Exiled Kingdoms Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2018-02-23
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Introduction

Exiled Kingdoms is an action role-playing game created almost entirely by David Ballestrino.  It was released for mobile devices in August of 2017, and it was then ported over to the PC in February of this year.  This review is for the PC version of the game.

As Exiled Kingdoms opens up, you receive a letter informing you about a significant inheritance that is coming your way, all due to a relative that you didn't even know you had.  But of course, on your way to collect your rewards, you're set upon by bandits and goblins, and slowly but surely you get embroiled in all sorts of mysteries and quests -- which eventually leads to you learning that your family is more important that you thought, and that you're going to need to save the world.  All in a day's work.

Character Development

The first thing you do in Exiled Kingdoms is create your character.  This involves some cosmetic things like choosing a name, gender, and portrait, and then moves on to the important stuff like choosing a class, spending some attribute points, and selecting your first skill.

Exiled Kingdoms includes four classes: Cleric, Mage, Rogue, and Warrior.  These classes do about what you'd expect.  Clerics wield bludgeoning weapons and cast healing and buffing spells.  Mages wear the lightest armor and cast a variety of elemental spells.  Rogues get medium armor and typically wield "light weapons" (like daggers) or bows.  Warriors wear the heaviest armor and focus on two-handed weapons or one-handed weapons with a shield.

There are also six attributes: Agility, Awareness, Endurance, Intellect, Personality, and Strength.  All of the attributes are useful for all of the classes, but of course some are more important than others.  For example, Strength is the best attribute for Warriors since it increases their melee damage, but Intellect helps with XP gain, and Awareness helps with spotting traps, and so they're useful as well.  Plus, rank N of an attribute costs N attribute points to purchase, and so eventually you're better off spreading the wealth around a little instead of just focusing on one attribute.

For skills and spells, each character gets six class skills plus three general skills.  The class skills are specific for your class.  For example, Warriors get skills for two-handed weapons, shield expertise, performing a whirlwind attack, while Mages get the spells Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and Mage Armor.  The general skills are the same for each character: Dungeoneering (which makes it easier for you detect things), Gossip (which improves your chances of learning about rumors while at inns), and Recovery (which allows you to rest more often to recover health and mana).

While adventuring, characters can also purchase up to eight advanced skills from the game's four factions.  These factions are aligned with the game's four classes.  Characters can only join one faction, and while they aren't required to join the faction aligned with their class, it wouldn't make any sense not to.  However, as long as you make a faction happy (by completing quests for them), they'll still offer you some skills, and so, for example, all characters can learn resistance skills from the mage faction -- provided they deem the skill worthy of one of their eight advanced skill slots.


You can play the game solo with just your main character, but life gets much easier if you recruit some help.  In every town you visit, you can pay for a mercenary to join you.  Mercenaries don't gain XP, you can't equip them, and when they lose their health, they're dead for good, so they're only useful early in the game -- and barely even then -- when they're your only option.  But eventually, you also unlock up to three possible companions: a Cleric, a Rogue, and a Warrior.  You can only have one companion with you at a time, but you can equip them and build them up like your main character, making them very useful when adventuring, provided that you don't mind their drain on your XP.

During my main playthrough of Exiled Kingdoms, I used a Warrior with the Cleric companion.  This was a great pairing since my character could kill everything while the Cleric kept me healed.  But on the downside, I'm not sure how many viable builds there are for each class.  For example, I started my Warrior as a sword-and-board tank but discovered that the extra protection from the shield didn't even close to being worth the amount of damage I was losing by not using a two-handed weapon, and so eventually I adjusted my build.  Still, even if each class only has one realistic build, the four classes are different enough, and the game takes long enough, that there is plenty of replay value.

Gameplay

Exiled Kingdoms is played using an isometric view.  Since it's an action RPG, its controls are simple.  You can either use the WASD keys or the left mouse button to move, the spacebar or the left mouse button to attack, and the E key or the left mouse button to interact with things.  You also can access up to four quick items (usually potions) by pressing the F1-F4 keys, and you can trigger skills and spells by pressing the 1-8 keys.  You only control your character.  Companions simply follow along and do their own thing (unless you talk to them and give them some battle orders, like telling them to stand still for a while).  If you don't like the key bindings, then the game allows you to change them.

Mostly what you do in Exiled Kingdoms is kill stuff.  The game currently includes over 40 map areas with a variety of environments and enemies.  So there are wintery areas with polar bears and white wolves, forests with goblins and bandits, deserts with snakes and spiders, desolated areas with ghosts and skeletons, and lots more.  The variety is nice, but the main difference between enemies is what sort of damage they do, rather than how you attack them, so they're largely interchangeable.

