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The definitive ranking of King’s Quest games

Kylie

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Or at least somewhat definitive. This list will exclude the current, episodic King’s Quest, whose first chapter was released last July. Because it is yet to be completed, we’ll have to hold our judgement. But…it’s got Kuvira voice-acting in it, so how bad can it be?

If you were an 80s/90s child with nerdy parents or a Gateway computer, there was a fairly good chance that you grew up playing the King’s Quest games, by Roberta Williams. These games, set in the fictional world of Daventry (apparently also the same world where Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Beauty, Dracula, and Little Red Riding hood live), centered on the epic adventures of the royal family: whether it was Prince Alexander escaping forced servitude and discovering his true identity, King Graham hunting for some tail, Princess Rosella trying to cure her dad’s heart condition, or Queen Valanice…being an overbearing mom.

The first four games were the famous “text input graphic adventure” (for lack a better term), a style that aged so poorly it was rather famously mocked by the wonderful Homestarrunner.com with “Peasant’s Quest.” From there it switched to point-and-click style adventure games, each with their own set of flaws. Still, they were groundbreaking at the time, and apparently paved the way for all graphical adventure games. So to honor them, and the many bby-geeks they produced, I bring you the definitive ranking.


10. Wizard and the Princess (1980) / 9. Adventure in Serenia (1982)

I’m not going to lie to you: I just found out that these two games were a thing about 10 minutes ago. Apparently this is about the king who kicks it in KQI, which leads to Graham’s ascension. I gave Adventure in Serenia a higher ranking because at least I’ve heard of the damn continent. But come on, if you don’t have that “King’s Quest” title, you’re not at all worthy of our time. Get out of here!

8. King’s Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity (1998)

This thing barely qualifies as a King’s Quest game. In fairness, I think we see Graham in the intro? We definitely see him as a petrified stone statue, that’s for sure.

This gritty, poorly designed point-and-click/action-adventure game (if you’re wondering whether they work well as a hybrid, they don’t) was really just Roberta Williams’s attempt to suck money out of our pockets while she experimented with gaming mechanics by using a franchise title that was already recognizable.

I don’t remember much about it, other than the fact that there were multiple CDs, and the better part of my time was spent trying to get around multiple grey screens full of poorly rendered 3D objects with controls that felt about as smooth as attempting a swan dive with an elephant strapped to my back.

I have nothing good to say about it. I don’t want anything to do with Connor, his anachronistic name, or his dumb face. Booooo.

Also, this was released the same damn year as Baldur’s Gate (I won’t mention OOT because consoles are quite different). Let’s just take a minute to appreciate how truly horribly this game has aged compared to its peers.

7. King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985/1987)

In some ways it seems almost perverse to put a game so quintessentially King’s Quest this low on this list. The lowest, if we’re talking about “true games.”

However, Romancing the Throne basically took KQI, added slightly different colored images, put in puzzles with even less logic, and called it a day.

Worse still was the story. Graham just became king, and apparently his first immediate concern is his royal lineage. Which…sure. Why not. Lucky for him, the Magic Mirror of Plot Convenience shows him that there’s a total babe locked away in a tower in some land that sounds disturbingly close to “Chlamydia.” And I guess she’s the only single chick around, because you’d think there’d be someone a touch more convenient to court.

Who could possibly refuse that?

So he just pops off his throne and leaves Daventry without so much as bothering to put anyone in charge. Fuck, even Anna did better in that regard.

Once in Chlamydia, he has to find a portal to the “tower realm.” So he aimlessly wanders around this forested place until he finds a locked door. Oh and we get a super helpful hint engraved on it: “make a splash.” Guess what? Graham then goes underwater to Neptune’s Kingdom, gets a key, and heads back. Opening the door reveals…a second door. This takes him, I don’t know, into the sky? Past some friendly ghosts? What the actual hell is going on here?

This checks out.

All I know is that if you thought Sierra Logic™ was slightly shitty in KQI, wait until you have to throw a goddamn bridle on a snake that magically turns into Pegasus.

Oh and that second door? Behind it is a third fucking door! Also, there’s a bridge you have to cross to go visit these doors in the first place, and if you do it too many times, it breaks. Just because. And then it’s game over.

I don’t even remember what the shit you have to do to open the third door. I think kill Dracula? Who by the way, didn’t do anything bad at all. He was just chilling in his home. But whatever, once you get that thing open, you’re transported to the beautiful tower realm where the water is purple and the ground is blue and the only difficulty is climbing a spiral staircase.

What’s at the top? Oh, it’s Valanice. She makes out with you and good game!

Except wait, did we even know that she was trapped in this tower? It seemed totally unlocked, and the Tower Zone is definitely a sweet place to live. Did Graham just like, barge in on some chick in her home?

This was the *entire* game. Nothing but Graham’s quest to find a hot girl, who may or may not have wanted to find a hot guy.

There’s no villain at all, unless you count Dracula taking a nap. Compared to the others in the series, this one is a pass.

6. King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (1990)

So here’s the thing…like I said, there’s two types of King’s Quest games: the text-venture of the early four, or the point-and-click of the following three (ignoring KQVIII, naturally). Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder was the first to pioneer the second type, which I happen to find infinitely more engaging.

Unfortunately, KQV was a hot, hot mess.

