The Council Review

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2018-03-13
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

In order to use your skills, be it during a conversation or while exploring, you will need to spend a few of the so-called Effort points. You get a limited number of these per chapter, but you can restore them by using certain consumable items. And while using skills during exploration is fairly straightforward, dialogues are a bit more tricky. You see, each NPC in the game has a list of vulnerabilities and immunities. If you exploit a character’s vulnerability, you get some Effort points back, but if you inadvertently run into an immunity, you get a temporary penalty on all subsequent skill checks, which can really sting in a prolonged verbal confrontation.

Combine it all together and you get an engaging system where you have to carefully consider which skills you might want to level up, when to use them, and when to boost them with consumables. At least initially.

As the story progresses, you’ll get enough skill points to cover every skill in the game, and after a while you’ll have enough consumables to last you a lifetime. This leads to a situation where during the early chapters, you’ll be making tough mutually-exclusive choices and rationing consumables. But then, by the second half of the game’s third episode, you’ll become so overpowered that there won’t be any tension left, and that’s a shame.

Coincidentally, the second part of the third episode is when the game’s story jumps the shark, big time. Up until that point, you’re running around an impressive-looking mansion, solving a heap of mysteries, chatting up fairly believable representations of historical figures, dealing with assorted puzzles, and it’s all quite clever and very enjoyable. In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit that at a certain point the game managed to successfully get one over on me, and I applaud it for that. By then, my biggest complaints included some tonal inconsistencies and a few anachronisms here and there.

But then the game hits you with what it considers to be a shocking revelation and follows that up with an infuriatingly convoluted puzzle. And afterwards, things get so bad that one might even theorize that said puzzle exists to dissuade as many people as possible from continuing their playthroughs.

It’s hard to put into words just how bad the game’s final two episodes are without spoiling the entire thing. But basically, any pretense at realism gets thrown out of the window, believable character motivations disappear completely or become unrecognizable, and pretty much every scene makes barely enough sense to be adequately explained by this universe’s version of “a wizard did it.”

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a sharp turn for the worse in a video game. It’s like going from a competent, one might say great, story crafted by talented professionals to something an 8 year old with a new pack of crayons would come up with. The closest comparison I have is another French narrative title - Quantic Dream’s Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy). There, the story goes from a mystical murder mystery where you’re playing as both the killer and the cops chasing him to a ridiculous Matrix knock-off featuring some Mayan branch of the Illuminati, immortality-granting AI’s, and magic hobos. In my opinion, The Council’s final chapters eclipse even that.

The absolute insanity of the game’s final act is then followed by a fittingly anticlimactic finale. And then you get a series of ending slides determined by your actions throughout the game. As far as I’m concerned, none of this can be adequately explained by a lack of time or budget. And it’s up to you to decide whether an enjoyable first half packed with great interactions, neat puzzles, and an interesting roleplaying system is enough to justify a purchase of a game that completely falls apart by the end.