Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon Preview

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Rampant Games
Release Date:2011-09-28
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Other standard elements in dungeon crawling are traps and searching for hidden items. Traps are taken care of in a pretty straightforward manner. It's mostly based on character skill, but the player decides which parts of the trap to target, with different difficulties and threat levels to each part, and whether to use special tools, the goal being to get the completed bar full before the threat bar is full and the trap goes off. Searching for hidden items is done by pressing X, and a screen pops up to tell you if you found nothing or whether the smartest party members spotted something, and if so numbers it 4-1 depending on proximity. This is perhaps improved upon by proficiencies but so far has been a really annoying affair for me, it's pretty tedious and frequently interrupted by random encounters, as every press of the X passes a turn.

The drama stars are a fun little concept used in this game. Every time you take any significant new action (opening doors into new areas, finishing fights, have Arianna drink from a dodgy pool of water, turning a lever) one of eight points in one of three stars is filled. When you reload a game, the stars are cleared and you'll have to start filling them again. You can fill up the three stars, first to bronze, then to silver, then to gold. As you upgrade them, you can spend them for ever-increasing one-time fall-back options, able to lift negative effects or awaken knocked out characters. The intent is to encourage you to play through dungeons rather than rely on constant saving and reloading, and it works fairly well, I find myself saving with a much lower frequency in this game than in others, and rarely reloading at all.

The graphics aren't great, as you'd expect from an indie. Once you're underground everything can look a bit samey, which can be a bit tiring and confusing. That said, the design of different monsters and dungeons has a good variety, and animations are decent. The music is very intrusive, which isn't my preference in video games, and I found myself turning it off for long stretches of play. I'm not sure if this release candidate is the final one, but if it is that's fine by me, I encountered nothing but the most minor of glitches. Loading new areas (and saves) takes a very long time, but this is because it loads in very large areas in one go, so it's all fluid from there on out. This further discourages reloading, though I doubt that's intentional, and it can be a bit annoying.

Last but not least, one of the big selling points of this title is the unique, humorous writing. It is pretty present throughout the game, with frequent dialogs between the main four characters (the player rarely has any input in dialog, except occasionally to accept or decline quests or actions), humorous notes or signs, visual gags, word jokes in location descriptions, etcetera etcetera. Writing comedy into a game is pretty risky. Personally didn't have a lot of laugh out loud moments, but neither did the writing ever become annoying, and it usually amuses.

It'll rub some people the wrong way that your characters are preset and unchangeable, but that's pretty much necessary to make the comedic writing work. The better you get to know the characters and their quirks, from Arianna's short temper to Chloe's ditziness, the better the jokes between the four start working. The game also plays around with a lot of cliches, including the normal habit of heroes being worshipped by most NPCs they meet. Instead, this is replaced by people knowing the group as the "frayed knights" due to events taking place before the game, and few people seem to have much respect for them. Another good example, with a mild spoiler, is being sent out to check a farmer who might have rats in his basement, only to find out the intelligent(ish) rats took over and are trying to pose as the farmer rather unconvincingly in a mechanical construct.

From what I've played so far, most of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon is a lot of fun, with combat and a character system that strike the right balance of intuitiveness and complexity. Some elements can get a bit tedious (like searching for hidden items or wandering around the same dungeon fighting overly similar groups of monsters), but those are fairly minor niggles in an otherwise solid package.  If you're in need of a party- and turn-based RPG to play (as many of us are these days) and like to support indies, then you'll want to look for this one tomorrow.