Like, I’m being a bit unfair. The story was interesting…kinda. I mean the plot actually followed the events of KQIII, where Alexander accidentally pissed off a sorcerer. So the sorcerer’s brother exacted his revenge by stealing Graham’s castle. With his family inside. Literally. He shrunk everything and put it in a little glass jar.

So, you really do feel for Graham when he starts freaking out. But, here’s the problem: he then seeks out the help of Crispin, the friendly neighborhood wizard. And this old fart is like, “well I could totally help you, because I completely deus ex machina this thing at the end anyway, but instead here’s a wand that needs new batteries, and an annoying talking owl.” And thus begins Graham’s true quest, where you have to travel through Serenia to find Mordack’s castle and get your family back.

I’m not going to walk you through all the ludicrous things you have to do along the way; that is worthy of its own post. But the voice acting is just painful, and Cedric makes Navi seem pretty chill. It’s a poisonous snake!

Oh also, despite this being point-and-click, don’t worry…the puzzles still make no goddamn sense. You have to dump honey on the ground, and stick some gems in the honey to catch a greedy elf, or something.

You have to throw a pie into the face of a mothafuckin’ yeti.

Of course this is the answer.

And when all is said and done, after you have this epic magical showdown with Mordack (you found a way to charge your wand with cheese), Crispin just saunters his ass into the frame and with one flick of his own [fully functional] wand, frees your family from the glass jar. WHY DIDN’T YOU DO THAT BEFORE, CRISPIN?

The only good part of the game is when there’s a glorious minute in which you think Cedric might get eaten by a wolf, but the narrative forces you to save him. Ugh.

Still, this is hilarious to replay, which lands it slightly above Graham’s booty call.

5. King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown (1984/1987)

You know, the thing is, I really don’t enjoy playing Quest for the Crown all that much. But at the same time, it’s what made the franchise what it is. And I’m told it was groundbreaking at the time it was released, so kudos?

The story itself is middling at best: King Edward just realized that the Land of Daventry consists of like, a goat and a rock. So he tells Graham, his best knight, to go grab him three treasures. Um…sure. Apparently they were “long-lost.” So Graham does as he’s told, and when he gets back, Edward caulks it and gives the throne to Graham. Probably because the only other option for succession was that goat.

The only taxpayer around

Along his travels, Graham also encounters a lot of randomly magical people who borrow mythology from a variety of fairy tales. Which is kind of fun. However, the ridiculously precise text inputs required to actually do anything, or that goddamn beanstalk where you need pixel-perfect movement can take some of the joy away.

Then there’s also some Sierra logic. “Guess my name?” says that dude who is obviously Rumplestiltskin. Oh, I know. It’s “Ifnkovhgroghprm, clearly.”

But like, it’s fine. Fun even, if you have a couple of hours to spare. And the fact that it so clearly aged horribly almost makes it age well in a weird way, you know? It’s like a game that belongs in a museum.

4. King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (1994)

I’d say that of all the games in this series, The Princeless Bride was the most divisive. Tonally, it was far different than anything in the series. It was very…Disney-ish. And far be it for me to cry “sexism,” but I can’t help but notice it was also the one with two female protagonists.

Sorta reminds me of the pink Legos, though the “Poolside Paradise” set was perfect for reenacting Sunset Boulevard or A Little Night Music.

And then there was the camp, oh the camp. You could either fight it and roll your eyes at the fact that there was a literal bull working in a china shop, or you could just roll with it.

I recommend the second, people, because it’s downright hilarious. There is a town named “Falderal” in the “Nonsense Land of Eldritch” and you have to swallow a literal grain of salt to enter it. Where upon you meet the mayor, Archduke Fifi le Yipyap. Not sure what happened to his duchy, but I guess being mayor is a plum gig.

Should I talk about the story? Valanice is being all Mrs. Bennet and trying to find a proper match for Princess Rosella. Or, consort I guess, because I’m quite sure she’s actually the heir. I mean, she was raised as the heir and certainly knows the most about it, and I think Alexander takes himself out of the equation due to the events of KQVI. So why Valanice is being this pushy is beyond me. To really secure the lineage? Obviously that was an issue Graham found extremely important too. Maybe there’s high child mortality in Daventry or something.

Anyway, to get away from her mom’s bitching, Rosella…how do I put this? She jumps into a pond. Reasonable. Unfortunately it turns out to be a magical whirlpool that she gets pulled out of through a portal by a troll king. But whoops! Now she’s a troll too. Valanice hops in after her, but gets spit out in a desert. So you play the game as both of these women.

Your missions are as follows:

  • As Valanice, you must search for Rosella. You are equipped with your daughter’s comb, which makes you cry when you look at it.
  • As Rosella, you must stop being a troll.

The game is told in chapters, with alternating point-of-views. And of course, you end up having to solve problems for other people around, like giving a mortician a spine, finding a rat to power a grave-digging machine, or helping Ceres, who was turned into a tree. There’s also an evil enchantress, Malicia, who is trying to gain control of the land by using the troll king. Or making a volcano erupt. I don’t quite remember, but it was vaguely logical—trust me.

The thing is, this was just downright fun to play. The puzzles usually had more than one solution, and made sense on a fundamental level. I personally think starting the game off in the desert was a mistake, because the lifeblood of it is really the rich and diverse cast of characters. Some are better voice actors than others, but they all had personalities and quips. I’d take that rando troll working the forge who was hilariously bad at hitting on Rosella over Crispin the stoned wizard any day of the week.

