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Quest for Infamy Review: Returning to Glory
As I mentioned in my Preview for Quest for Infamy, I’m a huge fan of the classic Quest for Glory franchise of the 90s. Sierra skillfully melded the super popular (at the time) 2D story-driven adventure genre with RPG skills, progression and combat. The series lasted five games, going from its early roots with a text parser input system to a familiar Point and Click interface of the latter King’s Quest titles, and embracing early 3D graphics with the final game.
It’s important to relive the history of this unique series, as Quest for Infamy is directly inspired by it in every way (if you couldn’t guess by the playful title). As far as I’m aware this unique genre mixture has never been seen outside of the QFG franchise as a full commercial product until now, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Quest for Infamy is a loving homage that also stands on its own as an enjoyable romp back to Sierra’s golden age.
The biggest difference between QFI and its namesake series is that you play as a fully realized character instead of a silent avatar. While this comes at the expense of being able to choose your own dialogue, the story and characters come alive incredibly well as you see the world through the classically swarthy, Han Solo-type anti-hero William Roehm.
Roehm arrives in the Valley of Krasna after he’s caught with the Baron’s daughter and hitches a ride on the back of a donkey cart. He’d like nothing more than to get the hell out of the area but the bridge North is closed, and soon he’s embroiled with an overbearing sheriff, a cursed family and a creepy cult.
Mr. Roehm is also saddled with an omnipresent narrator, which became one of the most defining features of the QFG series. The narrator has a hilariously over-the-top British accent, is partial to constantly cracking jokes and breaking the fourth wall, and is a good indicator for whether you’ll enjoy the overall tone of the game. Humor is extremely subjective and difficult to pull off in any game, but QFI straddles the line perfectly while poking fun at some of the aging elements of adventure games while still reveling in and enjoying them.
The rest of the voice acting is very hit or miss, from the actual audio quality to the performances. None are wholly awful, and most of the main characters are quite good, thankfully, and I was impressed that nearly every single character in the game was voiced. The art style matches the tone and feel of the era, drawing heavy inspiration from 80s fantasy artwork where both men and women were scantily clad (though women much more so – the popularity of the chainmail bikini) and completely badass.
The overall plot unfolds slowly, taking advantage of the real time day/night cycle, and you’re free to wander the rather large Valley almost entirely from the beginning. A prologue integrates the choice to select which class you’d like to play. Having it built into the story via choosing a mentor is a brilliant improvement over simply selecting a class at the beginning.
Like Quest for Glory, you have the choice of a fighter, thief or magic-user (Brigand, Rogue and Sorcerer). I’d played a bit of the Sorcerer in my Preview, and enjoyed the major side quest of collecting ingredients to learn new spells, so this time I went with Rogue and was pleased to see that breaking in and looting the various homes of Volksville and Tyr was encouraged, and each suitably offered a little minigame for sneaking and hiding (Rogue pro-tip: Always carry oil). Having multiple classes with specific puzzles and quests is a wonderful solution for adding replayability, and the Steam version also includes nearly 60 achievements to give you even more incentive to replay as all three and perform extra feats.
The initial town of Volksville is huge, including multiple shops, blacksmith, pub and inn. The town is surrounded by a great forest and to the West the rolling grasslands. Journeying to the Southwest gives way to an ocean and the giant port city of Try, which is actually pretty similar to Volksville in terms of amount of game content. Still, two cities is about twice as much as any of the old QFG games offered. Thankfully each class has their own method of fast travel you eventually acquire, whether by horse, secret underground tunnels or a teleportation spell, and was definitely one improvement and modern day convenience that I was thrilled to see implemented.
In my wanderings of the Valley I was very impressed that Infamous Quests cut down on the maze-like tendencies that was so in style for world building during the Quest for Glory days, opting instead for having at least something of note in nearly every screen, whether an item to pick up, something to interact with, or even just an interesting landmark to look at. From the charred remains of the Killington mansion to the creepy graveyard and nearby oozing swamp, there’s a ton of interesting areas to explore.
I initially worried that I’d have to sketch out a map like in those days of yore, as QFI’s strict adherence to replicating that retro gameplay doesn’t allow for a map system, but by the time I was halfway through the game I’d just about memorized the entire Valley thanks to the superb level design. Two maze-like areas are used later on, but for one a map can be obtained, and the other you’re given specific directions to follow.
This leads to an annoying complaint, however. In accordance with building a retro-style engine, there’s no place for a journal or log book. I can’t remember the last time I had to have Notepad open while playing a game to make notes (and this includes other retro-style adventure games). While this certainly reflects the old school feel Infamous Quests were going for, I can’t help but feel that a nicely integrated log book would’ve been a much appreciated addition. Just being able to reread important plot points that characters said before they disappeared would’ve been extremely helpful, as would a nice in-game note taking method for keeping track of quests and objectives. I’m all for revisiting retro-style gameplay but that doesn’t mean we should ignore certain advancements, especially as Infamous Quests embraces well-implemented fast travel and the occasional autosave.
As this is also an RPG Roehm starts with numerical skills in a few stats ranging from combat (including stab, hack, slash and block), climbing, sneaking and thievery. Since QFI lacks a stamina system you can increase these skills ad nauseum using the right tools and location (climb a tree over and over to increase climbing) until you’re bored, and most out-of-combat skills are an afterthought unless you’re a Rogue.
Combat mostly takes the form of random encounters in the wild. Entering a new screen has a chance to spawn an enemy, depending on the area – the mines in the South Woods are much more dangerous than the forest around Volksville. There’s an impressivley large array of creatures that inhabit the forests and surrounding areas – the goblin-like Rukiti, giant spiders, bandits, wolves and all manner of undead (graveyard at night = dangerous).
Combat shifts to a pseudo turn-based format where you have a few seconds to select your attack before the enemy’s turn. Here again I was disappointed instead of elated that QFI so closely clung to its genre roots, as the combat is little more than a random mini-game of hitting a button and hoping for the best.
Each class is given special abilities that automatically hit after a brief cooldown, such as the sorcerer’s offensive spells, and health potions are fairly easy to acquire and purchase. Even so I found the combat more frustrating than fun, and eventually I started avoiding fights whenever I could.
Unfortunately Act III, the finale, is little more than a bunch of mandatory fights without any puzzles. While I enjoyed the plot and characters, the story peters out a bit after Act I, which is full of fun exploration as you attempt to assemble the four pieces of an ancient crest. Act I is pure greatness exploring nearly the entire Valley solving side quests and tackling class-specific content. Thankfully it’s also about 2/3 of a nicely lengthy 15 hour adventure.
For Act II you’re given a few new tasks to complete in a linear fashion, while Act III goes for the exciting action-packed ending. While the ending is satisfying and fun the overall execution stumbles a bit. I can understand the reluctance for including super complex item puzzles at the end, as you might run the risk of the player not having a certain item and thus being unable to finish the game (something that horribly plagued many an otherwise stellar adventure game) but relying on the weak combat (and actually including straight-up boss fights) is not the solution I wanted.
The story does tease some interesting bits toward the end, including an intriguing post-credits sequence, and definitely made me want to learn more about the expanded world that Infamous Quests are clearly hoping to build.
A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.