So those who know me know I LOVE adventure games. If you were to ask me about my favorites, I’d list of a variety of LucasArts games: Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Grim Fandango, ect. You’ve even seen me do fanart of some of these.
…but LucasArts was something I came to later in life, I actually grew up on Sierra’s adventure games. Once I discovered LucasArts, I jumped ship there and never really looked back. LucasArts didn’t have the same frustrating issues as Sierra games such as punishing the player for exploring and putting the game into unwinnable states fairly easily. I liked adventure games because they were some of the earliest games to feature story and characters instead of just gameplay, but the Sierra games for the most part made it a lot harder to enjoy. Still, my childhood was all Space Quest and Conquest of Camelot and even some of the King’s Quest games (1, 2, and 7 if you can believe it. ) so despite the issues the games had, I always look on those franchises fondly. Especially since King’s Quest in particular was the series that started it all – I may never have gotten some of my favorite games without them.
So when it was announced that there was going to be a reboot/relaunch of King’s Quest by the Odd Gentlemen under Activision’s newly revamped Sierra banner, I was pretty excited! Some other recent rehashes of old games – particularly those owned by Atari – made me a bit nervous, but I have nostalgia for this property and the screenshots looked really lovely, so I was pretty amped to give it a shot.
…well, much later than anticipated due to some real life issues, I finally got my hands on the first chapter and played it. What did I think of it? Well, I played through the entirety of the first chapter yesterday and it took me seven hours. So I sat and played King’s Quest for 7 hours and when it was done, I asked when the next one released. I think you can imagine what my attitude towards it might be.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. The tank controls are annoying. I think it’s meant to be a throwback to the earlier King’s Quest games which controlled very similarly, but I’m not sure it works great in a modern 3D environment. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment, I got used to it pretty quick (I suffered it with Grim Fandango, I can tolerate it here) but this might be a game to just plug in a controller – I didn’t try it myself, but it might be easier.
Second annoying thing were the glitches. If you load the game in at too high a resolution (which for me was the actual resolution of my screen…hmph) then some game-breaking glitches can occur. Several times in the prologue I had Graham pirouetting in place and not responding to any controls. Even after lowering the resolution, his cape would still sling around pretty madly and I would occasionally get really creepy close-ups of his face for a frame or two which made me feel like I was in some creepypasta. Once I had fixed the resolution though this didn’t ruin my enjoyment either. Mostly the small cape glitches just made me laugh a bit.
The third annoying thing is something that’s probably pretty unique to me and wouldn’t be an issue for most players. This game fairly heavily features player choice mechanics and I honestly just don’t like player choice stuff. As I said before, story and character are the things I play for and I feel like player choice dilutes that as the story has to account for all choices. I’m much more interested in what the character would choose than what I would choose. My choices aren’t interesting to me and I don’t like the angst I feel of wondering if I picked something wrong and will get a “bad” ending as a result.
…but that’s just me. It seems most people are pretty high on the choice bandwagon, so I don’t think it’s really an issue.
But those are my only complaints, and despite how wordy I got, if you look at them, there really isn’t much there! Now on to what I liked!
The first thing I’m going to say is that this actually feels very much like a LucasArts game and I mean that in the best way possible! Now don’t worry, King’s Quest fans, there are plenty of ridiculous deaths still in the game, but it employs the death mechanic from King’s Quest 7 where you get the death scene but are then put right back in the same moment to try it again. It’s really the best of both worlds, getting some fun death scenes but not losing that “I know this is probably the wrong choice, but I’m going to try it anyway and see what happens” adventurous spirit that you should really have in a game like this. In other words, it doesn’t punish the player for exploring. In universe this is justified as the game is a story elder King Graham is telling his granddaughter, so death scenes are just moments where he tells the story wrong or explains what he obviously didn’t do because it would have been a ridiculous choice.
Likewise, it doesn’t seem like you can put the game into an unwinniable state. Older Sierra games were notorious for these, where you had to pick up some random macguffin that didn’t seem important to the game or else you could never win and you couldn’t go back to retrieve it. LucasArts games were always structured so that you could always get the items you needed and there was always some semblance of logic behind them, and that seems to be the tack this new King’s Quest game is following. So, when you find yourself stuck you don’t have to sit and wonder if you’re missing something you needed. You have the answer, you just need to find it.
I feel like these mechanics exist at least partially because of the player choice system. The game autosaves to make sure you stick to your choices, negating the old Sierra mantra of “save early, save often”. If it stuck to old Sierra shenanigans, most games would be saved in unwinnable states pretty quickly. But whatever the reason, I like it!
The art in this game is actually really lovely with extensively detailed backgrounds for you to travel through. They do make you travel through them quite a lot, sometimes traveling much father than you’d need just for one item, but everything looks so nice, I can’t really get too upset about it and it adds to a feeling of scale for the game. There are moments the camera pulls back and just lets you enjoy the grandeur of the environments around you. The cel-shaded look of the characters is actually really nice as well and while I don’t think it worked for every character, for the most part I really loved the character designs in the game.
Moving on to the writing, it also made me think of LucasArts, Monkey Island in particular. I commented as I was playing it that teenaged Graham reminded me a lot of Guybrush Threepwood, (but again- in a good way, not like the mess that was Space Quest 6 where the characterization of Roger felt like they were trying to ape a character like Guybrush without realizing why he works so well) and another friend joined later on and made basically the same comment! So it wasn’t just me who saw it. He is his own character though. The writing and story-telling are mostly light and comedic, with characters riffing on one another pretty readily. That doesn’t mean it can’t go serious when it needs to, though, and there was one sad scene that made me care more about Graham and his character than all of the previous King’s Quest games combined! The characters are all colorful and distinct and I found all of them enjoyable (I want to say “likable” but some of them weren’t meant to be liked, they were just as entertaining though). Honestly, I hope we see many of these characters come back in later chapters. The good writing is aided by the impressive voice cast (which is only rivaled by the cast for King’s Quest 6) featuring Chistopher Lloyd, Wallace Shaun, Kath Soucie, Zelda Williams, Tom Kenny and Kevin Michael Richardson, just to name a few!
I wasn’t wearing my headphones while playing, so the music wasn’t as apparent as it could have been, but what I heard was really well done!
For long-time King’s Quest fans, there are already plenty of shoutouts. The prologue to the game has you playing through an adventure from King’s Quest 1. There are plenty of nods to the lore in the story parts. Tapestries on the walls of the castle depict some familiar moments. There are also plenty of recognizable music cues, including one that I really didn’t expect but was perfectly used!
Don’t let that scare you away if you’re new to the franchise, however, you don’t need to know anything about King’s Quest to follow the game, it tells you everything you need to know. This first chapter in particular takes place before Graham even becomes a knight. As King’s Quest 1 opens with Graham already a favored knight of King Edward, it’s depicting events that are new to everyone. It’s very new player friendly while still being full of nods for the fans.
The easiest thing for me to compare this game to is TellTale’s Tales from Monkey Island which was released a few years back. Like this game, it picked up an old adventure game franchise and made a new entry to it in an episodic format. I actually really loved Tales, I thought TellTale did a wonderful job with it and was disappointed that they didn’t continue. This new King’s Quest entry compares very favorably to that game. I think it’s pretty equal in the writing and storytelling aspects and is much better in terms of the art and world building.
If you’re a fan of adventure games, or just want to check one out that won’t punish you too harshly or get too frustrating, I definitely recommend picking this up. While I can only speak for chapter one so far, it was a lot of fun to play through and I’m personally really excited for chapter 2, where it looks like we’ll begin to get into Graham’s reign and get a few more great nods to the old continuity.