Where it loses points is the fact that Rosella is suddenly made into a whiner, unlike the proactive, self-sacrificing badass we knew her to be. Then, I’m sorry to say, Valanice as a protagonist is just lolsy. But dare I say it, at times this game was…oddly touching? I don’t know how to explain it, except that the quiet moments stay with you more than anything.

It also gets knocked lower due to Edgar’s Nice Guy™ routine. KQIV Rosella would have never fallen for it (she quite canonically didn’t, in fact). Just consider this game the Return of the Jedi of the series. It was good, you know, but there were definitely fuzzy wuzzies, and something was just plain off in the princess’s scripting.

3. King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)

To Heir is Human was the first game of the series without Graham as the protagonist. And boy was that a refreshing change. Don’t get me wrong, Graham is…lovely. But being able to get away from Daventry and its goat for a little was rather nice.

This game centered around Prince Alexander, only SHHHH we don’t know it’s him. We just know this person as ‘Gwydion’, the boy-slave in the evil wizard Manannan’s castle. No, quite literally, the first few minutes of the game is you emptying his chamber pot and feeding some chickens.

The thing is, you were also (in secret) breaking into Manannan’s magical man-cave and baking a cookie that would turn him into a cat. You could only do this when Manannan would go to town, and woe betide you if you weren’t able to satisfactorily hide everything upon his returns.

Real talk: this game was hard. I’m not actually sure it’s possible to get through without a guide. I never bothered trying. Even once the wizard becomes a cat, you still have to solve some not-at-all intuitive puzzles (and do more magic shit) to secure passage to Daventry, across the ocean.

Then, upon getting there, you learn that there’s a princess that’s about to get killed by a three-headed dragon, and she’s your sista from the same mista! Yeah, the Leia to your Luke, and boy is that an apt analogy, because she up and sacrificed herself to this dragon to prevent the total destruction of her land and is just in general a BAMF.

But you save her, and even get a happy family reunion. Welcome home Alexander! I hope this sudden excitement doesn’t have any negative health consequences for your parents…

For the text-venture, the inputs required weren’t nearly as precise as the first two games, so it felt more accessible. There was also the fabulous tension with Manannan’s arrivals and departures. You really felt that stress as you did what you could to navigate Alexander out of his servitude. And even though getting through it without aid seems like a near impossibility to me, for that reason, the replay value is incredibly high. Add to that an overall logical plotline, and we’ve got a solid game here!

2. King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)

I think I’m going to get a lot of shit for this choice. Because whenever I’ve talked about King’s Quest to others, this game really is never mentioned. But boy should it be.

First and foremost, I’m quite certain that a female protagonist actually was super groundbreaking in video games at the time. And Rosella is the hero we both need and deserve.

Immediately following the events of KQIII, King Graham has a heart attack. Probably because he had spent the morning mentally preparing himself for his daughter’s death, only then to have not just her burst back into the castle, but also his long-lost son who they basically forgot about.

So Rosella gets upset and runs out of the room to cry, but fortunately the Mirror of Plot Convenience reveals a fairy named Genesta who’s like, “Yo Rosella. I live in this place called Tamir, and there’s fruit here that could totally save your dad, if you let me transport you here.” So the princess lets this happen, but once there Genesta is all, “well on one condition: I need my amulet that a jerk named Lolotte took from me.” Simple simple simple.

We then follow Rosella (who gets disguised in peasant clothes for some reason) as she traipses around yet another land full of fairy tail references to save her dad. I should point out, this is all while Alexander and Valanice do fuck nothing by Graham’s bedside.

No seriously, don’t trouble yourselves. He’s only mostly-dead.

Rosella, meanwhile, is running around Tamir (which by the way, is stunning, and there’s some sweet music for a change) with both middle fingers raised. She steals arrows from cupid himself and gives not a single fuck. She pulls a Jonah and ends up in a whale, but does she just accept that? Nah, she climbs up his tongue and tickles his uvula with a giant feather.

…why am I rating this game so high on the list?

Also Lolotte, as it turns out, is a total dillweed. She’s an evil green-skinned witch who has her skeleton flying minion-things do evil stuff. I think. I know you get captured, that’s for sure. And her homely green-skinned son Edgar falls for Rosella, and it’s kind of adorable.

Eventually, Rosella figures out a way to kill Lolotte, which means she gets the stupid amulet back for Genesta. Oh and she also picked up the life-saving fruit along the way. To thank her, in addition to giving her free transport home, Genesta also pimps out Edgar and makes him hot. But because Rosella is awesome and takes her responsibilities seriously, she’s just like, “nah, I have shit to do.”

“I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee”

Then she comes home and saves her daddy! Huzzah!!

Seriously, I have nothing bad to say about this game, other than the fact that I personally prefer point-and-click to text-input. Play it. And start stanning Rosella with me, because no one seems to. It’s always Alexander, Alexander, Alexander!

1. King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (1992)

But…there’s actually good reason why that’s the case, and it’s this game. As I said before, KQIII is a strong set piece in the series. But Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow makes this entire franchise.

I challenge you to look at this still and not start humming the Bookworm theme.

