conclusion this year, with Avernum 6. Like Eschalon, the last game in the series came out three years ago, in 2007. The game is available for both Windows and Macintosh.

So yeah, so far it’s been a good year for fans of old-school, story-driven indie fantasy CRPGs! For more indie RPG love, you should check out Craig Stern’s Craig is a developer of RPGs himself, having created a number of games under the label Sinister Design.

TIGdb: Entry for Avernum 6

  • Greg Vanderbeek

    Spiderweb software's Exile series was one of the first PC RPGs I ever played. I still come back to it from time to time, 'cause it's fun.

  • Dodger

    These are both great examples of incredibly deep and atmospheric story driven classic RPG's. They're classics in the sense that they tell a very engrossing and grand story while retaining elements of classic style D&D gameplay. The scope of it all might appear to be scaled down because each of these is made by only a handful of individuals but rest assured these games off many hours of gameplay, some might say even more hours than your recent average Bioware RPG have to offer. In fact, if you're a fan of the Bioware style RPG then you'll probably enjoy either of these series'. They are cleverly written and even though they might not compare with big name RPG releases in terms of graphics, they more than make up for that shortcoming with story, style, and gameplay. These are the types of games that, given the chance, help enhance and take over your imagination, much like a good book.

  • Al3xand3r

    I wouldn't call the Eschalon games incredibly deep or anywhere close to that. Entertaining, simple, straightforward. I just finished Book II (about 20 hours, I left some quests unfinished but don't really have a desire to go back just for them, I did explore most of the area even though I had 0 cartography skill yet never got lost, which shows how simplistic their world design is sadly) and while it was an improvement over the first I feel they could have done a lot more with it, especially in terms of story and combat tactics. Other than handling enemies close versus long range and getting access to more or less loot (if your character can break or unlock certain chests or not) the stats and progression don't matter at all, and combat tactics dissolve to just exploting the AI into following you in comfortable spaces for your class. And nearing the end it gives you even less and less room for choice since it becomes a dungeon crawler. But it was fun and worth the <20 I paid during the Impulse sale and I do look forward to Book III, which will hopefully finally have a party as was initially planned and some actual combat tactics, as well as make statistics affect more than your loot and combat handling, and a better, deeper story. If only the Spiderweb games had as intuitive interface and smooth movement (I don't mind low-end visuals, but at least make them move smoothly, and charming if you can) then I could enjoy their actual depth.

  • Brahmedinejad

    Man, still cringe every time I see those awful junior high notebook scribble character portraits Jeff has kept in Avernum for all these years. I'll never understand how he can afford to get progressively better art for his games but still keeps those things in such a prominent spot. Aren't there like dozens of dudes on deviant art or some shit who would be super up for drawing some fantasy bros with rippling oily muscles for a reasonable price? I'm not really familiar with pricing for art assets for something like this so maybe the steel plated nipple market is just higher demand than I thought. Oh well. Keep on truckin' Jeff, I'll keep on playing your games until you start making Geneforge Hidden Object Quest or something!

  • chrknudsen

    God, I love old-style isometric graphics! They really have a certain charm and feel to them…

  • Dodger

    No the Eschalon games aren't incredibly deep, but they're still deep if you were to compare them to your average RPG Maker style RPG, Roguelikes, and even half the BioWare library out their (the Mass Effect series and Jade Empire games come to mind – though enjoyable, they certainly don't have the depth of other BioWare games and certainly not the depth of other classic RPG's – doesn't mean they're not fun though).

    I just think that both series' (Avernum and Eschalon) are great offerings that at least do have some actual depth to them, especially if you're looking for something outside the RPG Maker style of simple RPG's. Not that there's anything wrong with those either – they are mostly just simplified versions of classic RPG's – usually involving a Japanese influence on appearance – ala Final Fantasy II – or FF IV if you're in Japan. Compared to the average one of those, these games are deep, but especially Avernum.

  • Al3xand3r

    That they're deeper than generally free stuff made in RPG maker doesn't mean much as a compliment. And no, I don't think it's deeper than most good roguelikes (also free!) at all. And there are plenty deep JRPG-like stuff like Exit Fate, which is also made in RPG Maker. Deep is one thing, linear progression versus open world or Eastern influence versus Western another. Though the Eschalon games still have a linear story to follow for the most part, maybe with a couple of options for some quests, they just let you roam a wider area for what amounts to xp and loot on top of that.

  • Dodger

    Actually, I thought we were talking about story mainly while leaning on atmosphere accompanied by D&D style gameplay (referring to depth), which is why I made the comparison to some BioWare games.

    You referenced “Free” RPG Maker RPG's, but really I haven't come across many “Pay” RPG Maker RPG's with much more depth than Dragon Warrior or the Final Fantasy series. Not that they aren't fun, but deep, they are not. Perhaps it's just personal preference though because I do enjoy JRPG's as well, it's just in the way that the story is crafted that I would determine one series might be deeper than another. So yes, how one views the “Depth” of a games story to be is subjective. That was my opinion about these two series though.

