Eon Altar is a role playing game developed by Canadian studio Flying Helmet. It’s in early access at the moment, but the very first episode is ready to go for review.
Eon Altar is trying to create a unique gaming environment. It wants to be bring players together for a tabletop, pencil and paper role playing game experience. However, it makes it a lot more accessible by taking out the math, dice pen, paper, and perhaps, according to where you play it, the table top as well. The game itself is for the PC, but is controlled by using a smart phone. The phone and the PC must be on the same wireless network for it to connect. Once that is all sorted out, you’re ready for a pretty immersive RPG experience. Eon Altar has a few hiccups, but is still immensely playable.
I hate to say it, but, today, no one is going to turn heads by writing a story revolving around a medieval fantasy setting. That being said, Eon Altar’s story isn’t bad. The first episode, The Battle for Tarnum, takes place in the titular town. Tarnum is under attack by a group of sellswords, hired by an unknown foe. The character you pick is drawn to the town for their own personal reasons, but gets caught up in Tarnum’s struggle. They are recruited to assist the town’s Keepers in battle.
When you choose a class, the character’s name, appearance and backstory are chosen automatically. There is no initial character customization feature. Even though this may go against the tabletop grain, I feel it works for what it’s trying to do. Whenever I played Dungeons and Dragons with a new group, creating characters can sometimes take up a huge chunk of time. Eon Altar is trying to be accessible and quick to play, but still give players a tabletop experience. Having character’s appearance, stats and abilities already selected gets players into the game faster, and makes the entire session a lot less intimidating to people who never played those types of games.
As your character delves deeper into the town, you discover a surprising amount of intrigue that I won’t spoil for you. There’s a strong mythology that underlines the background of some of the quests and it fleshes out the world in small subtle ways; this is the best way to treat the mythology of a fantasy world. The story focuses on the task at hand, but there’s a hint of a bigger adventure lingering ahead, which makes me look forward to the upcoming installments.
Even though the Eon Altar’s world is almost indistinguishable from other medieval fantasy worlds, it’s presented well enough for it not to be too much an issue. The graphics are not at all breathtaking, but they’re serviceable. The music is well made, but it’s typically what you expect from the environment. There’s moody piano pieces and epic orchestral songs as well. After playing for a while, I did actually find myself becoming immersed in the world Eon Altar presents. The true uniqueness of the game is derived from its control scheme.
As mentioned before, the game controls with a smart phone. There is no online multiplayer, so to play this game, you’re required to gather some friends with smartphones or tablets. There is no UI on the main screen. All the characters stats, items and upgrades are displayed on the smartphone. During the battle mode targets are selected and attacks are chosen on the secondary screens. This makes group battles quick and easy to understand and execute. However, being able to use a smartphone isn’t just a frivolous gimmick, it has a narrative use as well.
During your adventure, you will encounter several NPCs who will give you various tasks. At some points, there are things that only your adventurer is supposed to hear. The game encourages players to speak their character’s dialogue out loud to the rest of your group. No one else can see your character’s dialogue, and this presents some opportunities for NPCs to whisper to your character.
It’s up to you if you share what a Keeper commander says to you in confidence. If you decide to accept a task and then keep it to yourself, it’s up to you to convince your comrades to take a side trip or try to accomplish your mission on your own, without them being the wiser. When you pull up the quest screen, two different types of quests are displayed: Group Quests and Personal Quests. This is very a unique mechanic, and I like its intent, but it requires a group of friends who will be totally committed to the tabletop experience. If you do find such a group, playing Eon Altar is a great way to spend your time. The entire episode has about four hours worth of game play. It’s split between three sessions that run about half an hour to an hour each, so its a quick and great way to sit around and enjoy yourselves.
The combat itself is turned based. You use the smartphone to select a target and tap on a move. Some moves can be used right away, while others need energy. Each class has its own benefit. For example, I chose an Assassin, and most of my best moves were long range attacks. The other classes include a Crusader, Guardsman, Sellsword and a Battlemage. Each character has their own skill tree. Each ability or perk is unlocked by spending ‘renown’ which is gained by fulling group and personal quests. Equipment is upgraded by using Godstones, which are acquired at save points. Your attributes not only will make you better in battle, there are certain chest that can only be opened if you have a high enough lock picking skill. Random traps in the dungeons either hurt you, or are automatically dodged based on athletics skill. For someone who’s played Dungeons and Dragons before, it’s all pretty bog standard, but the system is intuitive enough that it works very well. However, there are some problems with the core mechanics of the game.
The game has no map. The dungeons themselves are pretty linear, but I did get turned around a couple of times. I feel I missed a couple of side questing opportunities. Being able to display a map on the smartphone screen would have been helpful, and could probably be added in future updates. Aside from the map, the bigger issue is the camera. A lot of times, there was some treasure hidden by a wall. There is no way to rotate the camera, so there would be no way to know it was there. Luckily, the treasure sparkles and I was able to catch small glimpses of it. There were probably a lot that I completely missed because I couldn’t move the camera at all.
Overall, the controls work pretty well. Once I got used to walking around, the game started to become very immersive. However, its a good thing the actual campaign sessions are only 30-45 minutes long, because the app drained my phone’s battery very quickly. This, honestly, isn’t a huge strike against the game. Everyone has a smartphone today, but the game’s responsiveness will vary according to which phone the player uses.
Overall, Eon Altar is a fun, immersive game with a noble goal. The game’s dedication to the tabletop experience is a very cool idea, if you can get a group of like minded friends together, Eon Altar’s first episode can be a very satisfying and unique experience; it gets quite immersive the more you play and you’re left wanting more. However, the game play is hampered by some minor control issues and a lack of a movable camera. The story itself isn’t bad, but isn’t going to change anyone’s life, especially those who are already familiar with the high fantasy genre. Perhaps playing this game will encourage others to go out and pick up the latest D&D handbook.