What’s weird is that the story is mostly shitty. Alexander became smitten with a maid/slave person that Mordack had in his castle in KQV. Her name is Cassima, and she’s the princess in the Land of the Green Isles. Alexander then just spent his days creepily pining for her (I’m telling you…Rosella is the heir, even at this point), until the Magic Mirror of Plot Convenience shows him a glimpse of Cassima’s land.

So he rushes to a boat, and accidentally smashes it in the voyage. I think his crew survived, but Alex himself washes up on the shore of the Isle of the Crown, the main island in the Land of the Green Isles. He heads to the castle, and tells the literal guard-dogs that Cassima is his friendo and said he could drop by anytime. But we’re told by the super trustworthy Grand Vizier, Abdul Alhazred (okay, there may be a few racial problems with this game), that her parents unexpectedly died while she was away with her own kidnapping, and she’s locked herself in a tower to mourn them.

Oh and she’s engaged to him ¯\_(シ)_/¯.

Alex is like, “whaaat there’s no way I misread her cues!” So either because he’s suspicious, or because he has nowhere else to go maybe, he decides to do some digging around. See? Shitty story.

But as it happens, he ends up uncovering this major plot of Alhazred’s, where he created feuds between each of the isles so that in that chaos, he could murder Cassima’s parents and claim control of the realm. He also has a magic shape-shifting genie who can disguise himself as Cassima for a sham wedding.

This is actually the short, short version. You have the option of bringing her parents back from the dead to expose this too. Yikes.

Then at the same time, Alexander has to, once again, solve a whole lot of problems for other people. But every facet of this is engaging. The puzzles make sense! Seriously, the biggest stretch in logic I can even think of is reading a boring book to an oyster to get a pearl (though you do need the CD manual to solve the Cliffs of Logic). And every single character you come across feels rounded, from the gruff-but-lovable ferryman to the stoic Lady Aeriel and Lord Azure, to the oddly feuding brothers, Bump on a Log and Stick in the Mud. Even Jollo gets a pass.

The music is good; the voice acting is great. I mean, we’re talking Robby fucking Benson as Prince Alexander. It’s funny, too, but serious where it needs to be. Ffs, it gave my four-year-old self a very strong mental image for what happens when you die.

There’s also a satisfying ending and a bittersweet ending, depending on which puzzles and paths you take through the narrative. So due to these twists and turns, it makes replaying a treat.

I don’t know if it’s just my rose-colored glasses. Perhaps people who didn’t play it growing up will find it stupid. But in my mind, this holds up quite well over the years, and truly made the franchise what it is.


Images courtesy of Sierra

 

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Roleplaying Outside Your Comfort Zone

David

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Greetings readers! I’ve returned to write more about tabletop RPGs. Last time, I wrote about the different, non Dungeons and Dragons games you can play. This week, I’ll be writing about roleplaying. Specifically, roleplaying characters you aren’t used to. But before we begin though, I want to make one point very clear:

You do not have to play in any situation that is triggering, or makes you uncomfortable in any way. Your safety and mental health take precedence over everything. It’s important to always keep that in mind. Particularly if you have an enthusiastic group of people around you. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, and you can end up in situations that are upsetting. You are always allowed to stop and a good GM—a good person—will stop and give you time to recover. Keeping this point in mind, let’s start by answering the first question…

What is ‘Roleplaying as different characters’?

What exactly do I mean by roleplaying different characters? At the most basic, it’s playing as a character that doesn’t share your beliefs or personal experiences.

At first blush, that seems simple. After all, most people have never cast a magic fireball spell before, or swung a sword, or talked to a dragon. The trick to playing as someone different comes mostly from the details however. Start with something simple. If you’ve mostly played male characters before, play a female character. Try playing as character from another culture. If you’ve always played wizards or sorcerers, try playing a character that doesn’t use any magic. It’s a small change, but it’s one that can make a big difference, particularly if you’ve never given it much thought before.

Once you’ve taken these small steps, try taking it another step further. If you’ve always played a character who looks out for the little guy, trying playing an aristocrat. Keep in mind that adapting to some roles will be easier than others. Playing someone who can’t use magic is pretty easy. Learning to inhabit the role of a peasant, or (in the case of people used to privilege) an oppressed minority is much harder.

Once you are used to these smaller steps, the next big hurdle is roleplaying in games that are outside your typical choice. There are many different games out there, and some require more in-depth roleplaying then others. And within the ones that require more roleplaying, there are the ones that are unusual enough that roleplaying becomes more challenging. The two biggest examples for me are Dogs in the Vineyard and Eclipse Phase. Both games have very different themes and goals, but they are alike in the way they challenge the player to think outside their typical comfort zone.

A Dog eat Dog world

Dogs in the Vineyard appears at a glance to be a fairly typical tabletop RPG. It’s a Western, but that’s about its only distinctive trait on the surface. It’s once you start looking closer at the details that you see what sets it apart. The first thing is that it’s set in a fantasy version of the LDS territory of Deseret. Fewer showdowns at high noon and closer to early colonial America. And the characters you are playing as? Holy gunslingers.


The game has you playing as itinerant preachers, problem solvers, and exorcists. Called ‘God’s Watchdogs’, they make a circuit around the various small towns and homesteads in the territory, administering various blessings and dealing with problems as the crop up. Sometimes the problems just require you to talk it out. Sometimes it escalates to gun fights. It’s always the player’s choice to escalate, and that adds to the stress of the roleplaying.

