Welcome to Gaming Together: Eon Altar!
Author’s Note: Hello and welcome to Gaming Together! I’m your host CradledCat, and I’m truly excited for this opportunity to share my passion for multiplayer gaming.
I want this series to be a close look at games with a penchant for bringing players together as human beings – a kind of anthropological journey to the heart of the so-called “local multiplayer renaissance.”
My goal is not to prattle on about the significance of GoldenEye or Super Smash Brothers, but rather to arm you, the gamer, with a suite of hip, local multiplayer titles which you can use to share our love of gaming with your friends – whether they be pro-gamers or hapless pizza party attendees.
The first game I’ll be discussing is Eon Altar, (Steam) a mobile-enhanced local co-op role-playing game available on PC via Steam. This game will run on most PCs or laptops, but it does require (up to four) players to connect to the game via WiFi through a free smartphone controller app (more on that later). Personally, I recommend viewing this game on a TV from the couch.
I’ll be mentioning a game called Divinity: Original Sin (Metacritic) a lot on this article. I’m using it here as a shining example of a well-made title from the genre of the so-called “classic role-playing game.” Coincidentally, Divinity 2 hit early access yesterday. The classic roleplaying game genre often features an isometric (third-person) camera, a party of heroes, and a grand quest which plays out according to the actions and skills of your characters. Enjoy!
Zoboomafoo in the age of Harambe
If Divinity: Original Sin is the 600-hundred-pound gorilla of the Classic Roleplaying Game revival, then EON ALTAR is a Zoboomafoo – the playful Lemur with the power to introduce the wonderful adventure genre to all kinds of new players.
Eon Altar isn’t about throwing a thousand overt systems at a player: It’s about creating an environment where experienced gamers and beginners can work together to create a meaningful experience. Eon Altar works well It’s impossible to “screw up your character” or “mess up a save.”
Because of the ease of setup and polish on the mobile companion app, I’ve seen this game played and enjoyed by folks decidedly outside the target demographic for dungeons and dragons style video games. It’s so easy for people to feel comfortable with the “controller” in their hand (since it’s their own smartphone.) There are downsides to the ease of access, sure, like a shallow loot system, but I don’t mind and you shouldn’t either – here’s why: Everything in this game serves to facilitate the adventure.
Whereas Divinity gives the player access to oil, fire, and the ability to try and set fire to the first town they come across, Eon Altar’s game making tools are simpler, more subtle, and capture the social element of pen-and-paper roleplaying games in a way that Divinity or Wasteland 2 couldn’t hope to achieve.
And I know, after reading what I’ve written here so far, all I’ve done so far is describe a “Divinity-lite” sword-and-sorcery RPG. Ha! Forgive me my drama, my misplaced sense of suspense, but it truly is so hard to codify the magic of this game, and it becomes easier when comparing Eon Altar to its well-known brother.
I think a big part of the trouble I have when describing what makes Eon Altar special starts with a recent trend for a role-playing game to mean “any game with quest markers and a level-up bar.” Recently, it’s been decided that limitless character creation is the wave of the future, and games that don’t keep up are considered “shallow.” Crafting a player character has become about equipping the hero with the correct amalgamation of combat and exploration skills so the player can pick every lock, hack every computer, and generally access all aspects of the game. (Wasteland 2 is brutal for this.)
In Eon Altar, “role-playing” is about playing a role – like an actor plays a role in play. Within minutes of the opening bell, Eon Altar will have the player reading character lines from their phone. You’ll be talking to stiff-voiced NPC’s, but you’ll also be talking to each other. In the playthrough I had with my girlfriend, we picked characters with complimenting class roles – I was the paladin and she chose the battlemage. In combat, we worked beautifully together: fireballs and holy fire scorching the bandits that crossed our paths.
Out of combat, we fought like cats and dogs. Her character’s dialog had her preaching about love, truth, and the beauty of nature. My character (through my voice) preached on-and-on about how much he hated witches and loved the church. It was an engaging and humorous experience, and it lent it well to promoting camaraderie through the players.
Eon Altar: The Pizza Party RPG
I’ve maybe done a disservice to Eon Altar by comparing the game so heavily to Divinity: Original Sin, but I feel like it needed to be done. As a reader, I feel like it’s important to understand the author’s experiences – especially if I’m trying to decide whether to spend my money according to that author’s recommendations. This is why, as an author, I feel it’s so important to tell you that I’ve seen the systems (crafting, combat, physics) that allowed Divinity to scoop up every industry award available. I’ve played the games that “set the bar” for classic role-playing games, and even though Eon Altar doesn’t have the depth or polish as some of these titles it succeeds in areas previously uninhabited by any video game ever.
Picture this: you invite three people over to enjoy you for a night of pizza and gaming. In one scenario, you prepare the groundbreaking RPG Divinity: Original Sin (as well as the 4 player COOP mod, of course.) Five minutes in, everyone is hard at work creating their characters. The experienced players are deciding which forms of magic they should take while the newer players are googling what the hell “dexterity” is. Ten minutes, in, you’re viewing the opening cinematic and someone says, “finally” and stands up to take a pee. Now it’s 30 minutes in, two players are lost and one guy decides it’s time to start over because he found a really cool bow and he wants his character to be an archer.
Or, with Eon Altar: at five minutes you’ve got characters picked, the introduction out of the way, and the dude playing the paladin has already come up with a voice for his character and he’s demanding the rest of the group pay their tithes in pizza. Oh, and speaking of pizza – isn’t is great that everyone is rubbing all that grease on their own electronics for once?