Age of Grit Review - Page 2

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Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2022-05-03
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 Another fly in the ointment is that when you first leave the confines of your ship and gaze at the overworld map with its neat art, distinct regions, and numerous settlements, you can imagine yourself flying around this place and engaging in various sandboxy activities - exploring, trading, doing quests, fighting, running into other denizens of The West, and stumbling onto cool stuff wherever you go. But that's not how this game works.

What you see right away, is all there is to it - you shuttle between a handful of dots on a static map. Every other ship you meet appears as part of some random encounter. You can neither avoid them nor adjust their rate in any way. Meaning you'll be constantly running into outlaws and bounty hunters that usually die in a single turn, but force you to sit through two loading screens and some stock dialogue that gets old really fast.

And when you manage to roll a non-combat encounter, usually, absolutely nothing happens. You get some descriptive text and that's it. Occasionally, you find some trade goods. And every once in a while, your ship takes some damage. And that's that for encounters.

Being a professional smuggler, you can indeed engage in some trade. But the game doesn't have an economy. It just has a list of settlements that sell things and other settlements that can buy those things, with prices forever set in stone. And with your cargo hold limited to four units of trade goods, it's rarely even worth it to bother remembering which settlements give you the best deals.

To be fun, a game like this really needs its world to thrive. You need to see other ships do their thing. You need to be able to choose, to some degree, when and where to interact with them. You need to have a multitude of options for these interactions.

Hell, you need to be able to just explore, deal with dwindling resources, overcome setbacks, and have at least some degree of freedom. As it stands, your airship is less of a ship and more like a sky train, going from point A to point B and then to point C along a set route.

And for the most part, this isn't even an exaggeration, as your ship has a limited amount of fuel that gets refilled every time your reach a settlement. And usually, with the fuel you have, you can only reach two settlements from any given point - the one ahead of you and the one behind. Occasionally you have a side option, but those are fairly rare, especially in the later stages of the game.

Initially, you think that once you upgrade your engine, you'll be able to fly further. But that's not the case. The initial fuel limit is there to stay. Which can really grind your gears when a quest sends you across the map, forcing you to trudge along your sky rails as you get constantly assaulted by absolutely non-threatening but time-consuming outlaws. It's all just a giant slog.

At least the game's settlements have a decent number of NPCs for you to interact with. And while at this point this may come as a bit of a surprise, these interactions tend to be pretty engaging and very much appropriate for the game's Wild West setting.

You get to meet half-deaf prospectors, fat-cat businessmen, snake oil salesmen, career gamblers, sky pirates, the works. Their respective quests range from simple tasks to complex political machinations, but usually in the end boil down to going to a certain place and talking to someone, and maybe fighting a few ships along the way. But it's all written in this old-timey Western dialect, I guess you'd call it, that makes the whole thing feel alive.

The game's UI is also doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Sure, it's not especially functional, but in this age when even fantasy games tend to have flat and lifeless UIs, having one here where it's all gears, brass piping, and various clockwork contraptions, well that just makes you forget about a lot of the gameplay-related annoyances for a while.

The unfortunate thing about the game's dialogue is just how much there is of it. Especially when you consider that it's usually fed to you at a snail's pace, with you having to manually advance things constantly. In a way, this makes Age of Grit feel like a voice-acted game that forces you to listen to all of its dialogue, only here there is no voice acting.