The difficulty with roleplaying in this game is that the characters, by their very nature, are religious. And not just religious, but belong to a religion that follows early LDS teachings. Multiple wives, no drinking, etc. For some people, such as myself, the leap is not that difficult. Still uncomfortable, but not that big of a deal. For other people who may have come from more difficult religious upbringings, casting yourself as the enforcer of dogma is a much higher hurdle to clear. But casting yourself in that role can be important. It lets you see what is attractive about it in the first place and maybe do some good from a position of authority.

Octopus…IN SPAAAACE

Eclipse Phase at first blush is nothing like Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs is a semi-fantasy western. Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi/cyberpunk/trans-humanist setting set in the future. The basic premise of the game is that at some point, humanity evolved by its own hand. Now considered (and called) ‘Transhumanity’, it was practically a golden age, with people able to choose new bodies for themselves. You could avoid hunger, pain and death forever…if you could afford it.

However, ten years before the game proper starts, the earth is devastated by AI known as TITANs, and they infest both people and machines with deadly viruses. They also kidnap tens of thousands of cortical stacks (Which are what consciousness is stored on in this setting when not in a body) before fleeing the solar system. What’s left of transhumanity has broken into dozens of smaller factions, each competing with themselves. The players generally belong to a faction dedicated to quietly eliminating the greatest threats to transhumanity. You can play any number of different ‘types’ of bodies, with different skills and physical abilities. And yes, you can even play as an uplifted Octopus.

The difficulty in roleplaying in this game comes not from real life problems with organized religions, but from futuristic fears and bodily autonomy issues. The viruses that the TITANs created are still around, and can still twist both your mind and body in grotesque ways. Even disregarding that fact, there is a bias in the game against baseline human bodies. As someone who feels very strongly about bodily autonomy, I have a hard time roleplaying in this game. Some of my other friends however, particularly those who identify as transgender, find being able to to play as something other than their current selves a relief. There’s something for everyone.

Keeping the ‘play’ in roleplay

These are just two examples of games that might have more difficult scenarios to roleplay then others. There are dozens of other games out there, and nearly limitless ideas that creative GMs can come up with that might test your ability roleplay. Like I said at the start of the article: You don’t have to play in something that makes you uncomfortable. People play these games to have fun, and your enjoyment and safety is the most important part.

However, if you are comfortable with the game, and it’s just outside the traditional role you cast yourself as…try it out. If you’ve ever been to California Pizza Kitchen, you know they have a guarantee: If you order something new and you hate it they’ll give you your usual, free of charge. It’s the same principle with characters. Do the opposite of what you’d normally do. Roll for random personality traits. And if you hate it? Play what your comfortable with and have the GM save the old character as a NPC. Good luck and happy gaming!


Images courtesy of Lumpley Games and Posthuman Studios

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First Impressions from Deadfire

Michał

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Hello, readers of the Fandomentals. A week ago, I decided to write a recap of my first impressions of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, once I bought it on Monday. This turned out not to be the case, as bugs prevented me from playing once I bought it. But now the bugs have been patched…so I’m at least able to write about what I’ve played since Friday. There’s a lot to unpack even in this context. I will avoid any actual spoilers, seeing as plenty of people might want to read it to decide if they want to buy the game.

The game is big in more senses than one

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is big in many senses of the word. We’ve got a much larger area to explore than we did in the first game, obviously. And to explore, we need a ship. Which brings with it ship management, finding crew, equipping it… I’ve only scratched that so far, really. I’m still using my first ship with a couple of new cannons. The ship-to-ship combat system is very elaborate, but I can’t say I’ve understood it yet. I’ve only defeated one enemy ship that felt like a tutorial.

The game isn’t quite what I’d call an open world, but closer to it than most “traditional” RPGs. The classic dilemma of following the main storyline or screwing around doing sidequests is certainly there, as is a variety of NPCs to talk to and factions to side with (or against).

But the physical size of the Deadfire Archipelago isn’t all there is to it. Like I expected, multi-classing and subclasses open up so many avenues. Now, of course, our teammates have a limited selection of classes, and only a few of them have subclasses, but it’s still a series of choices as you gather your party.

With so many choices, though, it’s easy to make the wrong one. The game warns you that multi-classing isn’t recommended for new players, and it’s true. Multiclass characters don’t get more abilities than single-class ones – they simply get to pick from a wider variety, in exchange for a slower power growth. It’s the player’s job to make good use of the synergy.

Of course, if you can make good use of it, the effects can be wonderful. Not necessarily powerful, but very fun and satisfying. My main character is a fighter/rogue, specializing as a streetfighter on the rogue side – that means he gets faster and deadlier when he’s flanked, beaten up or both. Setting up situations where that happens and then making sure he doesn’t die is exciting. It really is about trading flexibility for power. A single-class character will pack a punch, but a multi-class one rounds off a party in a different way.

The combat isn’t quite what we’re used to

I can’t say the game has challenged me much so far, though. Or rather, it has been uneven. Most of the time I comfortably defeated all encounters, but then I ran across an area where I had to stay on my toes, use Empower points to refresh my resources and retry the battles. Maybe it was because I was running a somewhat haphazard and sub-optimal team, with two multi-class characters aside from my own character. Or perhaps it was simply a more dangerous area.

