Eon Altar: Early Access
Last week I got to try the RPG Eon Altar which I subsequently discussed with my co-host Brian on the Burton & Scrooge podcast. We were overall very positive about the game which is currently in early access on Steam. However we could not play the game in co-op mode as it is not designed for collaborative internet play. Eon Altar is intended for up to four people to play co-operatively, locally via your wireless network. This is very much a game that caters to social play, via your living room and couch. So I press ganged my son into helping me out and managed to spend three hours today checking out the co-op aspect of the game. Let me say right up front that Eon Altar comes into its own when played with two or more players and that this is the optimal way to play the game.
For those who are unfamiliar with this game it a co-op isometric RPG featuring all the usual mechanics you’d associate with the genre. There are abilities to unlock and gear to upgrade, as well as consumables to craft. The main difference is that the game requires a smartphone or tablet to play and that the device is more than just a mere controller but in many ways your character. It’s a very innovative approach and makes playing collaboratively a much more personal experience. Character interaction is handled via the phone and players can elect to share unique information within their team or pursue their own goals. This adds an interesting dimension to group undertakings.
It is important to note that Eon Altar is currently still a work in progress and at present only three levels are available. There are four classes to choose from; Battlemage, Assassin, Crusader and Guardmans. During my co-op play through I chose the Assassin and my son opted for the Battlemage. This gave us the advantage of ranged attacks but left us a little squishy when engaged in melee combat. It did not take us long to discover this and adjust our tactics accordingly. The game environment can at times encourage you to run headlong into new areas with the allure of loot. The isometric view can occlude your view at times and there is the risk of pulling all mobs in an area.
As I mentioned on the podcast, movement via the smartphone is extremely fluid. You can set waypoints and run to them or keep your finger on the screen and control your alt directly. Navigating your characters build and stats via your phone is intuitive. The drop down menus and their respective nested screens are relatively easy to fathom. Minor issues such as font size can be challenging for those with “older” eyes but overall this easy to use. The skills wheel in combat is also very logical. Where the game is lacking at present is with its tutorials. It takes a while to figure out when you should be looking at the monitor/TV screen and when you need to be looking at your phone.
I do not consider myself an excessively lazy player and am not afraid to investigate a games mechanics, interface and the virtual environment it takes place in to figure things out. However there were several occasions while playing Eon Altar where I wanted a prompt either on screen or via the phone. Has a dialogue discussion finished? Where do I go next? Can I have a clue or a hint as to how to solve a problem or fight a foe? Because of the nature of the game I don’t necessarily expect a full blown world map but a bread crumb trail or an arrow would have been beneficial. I ended my co-op session because it could be determined what to do next.
Isometric views in games as mentioned earlier have advantages and disadvantages. For example if players choose to go in opposite directions the game camera can only accommodate them so far. Eventually someone has to decide to follow the group. Perhaps having the ability to flag a player as leader would be useful. A follow option would also help greatly. There were several times when the in game camera panned round in such a fashion that a wall was in the way. The game deals with this by making the obstacle opaque but is still blocks your cursor/reticle which cause no end of problems if a fight starts.
Another matter to be mindful of while playing Eon Altar is friendly fire from AoE skills, especially those used by the Battlemage. It is important to watch where you stand and the inclusion of a tell or marker showing where AoE damage will occur would reduce “accidents” from happening. Ranged bow skills require the avatar to be a specific distance away from the target. At present the game will simply run your character to the optimal location when the skill is used. It would be nice if there was a way of choosing a safe location before using the bow attacks and that the game highlighted these, similarly to the way SWTOR does with the smuggler class.
The above comments are designed to provide some hopefully useful feedback for the developers. However I would like to point out that despite the issues one naturally encounters with an early access game, I had immense fun playing two player co-op. As this game is designed to be played via a sofa rather than across the internet, it has a different social dimension. My son and I quickly got very competitive with regard to looting. Basically is became a race as to who got all the “good shit” first. I have a suspicion that four player co-op with the right group of friends would be a genuinely enjoyable and laugh out loud experience. There’s so much scope for “accidently killing” your team mates, friendly bickering, getting lost and general tomfoolery. For me this is the core of quality social gaming, as it was with multiplayer sessions on the SNES back in the day.
After playing yesterday, I sent my game logs files to Flying Helmet Games, who are proactively seeking feedback at present. There is a forum to leave bug details as well as your overall thoughts. The various developers and company managers are also accessible on Twitter. As I consider Eon Altar to be a game with a lot of potential, I naturally would like to help in any way I can with ironing out the bugs and seeing the full game released. I look forward to playing again soon and hope that a new build is forthcoming. If you are interested in assisting an indie developer with an innovative product and are fully aware of the ramifications of early access, then you may wish to pick up a copy of Eon Altar.