That being said, combat tends to be difficult.  Exiled Kingdoms doesn't really give you a friendly road to travel.  You have to hunt around for things you can kill, dungeons you can explore, and quests you can complete, and you have to run back to town a lot to heal up and sell stuff so you can continue on.  To make matters more complicated, map areas respawn quickly, sometimes while you're still there (I'm thinking of you, sewer rats).  So you have to fight your way to a dungeon, explore as much as you can, then leave and fight your way back to town, and then repeat.  This requires a lot of unfortunate grinding, and it can make the game tedious at times.

The writing and quests are a little better than you usually see in an action RPG.  Exiled Kingdoms is aware of other RPGs, and it knows what the cliches are, and it isn't afraid to play around with them.  For example, at one point a town leader asks you to bring him the head of a monster that has been terrorizing his town, but when you deliver the actual head to him, he's surprised and disgusted and tells you that he just wanted you to kill the creature.  There are also several quests where you have to make decisions.  This usually comes down to picking one side over another (like choosing between rich slavers or downtrodden slaves), but you're also allowed to play the game in a "good" or "evil" way.

To make the dialogue more interesting, Exiled Kingdoms uses a lot of attribute checks, and it allows you to learn things and then use that knowledge in conversations.  So you don't have to fight your way through everything.  Sometimes diplomacy will see you through, and non-combat skills like Dungeoning and Gossip are also useful.  The game also includes a few puzzles, but they're mostly of the lever-pulling variety, and aren't too difficult to solve.


For the most part, I found Exiled Kingdoms to be enjoyable.  It's not overly complicated, so you can start it up, kill stuff for a while, and then put it back down without worrying that you're going to forget what's going on.  And since the battles can be tough, especially in the early- and mid-game, you get a lot of satisfaction for defeating enemies and gaining levels.

But there is one big caveat: unless you're playing on the "casual" difficulty, you're not allowed to save your game (outside of exit saves) while you're in a dungeon.  I can understand why this decision was made -- you don't want to trivialize combat by allowing saves in between each battle.  But the dungeons are where the toughest fights, the deadliest traps, the trickiest puzzles, and all of the "learning" in the game takes place, and so not allowing saves in them just makes them annoying and frustrating.

As an example, the game's finale takes place in a dungeon.  This area includes the nastiest enemies (who are all suicide bombers) and annoying health drains, and it's just an easy place to die, even if you know what's coming and you're equipped for it.  Worse, the game ends with a potential boss battle, which takes about a half hour to reach.  So if the boss kills you, then you have waste 30 minutes to try again, and that's only if nothing kills you on the way back and you have to start over again.  Some people might find this sort of thing to be challenging and worthwhile, but I found it to be annoying and a waste of time.  When I finally finished the game, my save said I had been playing for 80 hours, but checking with Steam, I had actually been playing for 100 hours, which means all of my deaths cost me 20 hours.  That's too much in my opinion, especially in a game that requires a lot of grinding anyway.

Bugs, Graphics, and Sound

Exiled Kingdoms is essentially bug free.  It didn't crash on me even once, and the worst thing that ever happened was that for some reason shopkeepers stopped dealing with me, but that corrected itself when I loaded my game.  Of course, patches keep coming out for the game every week or so, but these seem to be for balance issues more than bug fixes.

The graphics get the job done, but there's nothing exciting or flashy about them.  Everything in the game is in 2D, and it's easy to see the square grid that was used by the developer to create the environments.  A lot of assets also get re-used frequently, and so all of the inns (where you can rest and learn rumors) and town halls (where you can store your stuff and pick up random quests) look the same, as do a lot of the caves and other dungeons.

Exiled Kingdoms includes music and sound effects but no voiced dialogue.  I seem to be one of the few people around who doesn't mind reading dialogue, especially since keeping it unvoiced gives a game's writers more options, but Exiled Kingdoms isn't the sort of game that has a need for subtle dialogue variations, and so it just skips voice actors to save money (which is okay with me as well, provided that the savings trickle down to the players).  As for the music and sound effects, they're functional, and I didn't feel the need to turn them off after spending 100 hours with the game (which isn't always the case).

Conclusion

Overall, I liked Exiled Kingdoms well enough, but I didn't love it.  There was too much grinding for me, and I think I would have enjoyed the campaign more if I had only needed to kill things once or twice, and I had finished after about 30 hours, rather than killing everything dozens of times and playing for 80 hours.  Still, there are lots of creatures to battle and places to explore -- not to mention numerous placeholders (like an unused arena in one of the towns) just waiting for a future expansion -- and it's tough to complain too much about a game that only costs $8.  So if hacking and slashing is your thing, then Exiled Kingdoms is a game worthwhile to check out.