Couch co-op experiences, to this day, are the best ways to play video games. You all sit around the couch, take turns kicking the crap out of each other in Mario Kart and laugh your asses off until it hurts. Playing online has its benefits, of course, but the experience of sitting on the couch and sharing the joy in realtime and not over a microphone is unmatched. That makes the recently released dungeon crawler Eon Altar all the more interesting … but that’s not it’s key selling point.
As 4-player RPG’s go, all the pieces you’d expect are there within Eon Altar’s genetic makeup. Quests, dungeons, magic, turn-based combat, all the important parts are available. They key here isn’t how it plays, but how you play it.
Developer’s Flying Helmet Games have come up with an interesting way to control your main character, by incorporating a free mobile app that replaces the usual gamepad control scheme and provides some personal (and private) elements to your own character development. Available on Android or Apple, the app allows you to control your character within combat, checking your inventory and the like, but during play you’ll come across secret quests, private thoughts and particular pieces of dialogue that prompts you to read them aloud to the rest of the party.
Sounds a little D&D like, right? You’re not far wrong. This is very much a video game, but the enjoyment of being your character and providing your own voice isn’t as common, except of course in the classic pen and paper tradition of tabletop RPG’s. Eon Altar essentially combines both into one narrative driven experience where the secrets on your own screen can be used to help or hinder your quests.
The app itself seems easy enough to control. Everything is laid out as you would expect, with access to stats, equipment and actions via easy to read buttons. In a way, it reminds me personally of the second screen experience that Nintendo’s WiiU desperately tried to sell to its audience but under-utilised in its execution of the concept. Here, simply connect your smartphone to the same wifi as your PC and you’re off and running. Controlling your character is as simple as following the action on screen and choosing to either take turns to attack, or working together as one.
The Vancouver based team aren’t newbies when it comes to the RPG either. Some of the crew have previously worked on projects within both EA, Bioware and Ubisoft, the likes of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and Mass Effect 2 among the many games on their resumes. The project itself came about through fond memories of playing D&D and a dream of creating a game that captured the excitement of the tabletop RPG whilst exploring new and dynamic levels of storytelling.
Eon Altar is currently available in episodic form, with the first chapter titled ‘The Battle for Tarnum’. Two more episodes are expected before the end of the year, ‘Whispers in the Catacombs’ and ‘The Watcher in the Dark’. You can purchase all three as part of a season pass which, even without a sale, comes to less than $20. But, if you’d prefer to try it out first without going the whole way, you can purchase the first chapter separately for roughly a third of the price.
As an experience in itself, Eon Altar looks the goods with its Diablo inspired dungeon crawling adventure. But when you couple that with a smartphone app that has you playing possum with your teammates and acting it up, you’ve got a party game that’s more than just a quick flash in the pan kart racer or Monopoly rip-off. If it appeals to you as much as it does to me, head over to Steam and check it out for yourself. Just remember, the app is required to play so be sure your smartphone is up-to-date and has a full battery before you settle in. And as the developer themselves suggest, have a few pizzas on hand, you might need the sustenance.
Mark Isaacson is a freelance journalist and editor of PN2. You can say hi @Mark_D_Isaacson