What ho – seemingly random fantasy world dweller – for in the middle of the night you have received an urgent request from the fabled ValKin, guardian deities that watch over this land. They proclaim that you are the mighty QuestLord, the only one whom can take up arms against the growing darkness that soon threatens to spread all across the Shattered Realms. Thusly you set forth on an epic journey that will take you to many locations, see you slay many a great and legendary foe, and – most importantly – meet a variety of people with silly and/or fantastical sounding names.
Publisher Lava Level – and, more specifically, programmer Eric Kinkead – both fondly remember the various turn based dungeon crawling RPGs that used to be top dog on the PC during days of yore. As with games such as Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder the came before it, QuestLord (out now, $1.99) challenges players to travel through dungeons – one square step at a time – defeating the various evil lurking along the way. However – unlike its predecessors – QuestLord will require players to do far more than merely explore the depths of a single dank tomb, and instead contains an entire outside world – filled with a plethora of intriguing places – to explore as well.
QuestLord definitely wastes no time in getting its proper nostalgic groove on, for the very first thing players are asked to do – upon starting the game – is to select from one of three save files that are each marked with a pixelated icon of a 3.5” floppy disk. Those old enough to have actually played the games that QuestLord is based on will possibly (not so) fondly remember how they were required to keep track of a separate floppy disk each and every time they began a new save file. While many games on the iOS platform these days have attempted to invoke feelings of nostalgia, it’s the often not included little touches such as these that truly push a product over the top.
Next the player will be required to decide what sort of species their esteemed QuestLord will be, with the selection of stock fantasy races including: the wise Elves, the hardy Dwarves, and the versatile Humans. Each of these races will have different starting values in stats such as Bravery, which influences melee damage; Knowledge, which controls magical damage and spell learning ability; and Cunning, which affects armor bonuses and the player’s ability to effectively utilize a shield. Which species the player selects to be their divinely championed QuestLord will determine not only what their beginning stats are, but also their starting assortment of gold and equipment.
At this point – race now selected – the player will be thrown into their adventure without so much as a single explanation in regards to how QuestLord’s controls work, not that they are so complicated that a tutorial is terribly necessary. From here the player will see six buttons at the bottom of the screen – which is held vertically when playing QuestLord – arranged into two rows of three buttons each, all of which are conveniently labeled with a pixelated picture referencing their function. This not only serves the purpose of making the game really easy to pick up and play for people who don’t wish to read the manual option located at QuestLord’s main menu, but it furthermore nostalgically recalls how games such as Dungeon Master would have their entire interface sharing screen real estate with the game proper thanks to their entirely mouse based control schemes.
The buttons for moving your hero forwards or backwards a full step – as well as rotating them left or right 45 degrees – are immediately self obvious, and as such I won’t be spending any more time discussing them. The other two of the main six buttons contains a pixelated stick figure of a man and an equally blocky image of a globe, obviously these two buttons take you to your character’s inventory and the world-map respectively. While it is not immediately obvious that you have to move to the inventory screen in order to pick up an object, I do like the fact that the stick figure button lights up whenever you are in the same space as an item that can be grabbed.
What is much less obvious, if you haven’t read QuestLord’s instruction manual, is that you’re supposed to swipe your finger sideways across the screen in order to perform a melee attack. While this does add a visceral feel to your strikes – that I am sure most players will greatly appreciate – one part of me wishes the game had instead implemented attacking via a button, as QuestLord – save for the aforementioned swiping mechanic – is otherwise easily played with just one hand (a sometimes useful feature). The other unobvious thing that the manual claims you can do is perform a shield charge – assuming you’re equipped with one – by swiping upwards, but this feature currently has issues consistently registering your input.
Anyways, using these controls you will explore a wide variety of locations – meet various people, in the process taking on important missions – as well as kill all sorts of various things of evil. As the entire experience is presented in a turn-based fashion, with enemies politely only ever taking action after the player moves first, QuestLord immediately become an extremely ideal fit for the on-the-go nature of the iOS market. Far more so than some other games available for iOS devices, you will never find yourself meeting a grisly demise while playing QuestLord just because something suddenly came up that diverted your attention (the game even auto-saves if you are forced to close the app).
Speaking of the missions that NPCs will sometimes ask you to embark upon, QuestLord is extremely generous in how it handles expecting players to find the location of a requested object. Once a mission has been received – such as perhaps rescuing an abducted Dwarven baby – the general section on the world map where the objective is located found will be clearly marked, as well as the location of the quest giver that the item needs to be returned to. This is an immensely useful feature that helps to ensure players don’t simply go around in circles lost in the entirely wrong area, although occasionally the location of an objective will be mislabeled (hopefully this will be fixed in a future update).
On the topic of going around in circles, QuestLord features something that is actually rather uncommon amongst the genre that it seeks to pay homage to: a massive over world with various outdoors areas. It’s a really nice touch that the adventure takes place across a large variety of locations, rather than just occurring inside a singular deep tomb, but the sheer scope of the outdoors areas means that they can sometimes be tedious to backtrack. The included auto map is absolutely vital for navigating these situations, but I was at times left wishing for a quicker way to travel between major settlements that I had already been to.
Another thing that QuestLord does not share in common with its sources of inspiration is that the game does not seek to brutally punish players should they meet their demise, instead offering infinite respawning. Whenever players die they will be whisked back to the last ValKin statue that they dropped an edible offering at; early on this will be done with no penalties whatsoever, but later on experience and/or gold deductions will be assessed as the hero reaches higher levels. Those who want a more classical perma-death style experience can play an optional randomized dungeon separate from the main game, this mode includes an online highscore list that tracks who can last the longest.
By the way, if you haven’t played any of the classical PC games that QuestLord is seeking to pay homage to – and furthermore couldn’t tell from the screenshots included in this article – the entirety of this app is played from a first person perspective. It is here that QuestLord most brightly shines in its efforts to recapture the nostalgic magic of earlier games such as Dungeon Master, employing a very complex purely sprite based system to simulate the feeling of 3D movement. This is in stark contrast to other neo retro dungeon crawling games – such as the recently released Etrian Odyssey 4 – that use far easier to implement true 3D graphics, there’s just something special about the awkwardness of older dungeon crawling games’ sprite based graphics that can’t be recaptured when using actual 3D.
iFanzine Verdict: QuestLord does an exemplary job of capturing many minor/major facets that made up the feeling of the older PC dungeon crawling RPGs that it strives to emulate, without also being as brutally difficult as them. The game will enable players to go to a wide variety of locations – many of which are even set outdoors – providing a great deal of gameplay, although sometimes it does mean that backtracking can become rather tedious. For the most part the game features an extremely user friendly control system that can easily be picked up without even reading the accompanying instruction manual, although the upwards swipe for shield bashing could be more responsive. All in all this is a package that will easily make very happy both the purists who played the original games back in the day, as well as newcomers looking for something a bit different.