Later on, I took on a quest where I couldn’t even scratch the enemies. As it turned out, it was a level 16 quest, with me being level 8. The journal failed to inform me of it as it was supposed to. The faulty difficulty scaling is a known issue that the devs are working on… I hope so is the journal. There is an option to adjust level scaling – I set it to scale only on the main storyline and only upwards.

Challenge aside, the combat is much as it was, but not quite. Gone are daily spells, and non-spellcasting classes have more options on average. Spells take longer to fire off. Various penalties and bonuses have been folded into an affliction and inspiration system, though not all. It’s a familiar but subtly different experience. But it certainly engages me more than the first game’s combat did.

Wouldn’t be an Obsidian games without bugs on release

You’ve seen me mention the journal not working properly. And I can’t talk about the game without mentioning the bugs, I’m afraid. I mentioned up there that I couldn’t play it for a while because of them. That was because Eder’s fate after the first game didn’t import properly; he talked about different things that had happened. For those who consider it important, it might have been enough to wait for the patch. Which, thankfully, helped.

Still some stuff remains unfixed. The biggest one I’ve noticed in my own run is companion dispositions and relationships. They progress too quickly – a new companion gave me a chummy speech about how much he likes me after two conversations where I did something he approved of.

No other companions have professed their deep sympathies to me yet… But another thing happened far too quickly. After I recruited Pallegina again, I got to talking to her about gods. As you may remember from the original game, she’s not very fond of them and is vocal about it. This doesn’t sit well with Xoti, a new companion who is a devout priestess. This plays into the game’s new system of inter-party relationships.

Which is all well and good and interesting. Except for how Xoti started yelling at Pallegina, which ended with me having to take sides or trying to reconcile them… after that one conversation. I don’t think it was supposed to go this way, since Xoti’s lines implied that she’d endured Pallegina’s opinions far too long.

This also applies to romance, incidentally, causing some companions to start flirting with the Watcher as soon as they approval rises a bit. This happened to me as well. I won’t tell you with who… I won’t spoil the surprise. But I do hope they patch it soon to make those relationships more organic. I’m still deciding if I want to romance someone or go with the “leave me alone, people, I have enough crap to deal with” option.

Smaller things

There’s some minor things that I like and those I don’t. I love various shortcuts in map navigation. You can resupply your ship from anywhere in a city, and head straight to a particular building when entering a district. A small but handy quality of life feature.

Crafting got even bigger, and thus I can’t be bothered to even read the list of all the consumables I can craft. Weapons and armor can only be enchanted if they’re uniques – each unique weapon has a list of traits you can add to it.

That would be great if there was anything resembling balance between the number of those. But there isn’t; by all accounts, swords, greatswords and sabres outnumber everything else.  I’ve already found three unique swords myself. Reportedly, the number of unique crossbows is one. In the whole game. They’ve blundered into the same mistake the Baldur’s Gate games once did.

The skill list got bigger as well. While I admit it’s hard to keep track of who has which skills and making sure I’ve got it all covered, it’s a much more real choice than it was in the first game. Having multiple people with the same skill is also no longer redundant in dialogues and scripted interactions, with our merry band being able to help us make them.

All in all, I’m having a lot of fun with this game, despite the rough edges. It’s still the traditional RPG gameplay with a new spin, only the spin is even newer. Even if you’d rather wait some more until more patches come out to fix more bugs, I can still recommend Deadfire, based on what I’ve seen so far.


Images courtesy of Obsidian

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Will God of War Change Your Mind on the Series?

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By now gamers have at least heard the hype. God of War has received universal praise not only as a great game, but as a contender for the best game of this current generation of gaming. Having spent nearly all my free time since its release losing myself in this game, I can tell you the hype is real. Whatever you’re reading about the game, it’s true. It’s all true. This is a remarkable game in just about every area. One that caught me completely by surprise.

But you’ve heard all this by now. The better question to ask might be whether this game will change anyone one’s mind on the series. Will this latest God of War draw in gamers who did not like previous games? Will it draw in gamers who never saw reason to give the series a shot?

Well, that’s a complicated answer. There are many reasons to think it would. There also exist reasons to think it won’t.

god of war kratos atreus

Why it Will

Make no mistake, God of War makes many changes to the franchise that somehow manage both to take significant steps forward while also retaining the classic feel of the series. The gameplay is outstanding; it’s deep, diverse, epic, and the Leviathan Axe not only lives up to the legacy of the chain blades, it arguably outdoes them. Kratos loses nearly nothing in translation to the new camera perspective. He is basically every bit as quick, strong, and brutal as he was before.

Where previous games were more iconic for the brutality and spectacle of the gameplay than the actual mechanics, this game actually ups the stakes in the complexity of the combat. The axe gives Kratos a variety of gameplay choices. You can slash up close, throw it from afar, use it to freeze enemies, use it to trip enemies, or use it to pin them to walls. Once it’s thrown, you can use Kratos’s bare hands to shatter enemies or just accumulate stun damage quicker, opening them up to God of War’s signature button-prompt brutal finishers.

