Turn-based RPG. Those of you who have hissed, flung your musty capes over your faces and flown off into the night, we bid you farewell. The rest of you, welcome to Epos, an incredibly ambitious title from MINTgames, Eli Brown, and featuring the artistic stylings of Jared Johnson. You play as Tradda d'Bolve, whose much-desired retirement is interrupted one day when he receives a letter from his King commanding him to track down a rogue Admiral. Before long, he finds himself saddled with two companions and tracking his quarry across the world. Between Tradda and the rest he so badly wants is a lot of distance, and a lot of monsters. Like, a lot-lot. Seriously.
Essentially, the game is a mostly good ol' fashioned turn-based RPG, though it revolves almost entirely around combat. You travel around the world, encountering enemies (or not) at each point, and everyone has very fancy fantasy names. You kill monsters, level up, and gain gold. The game autosaves for you after every encounter, so picking up right where you left off is simple. You play using the keyboard, with [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move, [spacebar] or [enter] to select, and [M] to open the menu between battles. The helpful in-game tutorial explains the finer points, as well as offering other tips.
The battle system is slightly more robust than typical turn-based RPG fare. You're still trading blows with enemies whenever you encounter them in the classic style, keeping an eye on your hit points and your magic points. Whenever you level up, you gain skill and talent points that you can distribute however you like to tweak the party to suit your playing style. Magic spells also increase in potency if you use them often (represented by stars next to the spell name), so be sure to keep using the most useful spells if you want to get the most out of them. Further, certain spells also afflict enemies with status ailments that make them more susceptible to other elements; if an enemy becomes drenched with water, for example, try following up with an electric spell for big damage.
Analysis: Epos has been in development for "a long time", and that's pretty clear from first contact. Character and enemy sprites are appealingly cartoonish and cleanly designed, making them expressive and well-animated even despite their limited movement. Dialogue is well written and occasionally very funny, and feels natural coming out of the characters mouths. They manage to develop a good amount of personality whenever they talk, and it was definitely a pleasure to find a more "subdued" fantasy world where the emphasis was not on fetching elven lads with impossible names and flowy blonde locks.
The bad news is that for people who love RPGs but hate classic turn-based battling, the battling makes up roughly 80-90% of the gameplay, and the rest is spent with your party being represented as a glowing orange icon travelling from one orange dot to another on an overworld map. Battles tend to drag, and since you can't flee from them, covering short distances to plot points takes much longer than it should. Most of all, if you're a fan of RPGs, you're going to miss the lack of environments to explore, which is a blow to the game's attempts at immersion. Would designing locations to walk around in, characters to speak with, and programming it all have been a huge undertaking? Certainly. But the game would have felt much more balanced as a result.
The experience as a whole winds up feeling a little bare-bones. All three of your heroes share exactly the same talent tree, so the only difference between them is visual representation and the stats they start out with. The only items to be found are curative or signets, which provide a boost to certain abilities; cold comfort for those of us who found tracking down bigger and better equipment for our parties to be a part of our enjoyment in the genre.
Epos aims high, but ends up falling short of greatness. If the rest of the game had been a bit more robust (a little less battle, and a lot more plot), it would have been absolutely stellar. There's a ton of charm here for those patient enough to find it, and it really is a phenomenal achievement from some very talented people. For fans of more combat-oriented RPG titles, Epos offers a lot (like, a lot-lot!), and the talent on display is easily worth at least a look, as well as your support.