  • Al3xand3r

    I just said “generally” in case there's pay stuff you'd say you were comparing it to. The point was, saying it's deeper than freebies made in an amateur's program (which still has had certain great examples) isn't much of a compliment. That is all. And yes, Eschalon's story is extremely simplistic, as is its gameplay, in my opinion. I dunno what you find so deep about either element. That it's all a simple romp is actually part of its charm as far as I'm concerned, though I would appreciate some more choices and challenge for sure as I mentioned already. So, while roguelikes don't have a story at all, their deep gameplay does tend to be deeper than Eschalon's. And JRPG-like stuff like Exit Fate do have a deeper story, and in some cases gameplay (Exit Fate even has 2 modes of battles, one JRPG-like, one strategy-RPG like where you command forces as in Fire Emblem). I just don't think Eschalon's “depth” is part of its qualities and that's all I've been saying. I enjoyed the game, it was worth the money, I look forward to the next one with hopefully improvements, but deep, it isn't.

  • Wenis Martin

    He's proud of them, you see? They are like the one constant that returning players can always look forward to.
    “Oh look, there's microtransactions now…but at least we still have these old portraits!”

  • Levi

    I remember playing the shareware version of Avernum way back when. I'm not a huge dungeon crawler, old-school RPG type of guy, but somehow, between matches of Counter-Strike, that shareware game took a number of hours from me. I should go back and buy it.

  • CraigStern

    Thanks for the shout-out, Derek! Needless to say, I'm glad to see indie RPGs gettin' a little love on the front page, and these are two good ones to receive it. :)

  • Dodger

    Actually Al3xand3r, you misunderstood. I didn't just say that they were deeper than freebies. Obviously Eschalon is much lighter on literature, but I did say that I'd compare it to some of BioWares' titles. Obviously BioWare games are far from free and as I mentioned, in terms of depth I'd compare Eschalon to the Mass Effect series or Jade Empire. KOTOR followed more of the Star Wars mythos and universe but it still felt like it was a much larger universe than that of Mass Effect or Jade Empire, and the Neverwinter Nights series was a nice jump back to the CRPG style especially if you were a big fan of Diablo (and the many clones) but longed for those old fashioned style RPG's with up-to-date graphics and a more intuitive gameplay style than standard AD&D PC Games. Respectfully though, I enjoyed all of those other BioWare games even though I didn't find them deep at all. They were very much “Held by the Hand” type games (Mass Effect and Jade Empire are the two I am referencing). Not very deep at all but extremely atmospheric and satisfying nonetheless.

    Again, it's all a matter of opinion, but I do believe what I've said would be a compliment to Eschalon, and I guess we both agree that Avernum has great depth to it (though I agree with many that some aspects of it – or new games that use the engine at least – could use a face lift).


  • Zaratus

    I've only really spent serious time with Avernum III, but something drew me to really play Avernum VI. It's fantastic. I really got addicted to the game and had to keep playing it until the end. It really has a lot to offer, and it's got a ton of stuff to keep you busy. Just fully exploring the demo area ends up longer than a number of full games, and it's really only the first 20% or so of the map.

    I'm really looking forward to see how his new game (And yes, a new series!) is going to turn out.

  • Zaratus

    Speaking of which, his new game was formally announced, and it looks like the aforementioned character portraits are gone!

    Avadon: The Black Fortress. Looks like more old-school PC gaming goodness. =p

  • Ryan Szrama

    I'm blown away by the polish on Eschalon. Very nice find! Enjoying the demo right now. It's also good to hear about Spiderweb Software… I played the exile games a lot a looong time ago.

  • Brahmedinejad

    If a brother got HIV he gets to look forward to it being a constant in his life too, doesn't mean he should be running around inflicting it on other people.

  • Brahmedinejad

    Aw hell, this looks mad aces. I got a halfsie just lookin' at those screens!

  • Derek Yu

    Haha, I love the how the guy in the screenshot is cocky as hell with his sweet bowl haircut.

    Looks good, though!

  • Brahmedinejad

    I'd be supes cocky too if I had a ballin' ass bowlcut like that. Don't hate on the classics, Derek! You know who else had bowl cuts? Fucking KINGS and shit.

  • Derek Yu

    Hey, I'd never hate on the bowl haircut! I used to rock one in elementary school and I was smiling just like that guy is!

  • Underwhelmed

    I actually like the art. It is simple true, but having played all the Avernums since the first (and even the first couple exiles) it is nice to have some constants. I think a better option would be for there to be more of it, or perhaps have it integrated into the rest of the look of the game better. I agree that it does stick out a bit.

  • !CE-9

    I'm going slightly off the topic, however it is vaguely related to Avernum …Spiderweb Software …Jeff Vogel.

    This morning I've found out by accident that Jeff Vogel has written a book on parenting; it's an awesome (and awesomely indie) read even if you're not parenting.

    (No, sadly I'm not paid for this. And how on earth have I stumbled upon it to begin with? Something something They Came From Hollywood something, if I remember correctly.)