Time isn’t a factor in modern video games. Unless you’re playing a retro platformer you’re unlikely to experience the nail biting tension that comes along with watching a finite amount of time tick away. It’s a very familiar sensation for those of us who grew up playing games on the NES or Sega Genesis but it’s been largely abandoned as the scope and nature of video games changed. After all, imposing a time limit on a sandbox adventure would be counterintuitive.
I was both excited and extremely nervous to see that Heroes: A Grail Quest had a strict time limit. Rather than a ticking clock you only have a certain number of days to complete your task of finding the fabled Holy Grail to heal the ailing King Arthur. There’s little tutorial to the game; players are shown how to move about by double tapping their destination and then are dumped into a hostile world..
The objective of the game is simple. Scattered across the world are fragments of a map that will lead you to the resting place of the Holy Grail. Some are found when you defeat enemies or conquer a castle while a few are simply lying out in the open. As you may expect there’s more than a little opposition to your quest. Bands of enemies will pursue you if you draw too close. Castles and dungeons are also teeming with foes.
Battles are simple to control but like the title Braveland we recently reviewed the strategy is different than many other games of its type- each character model can represent a large number of units of its type. Heroes: A Grail Quest is a far more difficult game however as each troop that is harmed in battle is lost. Play too recklessly and while you may win the combat you might find your army significantly reduced in power.
All is not lost as you can recruit more units from buildings across the map but each unit costs money and of course the more powerful the unit, the more it’s going to cost. At first you have simple peasants, pikemen and archers but as you venture out further into the world you can add unusual creatures including mummies, vampires and dwarves to your army. There are no active special abilities but some units are more resistant to certain types of damage and choosing the correct balance of power and flexibility is key.
The game is extremely difficult. Even on the easy setting where you have a thousand days to complete your quest it can be a challenge to get it done in time. While you gain gold as time progresses, your current army units also require payment to stick around. This forces you to continually assess your financial status. While you can simply wait and accumulate a large pile of gold to recruit a new army after a loss the pool of units you can purchase from a singular location has a maximum limit and it takes time for more to become available. This is a game where careful consideration of all potential actions will always win out over reckless bravado and as such will likely be too frustrating for more casual gamers.
The look of the game is satisfactory at best. The models and maps aren’t ugly, they’re simply bland and uninspired. This is definitely a title that is aimed at the segment of the market that cares more about a challenging, nuanced game than flash and style. Everything about the game from the virtually nonexistent tutorial to the barebones looks that make me think of amateur flash games points to this being something that hardcore gamers will love but will likely be inaccessible for anyone else.
Putting a deadline on your victory transforms a relatively simple but fun game into a truly challenging scramble to balance aggression with careful planning.