Dungeon crawling has left an indelible mark on gaming, and the Android game QuestLord ($1.99) recreates just about every aspect of those computer games of yore. But its retro appearance and home on a mobile device doesn’t make this a casual game by any means.
The Quest Begins
You begin QuestLord by choosing to play as a dwarf, human, or elf character. Each has a different starting location, stats, and equipment, along with different stories about his or her home and people. I really appreciated the developer’s effort to create a deep and expansive world through backstory.
The game world is divided into maze-like maps, each lovingly crafted in a low-res pixel style. The setting is lush, in its own angular way (see the slideshow for examples). The walls of the mazes you navigate range from towering trees to dank dungeons to a fearful human settlement at dusk. The look hits all of my classic high-fantasy buttons.
But don’t mistake QuestLord for a merely retro-looking game, like Nimble Quest. Here, you progress through the world one step at a time using directional buttons at the bottom of the screen. While I appreciate this nostalgic arrangement, it’s frustrating to use, and I spent most of my time toggling between the main screen and the map. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at how the game was eminently compatible with one-handed play: the true test of a mobile game.
Developer Eric Kinkead thoughtfully introduces some touch controls for your inventory, your spell book, and especially for combat. Simply swipe across the screen for a melee attack with your equipped weapon. If you’ve equipped a spellbook or shield, you can use them in combat by tapping the button to the left of the health and magic bars. Magic is powerful but limited, since you can only prepare one spell at a time.
Enemies move freely throughout the maze, so you can avoid them some of the time. Picking your battles can be critical, especially when health-restoring food items are running low. It also means that enemies can sneak up on you when your back is turned, as when fighting other foes. The game helpfully indicates the direction of an attack by flashing red on the appropriate direction button, or blue if you’ve evaded an attack.
In addition to the old-style controls, the game’s story and atmosphere are distinctively ’80s high-fantasy. QuestLord doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you’ll encounter books and characters that add some much-needed humor. In the middle of it all is your character, striving to fulfill your destiny and become the QuestLord who can heal this shattered world.
My Quest Has Ended
Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to get into QuestLord and as such have not complete the game. I tried playing Quick Mode, which is essentially an endless dungeon crawl with a pre-made character, but while I enjoyed it, I never found myself wanting to play. The navigation was frustrating and tedious, and I never got into a rhythm that made time slip by. The story and the styling were fun, but not enough to really draw me in.
Because Kinkead clearly had a very specific vision for what this game should be, it’s hard to point to changes that would improve my experience. Change too much, and QuestLord just wouldn’t be QuestLord. Though, if the main game screen indicated the compass direction I was facing, I could spend more time playing the game and less time checking the map.
Truth be told, that’s probably part of the charm of QuestLord. It’s designed to let players relive a different kind of game, warts and all.
Your Quest Begins
The trouble with QuestLord is that it’s almost entirely form over function. How we play games and how we expect games to unfold has changed a lot in the last three decades, and QuestLord struggles to bridge that gap. Yes, the look and style of the game are a delightful throwback, but many players will be turned off by the awkward navigation and tedious pace.
If you have fond memories of rogue-like dungeon crawls and first-edition D&D, then you will love QuestLord. If you find the graphics appealing but want something lighter and modern, consider Nimble Quest. This game is a love letter to a time and place, but it might not be addressed to you.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc