A mini review of Eschalon: Book I which I've been playing for a couple of weeks now:
Overall, it seems like a VERY good choice for time-strapped working adults. It is short for an RPG: roughly 20-30 hours. From a story and exploration standpoint, it feels a lot like Baldur's Gate. Very engaging and and you get that "I just want to see what's around this corner before I stop" compulsion. Lots of quests, both main and side, and similar to Realms of Arkania, the bulk of your XP comes from completing quests. Combat (and really, the entire game!) is turn-based, but very simple. Basically you take turns hitting, no time passes if you're not moving, fighting, or casting. As for strategy, there's not a ton, but you can lure enemies to doorways to keep them from surrounding you and in dungeons and other dark areas, you can put your torch out and use a Cat's Eye spell/potion to give yourself an advantage in combat (you can see them but they can't see you). There are a handful of "quick travel" locations around the game world and once you encounter them, they get added to your list. Then to return to one, just click it. This reduces the time spent manually walking around. There's some neat concepts, like skills. The better your cartography skill, the more detailed your automap fills in as you explore. Higher Mercantile skill gets you better deals when buying and selling. You can gain skills in a couple of different ways: at a level-up you can spend all 3 of your precious skill points in gaining a new skill (once you have a skill, you can increase it for only 1 skill point); or you can find or buy books that teach you skills. Obviously, this is the better way to go, but the books are scarce. Many of the treasure caches are random, so you can quick save before opening, then reload til you get an item you really want. This is a good way to make money too. Let's say you already have a Cloak of the Shadow (worth 800gold), you can reload til you get another one, then sell it at a merchant. As for professions, I chose a Virtuous Fighter, but you can go various mage, thief and fighter routes. I'm not familiar with the magic system (Virtuous Fighters do get a basic "Bless" spell, but that's all I've used). But there is a strong alchemy portion to the game. You can find our buy reagents and reactants. Then find spell recipes and gain the appropriate alchemy skills and you can mix your own potions. I've pretty much stuck to low level basic potions like heals, cure poison, cure diseases, Cat's Eye and Keensight (temporarily improves "to hit" score). The musical score is incredible and never gets old. On the downside, for some reason this 2007 game is limited to a maximum of 800x600 resolution. You can either play in a window or full screen. Full Screen will stretch the display if your monitor is not 4:3. The game is very low resource (using less than 250MB of RAM minimized on my system right now) and graphics are at about Baldur's Gate level or maybe a hair better. In other words, more than good enough. This is a single character game and no NPCs ever join you. The Quest Journal is very useful! Tells you exactly what your open quests are in detail, yet stays concise. The pacing of the game is well-done. There haven't been many areas I've wandered into yet that were too hard, but if it does happen, it's easy to back out and go solve a side quest or two before gaining levels and coming back. When you do level up, you get 3 attribute points to distribute and 3 skill points. Pretty simple. From what I understand, it's much better in this game to build up specific skills than to make a "well-rounded" character. So I put most of my fighter's attribute points in Strength and Endurance, with a little bit in Dexterity and Speed. You often find magical items such as Rings and Amulets that will boost your attributes and/or skills, so you can use these in place of level-up points. That's about all I can think of. Oh, this game is free forever. You can get it at GOG. The developers are still selling Book II and Book III, but decided to make the first one free.