by Meg Stivison7
QuestLord, from Eric Kinkead, is an accessible – but not necessarily lite – retro role-playing adventure. The game opens with the sweet RPG classics. Your character is a human, elf or dwarf, and you set out to save the realm from certain destruction, with nothing more than a basic sword and simple adventurer’s gear. Depending on character choice, players begin with a simple weapon or a single spell but all characters soon improve their gear by finding new loot. Players find random drops of armor, weaponry, money, and consumables, all presented as simple icons in that familiar and charming 8-bit style.
Players can pursue all the RPG standards. Slay enemies and explore to gain loot and XP, and then use those to improve your character’s abilities! Meet interesting characters and take on missions! Upgrade your gear by shopping with merchant NPCs throughout the realm! (Don’t skip the flavortext dialogue, some of QuestLord’s inhabitants are quite mouthy.) Adventurers can munch on RPG staples like apples, bread, or meat to recharge, and a visit to the human lands also offers hungry adventurers a “health triangle” that looks suspiciously like pizza. Hey, if it’s good enough for Ninja Turtles, it’s good enough for my dwarven warrior!
The top part of the screen is the game action, and the bottom is devoted to the UI buttons, in a style familiar from King’s Quest and Monkey Island PC games (That’s the 1990’s LucasArts Monkey Island, not the new Telltale Games episodes. Kids these days! Turn down that music and pull up your pants!). Use the arrows to navigate the game world, or call up the map, or access inventory. The map is a grid of cute icons, one step up from an ASCII map. The game is charming and familiar, without ever sacrificing the convenience of a touchscreen UI for a retro aesthetic.
There’s a lot of area to explore in QuestLord and each realm has a distinct experience. Elves begin in a lush green land with tame wolves and angry tree-spirits. Even with the stylized, simple graphics, this area feels like an enchanted forest. Dwarves can be found in a snowy mountain pass or in stone chambers, and the human grounds are an 8-bit Renaissance Faire, busty barmaid and all. Characters can travel from one realm to another, whether on an assigned mission or just exploring, and after wandering through the Elven forest for screens and screens, the stone corridors of a tower feel like the exciting exploration of a new land.
I really enjoyed the feel of the pixelated retro backgrounds but QuestLord has a finite number of backgrounds, and it becomes disorienting to travel long distances without a lot of landmarks. This is particularly troublesome in some of the dungeon and tower areas, which are endless networks of grey stone walls, or when making a long trek after completing a mission back to the questgiver, screens and screens away. While it did bring back memories of hours spent walking around Myst, or wandering around Colossal Caves, my tolerance for twisty little passages, all alike, has gone down.
In combat, players are told if they’ve hit an enemy, and how much damage they’ve done, but enemies don’t show their health bar. This isn’t a game-breaker, but I do like to know how the fight is going, so I can determine which spell to case or when to use my precious potions. When a brave adventurer is tragically defeated in combat, the gods give him another chance, and revive him at the nearest shrine.
Uncovering and exploring secret passages is an adventuring favorite, and QuestLord might have one of the best discovery mechanics. Throughout the game, players can interact with many items in the environment by tapping them to examine them and then get a paragraph or two of world-building description. After building a pattern of examining background objects in this manner, a certain bookshelf makes a click and reveals a new passage. QuestLord gives players the joy of discovery without losing the game’s casual accessibility.
Quest Lord manages a lot with a little. It’s wonderfully replayable, with different characters starting on different maps. Even the quick game versions offer a lot of choices in randomly-generated maps. What’s more, Quest Lord works for a quick 10-minute session while waiting for the train and also sustains gameplay over longer (much longer!) sessions. It’s a rare mobile game that can handle so many modes of play, but Quest Lord does them all with and 8-bit charm and style.
Summary: This retro RPG deftly delivers accessible classic adventures for short breaks or long quests.