(Before I get going, I'll say that Book 2 is much improved and although I'm only a few hours in, I can probably recommend Book 2. Writing is more polished, graphics feel fresher, and controls feel more responsive. Book 1 isn't necessary to play or understand the story of Book 2.)
Slow paced and feels more like a shallow copy of old school CRPGs (hey, that *looks old-fashioned*, or, nobody does *that* in RPGs anymore, let's put that into Eschalon) rather than capturing the deep magic that made old school CRPGs worth reviving (as in "why did they do that, and does it still make sense? If so, let's put it in and modernize it just a bit"). Don't get me wrong, I like turn-based (Western) CRPGs, love Spiderweb Games (Exile through Avadon even), and I even fire up one of the top roguelikes now and then (Nethack, ADOM, dwarf fortress, Cataclysm DDA, etc.), and Eschalon Book 1 falls flat by comparison. I've played Ultima 4-8, Wasteland, Fallout 1-2, Baldur's Gate, Arcanum, and I've probably played other awesome turn-based overhead CRPGs that I can't remember. I'm sure I've played some clunkers too, but I felt I had to put up this negative review if only b/c I cannot figure out why so many people seem to like this game enough to recommend others play it--the hype for this game, from "pro" reviews and players, makes me wonder how many of those even played a quarter of the games I listed up top.
Eschalon Book 1 is a passable timesink, but do yourself a favor and fire up an actual classic or one of the better old-school-style titles this side of 1999. Even if it's cheap, there's still your time to consider--a playthrough takes about 20-40 hours depending on how OCD you get on doing quests and leveling up, and much of that will be spent slowly walking your single toon around obstacles since there's no click-move.
As for the plot, it's pretty straightforward w/o any real interesting twists, the writing is passable, but there's no real drama, tension, or even humor. There's *some* sure, but most of it is rather flat and just something to check the box.
Now, nobody ever came out and said this was a "love letter" to old-school CRPGs, but much of the marketing kept hyping up it's old-school-ness. To that I respond: 1) actual old CRPGs did it better, 2) some of those old CRPGs are still playable now, 3) newer CRPGs in old-school-style have also done it better.
If you read this and still played the game, no problem, even if you found you liked it enough to at least *want* to play it *a second time* (how many Yes-recommenders honestly think they'd *want* to play a second time? That's not even *actually* playing it twice, but just *thinking* about it?). I'm not saying I know all for everybody. If you played it and didn't like it, then at least know you've not gone crazy considering how many reviews recommend it. If you have yet to play it, seriously, track down and play the other names I've dropped first, then maybe you can at least be so busy putting in the hours into those that you won't even have to think about Eschalon.