EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Get your mobiles out
It’s not often that a video game requires that you have a phone or a tablet to play, and when they do, it’s even rarer to find them coming under the turn-based RPG genre. Eon Altar is one such game that’s currently in Early Access on Steam. You and up to three friends can control a party of four adventurers using your mobile devices. It’s a pretty novel experience, and there are some good ideas in place, but right now, it all seems a little unnecessary.
Of course, you’ll need a good enough phone to even play it on. On iOS you’ll need an iPhone 4 or later, an iPad Mini, or an iPad 2 or later. If you’re on Android, you’ll need a device with at least 512MB RAM and Android 4.1 Jellybean or later. Interestingly, the developers Flying Helmet Games say that the controller app you need to play is optimised for the iPhone 5s, which came out two years ago. I wonder how often not just the game will be updated, but how often the controller will have to be updated to remain compatible with current devices.
Put that controller away
The good news is that it works. As long as your device and your PC are on the same WiFi connection, then you should have no problems. The real time movement isn’t exactly fluid, but you can’t expect a controller level of fidelity from a touchscreen. On your phone you’ll see a circle in the middle of the screen. Press in that circle and drag and an icon on your monitor will show where you’ll move to. If you press and hold outside the circle, you’ll have free movement, as if you were using an analog stick. When you enter combat and the game becomes turn based, it’s pretty easy to select your target and then use the ability you want. The movement icon doesn’t always snap to the thing you want it to, but it’s good enough.
Right now you’ve only got one resolution option: 1280x720, which is odd considering the developers say it’s best when played on a television. I imagine more options will be included as the Early Access period continues. The menus also currently have a tendency to get stuck, with nothing happening if you click the back button. This is all probably going to change, but worth bearing in mind if you’re going to be picking up Eon Altar before it’s out.
Who will you be, and how will you play?
Before starting the game, you have to pick your character. Silent Thorn is an assassin, who is good at archery, as well as getting up close and personal with a backstab. Baryson is a melee character who is also practiced in the healing arts. Marcus is a Guardsman, who is designed to soak up damage with his massive shield. Muran is a Battlemage, who wants to stay at the back and deal plenty of damage from afar. There’s also one more option on the character select screen that’s labelled as “coming soon.”
If you’re going to be playing alone, it’s likely you’ll want to simply pick up a controller or switch to keyboard and mouse and play it like a normal RPG, but you won’t be able to. However, when you’re playing with others, having your own private screen becomes helpful. Eon Altar will occasionally send you information to your phone that you have the option of keeping secret from your fellow party members. It might be the location of a secret cache of loot that you heard via the whisper of a dying man, or it might even be a quest objective that is at odds with what the other people in your group are trying to achieve.
Something to look out for
However unnecessary using the phone to control your character is, it’s this extra dynamic that could make Eon Altar into something pretty interesting. Part of the fun of a pen and paper roleplaying game is having your own aspirations, which is something that’s quite hard to translate into a video game. You still don’t really get to choose what you want to do, but you at least have some control over it here. Do you want to give up information that could benefit the party? Or do you want to use it for your own gain?
There are some interesting ideas in Eon Altar, but it hasn’t quite figured out how to merge the phone and PC experience just yet. You have fully voiced dialogue, with captions that appear on your phone, but if you look at the actual screen the characters’ faces aren’t animating. Looking down at another screen that acts as your UI is jarring, and doesn’t quite work. However, other interesting aspects of the game make Eon Altar something that could be worth checking out further down the road.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.