Atreus also avoids the fears of adding a companion by operating as an absolute force in combat. While he starts off somewhat limited in his capabilities, by the end of the game he has multiple types of elemental arrows with different effects, grapple moves that open opportunities for Kratos, and melee attacks all his own. His response time to the player’s commands are fantastic. He also avoids the fragility issue forcing players to constantly rescue companions in other games. Atreus is a strength of this game’s combat. With some of the tougher fights, and especially on higher difficulties, he is a necessity to success.

These various tactics come in handy against an improved variety of enemies. Previous games certainly had a huge variety of different enemies, but your strategy against these enemies didn’t really vary. You used your preferred combo or two and they carried you throughout the game. Some bosses would require more advanced use of combinations, parrying, and environmental usage, but overall you were blasting through the game with the same couple combos.

This game has fewer enemy types on paper, but they necessitate a greater variety of strategy. Some enemies are immune to the axe and require fists or a weapon acquired later. Some are best handled through stun damage. Others require ranged attacks. You have enemies that heal, enemies that turtle behind shields, and enemies that attack fast and viciously. There are enemies that hide underground and can take a long time to defeat if not stopped.

By the end of the game, when all these different enemy types start mixing together, players will need to switch weapons, range, aggressiveness, and use of Atreus, and often from enemy to enemy. For those action fans who wished for more depth in God of War’s gameplay, this delivers and then some. I’m still not sure you can put it on par with the combat of games like Devil May Cry 3 or Bayonetta, but it’s at least closer than it was before.

Then again, I suppose gameplay probably isn’t the reason a gamer didn’t like or care about God of War before. Most likely what turned you off was Kratos and the uber-testosterone coursing through the game. Between the romanticism of insane violence and vengeance, the absurd sex minigames and nudity, and Kratos’s one-note toxic masculinity, the original games definitely don’t appeal to everyone. To be fair, the first game told an effective story (for the time) speaking against the person Kratos had become. That doesn’t change those elements within the game and it sequels, though.

Have no fear, this new God of War shares little in common thematically or even content-wise with its predecessors. The violence is still there, for sure. It is a hack-and-slash action game, after all. Otherwise the themes, characterization, and content almost feel like a direct response to critics of Kratos’s previous adventures.

Kratos himself is an entirely different person. He’s a man running from the horrors of his past and harboring no desire to return to it. A lot of the super-machismo male fantasy suff has been ditched. Violence and death are actively spoken against. There’s very little romanticism of violence, and a central theme of the story is actively speaking against it. Kratos is definitely still an angry man, but one who has seen the horrors of violence and vengeance and wants to avoid them. It’s a direct rebuttal of his former attributes.

The central story revolves around Kratos and Atreus bringing their wife/mother’s ashes to a mountaintop per her final wishes, and as such they spend the game in mourning. The main plot never diverges from this goal. There’s no violent goal here. Kratos aims aren’t about killing. Yes, he kills a lot, but it’s never the reason he seeks to do anything. He avoids killing at crucial moments. God of War gives the series a newfound maturity.

This maturity also extends to God of War’s past of extreme violence and sexualization regarding women. There are no sacrifices, no sex minigames, no bare chests at every turn. In fact there’s no nudity at all that I’ve seen. I know when people heard about the game starting with a dead mother, they worried we’d get the same vengeful fridging that the first game delivered, but that is not the case here.

The story told never strays from this maturity, either.  It maintains a subtlety unexpected of fans of the previous games. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus drives much of the story, and it is a complicated one fraught with emotional complexity. Uncertainty defines the interaction between the two; uncertainty about being a father, uncertainty about Atreus’s worth as a son, uncertainty about their feelings or shared grief. As the plot develops, the secrets Kratos keeps about his past create a friction threatening their relationship.

This parental theme extends to the main villain as well. Parent/child dynamics are the engine beneath God of War’s hood, not the old standby of vengeance. Santa Monica Studios really nailed it here. They tell a mature, complicated story that hits incredibly epic peaks without ever losing the subtle, personal tensions beginning the journey. This is not your old God of War.

Another problem gamers might have had with the previous games was the use of the Greek mythology. While I love them, they didn’t show much respect for the mythology. They just used the settings and characters to tell stories regardless of the source’s characterizations and such. I loved it, but others may have resented such careless use of the myths. Have no fear, God of War treats the Norse pantheon better. Mostly this comes from a greater commitment to the world of Norse mythology through every step of the world.

As an outsider, Kratos is pretty clueless about this new godly realm he inhabits. This gives the game a chance to teach both him and the player about Norse mythology without crossing into lame exposition. Every step of the game is steeped in old tales and visual lessons that make for incredible worldbuilding. Atreus and another companion tell stories related to the scenery or current events. Translated runes tell you about a location. Hidden shrines provide cool history lessons.

God of War really commits itself to a more proper use of Norse mythology. More than the originals ever did.

This creates a believable, lived in setting steeped in history. One that I had a great deal of pleasure exploring. You explore about half of ten realms, and travel along the branches of Yggdrasil. You meet light and dark elves, dwarves, and gods. You travel Skyrim-esque snowy mountains and fiery cliffs dripping with lava. Every realm is unique and colorful. With all the things God of War does right, the worldbuilding is the biggest surprise to me. I’ve never been more interested in the Norse pantheon.

They do switch the characteristics of some of the realms and play with the characteristics of a couple gods, but these are small issues compared to the overall package, and only for those familiar with their myths.

