Can a story where the main character is a priest whose biggest attribute is patience actually be entertaining? Eselmir and the five magical gifts is that story, an adventure in high fantasy that follows the exploits of the eponymous cleric as he attempts to find the lost treasures of a long dead king, who also happens to be the ancient ancestor and founder of Eselmir’s people. It’s a game rich with an almost endless depth to its lore, but one that relies so heavily on text-heavy exposition that it will require as much patience from the player as it does from its protagonist, detracting somewhat from the overall experience.
Eselmir is a priest of the goddess of time, Monusadah the Chronologist, and belongs to the Pirin, a race of people descended from King Theoson and his fairy partner. As reward for being the goddess’s favoured servant, Eselmir is granted a vision and the opportunity to undertake the great quest set before him by Monusadah herself. The treasures are known to have been buried with the king, but it’s not as simple a task as going to the grave and digging them up. Nobody knows where Theoson was buried, of course!
Eselmir himself is a well-conceived character who feels real and has clearly led a deep and interesting life before the current adventure begins. Right from the start you’ll begin learning his layered backstory, largely through the established relationships he has throughout the citadel with his parents, mentor, and fellow priests. I found it a pleasant change to be playing a holy man whose main attribute is patience, as opposed to the usual medieval fantasy fare of a warrior, thief or magician.
The first major task is to work out where King Theoson is said to have been buried. This involves research in the library, which unlocks further clues and in doing so opens up new areas that you can visit. This is an ongoing theme throughout the game, where particular locations are gated off, preventing you from entering until you’ve finished everything you need to do where you are, while some areas don’t open until you’ve completed portions of other quests first. While this is a common design feature in adventure games to control the pace of the story, here it feels overused and can be frustratingly arbitrary.
It’s obvious from very early on that you will need to leave the citadel, and even the realm of Lothriel where the citadel is located. Unfortunately, you can’t depart until you’ve found all the equipment for your journey on the list your mother has given you. To do so you have to visit certain places such as the stables. But the stables are one of those gated areas, where trying to enter them before you’re allowed results in a message saying you’ll need to come back later. Even though you know you need a horse to leave the realm, and the stables are the obvious place to get one, you can’t enter them until you’ve progressed far enough in your ‘secondary’ quest to discover who killed your betrothed Jeselion many years earlier. It’s only by accepting this secondary quest, which is marked as optional in your quest diary but in fact isn’t optional at all, that you are given access to the stables and garden.
In part because of this rigid gatekeeping, the story unravels slowly. While I’ll leave it to players to decide whether they like such a deliberately-paced adventure, I personally found it to drag unreasonably, especially in the first portion of the game. Another reason for this gradual progression is that there are two layers to the story. The first is the main storyline of going out into the world and finding the five lost treasures. The subplots, which end up taking more of your attention than the main adventure, involve delving into the rich and extremely dense backstory of Eselmir and this world.
These supplementary missions don’t feel like they have any bearing on your main objectives, although they do come together towards the end of the game and the information you learn serves in completing your primary goals. For instance, after talking to your father in his workshop, you are given the task of finding the missing pages of his diary, another ‘optional’ quest you really have to complete as it will provide helpful details about Eselmir’s earlier life. The information you find is interesting, and it eventually becomes relevant to the larger narrative arc, but at the time it feels like you’re being sent on a random scavenger hunt with no relevance to what you’re actually trying to do.
A large number of characters Eselmir encounters have their own personalities and motivations. As part of your quest to uncover the reason your lost love Jeselion was killed, you have to talk to the three other suitors who challenged you for her hand. Of the three, Xellbelard the Esquire is a rude and abrupt man, still angry over what he sees as you unfairly winning Jeselion’s love, while Elnhirazafool the Astronomer is at peace with her choice (and her death), knowing that he can’t change what has already happened. These sorts of characters are refreshing to talk to, quite different than the more standard fantasy characters who tend towards always being helpful.
One aspect that separates Eselmir from a lot of its contemporaries is its depth of lore. The game itself is derived from the fantasy saga Pirin by Sebastiano B. Brocchi. I’ve not read these novels, and I think that contributed to struggling to get my head around the dozens of names and events that are referenced here. There are over a dozen gods in this universe, each responsible for its own area: Ghaladar the Shining rules over light and thunder, for example. The gods are important to the story, though in various ways. Monusadah gives you your mission and helps you occasionally in times of crisis, while others like Ladin actively attempt to thwart your quest.
While the depth of lore is commendable, it results in a copious amount of reading required. Very few conversations are short. It’s much more common to find yourself reading paragraphs of dialog that should have been written in a more accessible manner. Add to this the number of books, tomes and scrolls you have to pore over to gather clues on how to progress, some of which are a half-dozen pages or more in length. It can be daunting and could easily turn some players off altogether, especially as some of the heavy reading occurs in the opening portion of the game. I’d go so far as to suggest that the amount of reading required is a major reason Eselmir took me 15 hours to complete. The choice of script-style font is questionable too, as it can be a little difficult to read, especially when there are large blocks of text to get through.Continued on the next page...