Depths of Peril Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Soldak Entertainment
Release Date:2007-09-05
  • Action,Role-Playing,Strategy
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric,Third-Person
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Recently, Soldak Entertainment was nice enough to send us a preview copy of their upcoming role-playing game Depths of Peril. The version we received was labeled 0.154 -- or about 0.846 away from where most games are when they hit store shelves. That is, we got to play an early (alpha) version of the game, with all the rough edges that such a version implies. Still, many parts of the game were in working order, and we're confident that we've seen enough of the game that we can give you an idea of what it might be like.

The most important thing to understand about Depths of Peril is that it is a hybrid game. It combines an action role-playing engine with some empire building concepts to create a new kind of experience. You control a (covenant,) which consists of your hero, some recruits (who can follow you around), and some guards (who have to stay at home). Your goal in the game is to bring your covenant to dominance by making your hero as powerful as possible and by defeating the other covenants.

From what we've seen, the action role-playing elements to the game look pretty standard. You left click to cause your hero to move or to start attacking an enemy, and you use hotkeys to trigger spells (like frost nova and ball lightning) and special fighting moves (like whirlwind and power strike). Depths of Peril includes four classes -- warrior, rogue, mage and priest -- and while each class gets a large number of unique skills and spells, they play about how you'd expect. For example, warriors have to build up rage when they fight, and then they can use that rage to power their special moves.

The world itself is relatively random. You always start out in the town of Jorvik, and other areas appear in a grid to the north. Each of the other areas has a unique theme and a unique set of monsters (such as the Black Forest with its skeletons and zombies), and the areas also contain a teleporter, which allows you to move back and forth to Jorvik very quickly -- which is a good thing for when the town comes under attack or when an opposing covenant decides to attack you, or even when you just want to hop back to town to sell stuff.

The quests in Depths of Peril also appear to be random. There isn't any sort of storyline to the game; there are just a few NPCs in the town who can give you quests from time to time. Completing the quests is the quickest way to gain experience and money, and it's the only way to earn new recruits (at most one recruit can follow you around and help you in combat). As an example, you might receive a quest to kill a certain number of creatures in a particular area, or you might be asked to rescue an NPC before it is killed. Some quests are timed, and some can be completed by other covenants if you don't move quickly enough. You can have at most six quests open at any one time, but if you decide that you don't like one, you're free to abandon it and grab another in its place.

What makes Depths of Peril unique is the covenant aspect of the game. Each covenant has a house in Jorvik, and the house functions as a base of operations. You can store items in your covenant house (including special relics that give bonuses to everybody on your side), you can heal yourself for free in your house, and you can hire guards to protect your house. Each house also contains a lifestone, which represents the health of your covenant, and if your lifestone is destroyed, then your covenant is eliminated from the game.

As you play your hero, killing creatures and completing quests, you gain influence with Jorvik, and the more influence you acquire, the more taxes you receive, and the better the guards you can hire to protect your house. That means you have to keep your hero out in the field as much as possible, and only bring him home when you come under attack, or when you need healing.

When two covenants go to war, they can only fight each other in Jorvik (and so, for example, you can't sandbag an enemy hero while he's fighting in the field). Heroes and recruits respawn at their lifestone shortly after they've been killed, and that can make taking down a lifestone a long and involved process, because you'll probably have to kill the enemy hero several times before you can complete the job, and you'll probably get killed a few times yourself in the process. Plus, with recruits and guards thrown in, covenant battles can be big and messy affairs, and you always have to be careful that nobody is thinking about attacking you while you're off attacking somebody else. But never fear: should your lifestone be destroyed, you can always start a new game with your hero and try again. Equipment, experience and recruits are carried over from one game to the next.

Overall, Depths of Peril looks like it could be some fun to play. There is already a lot of equipment to find, there are enough character options available to keep you busy for many levels, and while the graphics aren't anything special (they sort of look like they're from a 10-year-old console game), at least the system requirements will be modest enough that even those of you with aging computers will be able to play without worry.

However, when I play a role-playing game, I always hope for three things -- story, characters, and dialogue -- and Depths of Peril doesn't look like it's going to have any of them. So the preview copy I played didn't do anything to get me excited about the eventual retail release of the game (slated for later this year), but fans of combat-oriented role-playing games, such as, say, the Neverwinter Nights Infinite Dungeons premium module, should be sure to check it out.