Overall this is a mature, well-created package that somehow manages to take the best parts of the old games and improve upon a lot of things people disliked. I expect a lot of people who lacked interest in the series will love this one. It’s very much the Resident Evil 4 of the God of War franchise. Just without falling apart at the end like RE4 did.

god of war kratos yell

Why it Won’t Change Your Mind

Unfortunately, there are reasons it may not. Some of these continue old problems, while others are a twist on the old problems, and might be enough to invalidate changes I previously mentioned.

First off is the violence level. I stand by the story not glorifying violence. The gameplay, not so much. God of War very much continues the same visceral violence in its action that made its predecessors famous. Kratos dismembers and decapitates and cleaves in half just like always. In many ways the game has the same issue as a game like Uncharted, where the gameplay’s level of killing doesn’t match the character’s supposed attitude toward killing.

Now, Kratos isn’t meant to be a charismatic good guy like Nathan Drake, but for someone who spends most of the game speaking against violence and killing, he sure does a lot of it. I don’t think the game does anything at all to portray the gameplay violence as anything except cool. There are trophies for each specific method of brutally ending the enemies in front of you.

And sorry to rat myself out here, but it is cool. It’s freaking fun, but others may like it even less than before because of the contradiction of story and gameplay. At least he’s fighting monsters rather than other human beings.

When it comes to Kratos, for all his change in demeanor, he is still a pretty gruff, macho depiction of your typical toxic masculinity. He’s a rough guy who doesn’t show his emotions and can kill things with brutal efficiency. He goes to great lengths to hide his emotions. This isn’t a negative so much as a consistent continuity. There’s no reason Kratos should change completely from the violent asshole of the original games to someone softer and open about his feelings. His portrayal here makes perfect sense with where he should be.

However, many gamers who didn’t relate at all to Kratos may still find it impossible to relate to him. That’s fine. Kratos very much appeals to a certain kind of gamer. Santa Monica Studios did a great job making him a more appealing character, but Kratos will never appeal to everyone.

There’s also the huge issue of the woman inspiring the journey Kratos and Atreus undertake. That is to say, we don’t know anything about her until the final moments of the game. Even then she’s the literal stereotype of the Idealized Mother/Wife. You have no idea what she looks like, no idea how she feels about anything, and even the little tidbits we learn about her past actions treats her more like a symbol than a person.

She really differs little in concept from the dead wife and daughter who inspire Kratos to take vengeance on Ares in the first God of War. So if you weren’t interested in watching a grieving Kratos murder things because of a dead wife the first time, you might not be this time.

It sucks to have this woman who is so central to the plot receive no personality or traits unrelated to being a mother or wife. Anything would have done. The game’s finale eventually reveals some of her motives and life, but it’s a bit too little, too late. The best you hope is that these motives are expanded upon in the next game so she can be more of a character. There is good reason to think that happens, thankfully.

And unfortunately, she represents a larger issue God of War has with women. It’s true they fixed the problems previous games had with immature sex and nudity, but they took the Mass Effect 2 approach to fixing these problems. Namely, they cut damn near all female content altogether. There’s one woman in the entire game. I suppose you can technically solve a problem by eliminating almost all content related to that problem.

(Now, there are 8 hidden Valkyrie fights, and obviously the Valkyries are women. However, I can’t really count optional boss fights as real representation.)

Now, this is a bit of a nitpick. I admit that. The one active woman in the game is a really good, really complicated character. Easily the best in the entire franchise, unless I’m unforgivably forgetting someone. She stars in many of the game’s best scenes and never stops being fascinating. Also, the cast is remarkably small so one female protagonist isn’t some huge offense when there’s only one adult male protagonist and his son.

Still, between only having one living woman and one dead woman who is basically the idealized version of Rose Quartz probably won’t do much to bring in gamers dissatisfied with the representation of women in the other games. Now maybe I just don’t know Norse mythology well, but surely they could have fit more women into the game? Or at least given them lore focus like other characters receive? So many gods, elves, giants, dwarves, and other characters feature in the discovered lore throughout the game. Why not use more of those to mention the Norse goddesses?

Again, this whole issue may unfortunately not be much an issue to many gamers, but for some they’ll find it difficult to care if they didn’t before.  This God of War vastly improved on the games before it, though. I need to make that clear. I can’t say it improved  enough to bring in the audience who disliked the previous games. Kratos still isn’t appealing to feminist sensibilities in any way.

Final Verdict

Overall, I’d expect a lot of people to see the improvements this God of War made over its predecessors and, at the very least, want to try the game. It improves in almost every area. I could complain about the number of boss fights, but that would fall under “reasons you liked previous games but not this one.”

The only question here is really whether it improved enough, not whether it improved at all. And it didn’t just improve, it improved astoundingly. It completely eliminated some of the worst complaints about the previous games in the series. This is a new God of War for a new era of gaming. One that is at least worth a shot.

If you like action games, give this a play.

Maybe you despised Kratos, or the misogyny, or the mistreatment of Greek mythology in previous games. Maybe the gameplay didn’t thrill you like other games of the ilk. Every single one of these issues has been addressed. Maybe you still won’t like Kratos that much. Maybe you’ll grumble about another dead wife with no personality of her own. Maybe it still glorifies violence more than you’d like. I still think every gamer owes it to themselves to try this game.

You have to at least try what is arguably the best game of this generation.


Images Courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment

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