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Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:TBA
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The game's NPCs deserve a separate mention. Pretty much every character you meet on your journey has a unique portrait and something to say. Right off the bat you may not notice this because the game's dialogues are structured in a way that makes it seem like you get exactly the same dialogue options every time, but each NPC reacts to your questions in a unique way. Sometimes this can lead you to a new quest, more often than not it's just there to add some flavor to the setting. But if you're in a mood for some immersive reading, you'll find no shortage of text, as the game is not limited by voice acting of any kind.

The game's dialogues and quests offer plenty of opportunities to pass skill and attribute checks and engage in some of those coveted choices and consequences. Some of your actions might change the game's world, while others are more minor and easy to miss. As an example, during one of the quests you can help a struggling author to get published and if you do, you'll soon start noticing the game's merchants selling his books.

Plenty of quests have multiple solutions and the game isn't afraid of letting you fail spectacularly. For my playthrough I decided to go with a carefree approach to see what chaos I could cause that way, and for the most part, the game was able to keep up.

And while that's pretty impressive, unfortunately, almost right from the start the game starts to undermine itself by trying to be funny and assaulting you with endless references. Video games, movies, public figures, famous quotes - it's all there. The references are everywhere, they're extremely obvious and feel completely out of place. Now, don't get me wrong, an occasional reference or an out of sight easter egg are perfectly fine, but ATOM RPG overdoes this to such a ridiculous degree that it becomes very difficult to take the game seriously, especially since a good chunk of the references have absolutely nothing to do with the game's Soviet setting.

Which is a shame, because the actual writing, some minor translation issues aside, can be quite engaging. But then you'll be reading some dusty old diary in a bunker somewhere, getting your fill of lore, then suddenly out of nowhere the game will throw a very obvious line from Planet of the Apes at you. And immediately that somber post-apocalyptic illusion is broken and any sort of immersion you may have been feeling is gone. The references aren't exactly clever, subtle or funny either. They mostly just go, “See? This is a thing you know. Now laugh,” and never extend beyond that.

What's worse is that if you stop and think about the game's setting for more than a second, it doesn't make a lot of sense. See, in ATOM RPG's universe, the bombs dropped in 1986 and the game is set in the early 2000s. As a result, most of the people you meet in the game have lived through the apocalypse. But they don't act like you'd expect the Soviet people from 1986 to act. Most of the times, they don't act like a more rough and grizzled version of those people either. In fact, the game's NPCs tend to have two modes - falling back on Communist ideals and treating them almost as a mystical religion, and saying things in a very casual modern-day way.

It should be pretty obvious why the second option is bad, though I think the translation may be somewhat at fault there. But the first one, while great on paper, doesn't really make sense because not enough time had passed for these sort of ideas to spread and become commonplace.

Which is unfortunate, because those moments are where the game is at its absolute best. At one point you get an opportunity to exorcise a demon by the power of Communism and it's exactly as ridiculously funny as it sounds. Another quest has you storming a junkyard to save a statue of Lenin from being destroyed because a bunch of people believe Lenin to be a psychic deity who uses these statues as conduits for his power.