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The RPG Scrollbars: A Heretical Quest For Glory

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Now, as long-time readers of this column will know, there’s a few games I like to go back to on a regular basis. Ultima VII, of course, as one of the finest RPGs ever brought to our plane of existence by carol-singing angels who admittedly suck at QA. Quest For Glory IV, as pretty much the perfect fusion of adventure, RPG and, once again, crazy amounts of bugs. I adore Quest For Glory IV. So, this week, pardon my indulgence at just wanting to show you something cool: Quest For Glory IV… for Hexen.

I’m hoping that featuring it here doesn’t activate the Activision Lawyerbots, especially as they seem about as interested in their ownership of this franchise as in a reboot of Jones In The Fast Lane. The fact is though that it’s unfinished and currently on hold while the creator works on a different project, and any continuation is likely to be in the distant future. Speaking to the author, his verdict was, basically, ‘what the hell’. What’s already there felt worth bringing to a wider audience to check out.

Part of what I like about it is that it’s a bit different from your usual revamp. Typically we see the likes of “Chrono Trigger… but in 3D!” or “Final Fantasy VII… now in 2D!”, often begging the question of why the projects couldn’t just trade and consider the job done. Quest For Glory IV 3D is something of a re-imagining of the game as a shooter, a bit like King’s Quest: Mask Of Eternity re-imagined the series’ classic action as an action-adventure, only unlike King’s Quest: Mask Of Eternity, not complete garbage.

What makes it cool though is at least in part what an awkward fit basically everything is to Quest For Glory, and how it’s been bent around to serve the not particularly impressive Hexen engine – a slightly upgraded Doom clone notable mostly for having crazy amounts of internal scripting. Quest For Glory for instance features gorgeously painted backgrounds depicting a Translvanian setting at turns sinister and beautiful. Doom engine games usually cap out at ‘sinister’, and a polygonal version of it at that.

But in this case, it actually works. More or less. I confess, I wasn’t too impressed with the very opening, where the hero escapes the Dark One’s clutches in a small cave layout that looks a lot like the mazes of Realms of the Haunting. My suspicion was that this was Quest For Glory In Name Only – that it would be some basic dungeons with a vague Quest For Glory vibe, especially seeing the Hexen weapons hovering at the bottom of the screen. As a Magic User for instance, you don’t escape by relying on your spells and skills, but by walking across one of those thick tightropes that Doom games occasionally liked (most famously Blood’s circus level, above the snake pit).

On getting outside though, things become much cooler. As much as the map is built out from 2D wallpapers, the locations are immediately recognisable. The Dark One’s sign surrounded by slime. The Rusalka’s lake, where she waits to drag the unwary down into the depths – here standing naked in the beautiful lake like one of the anime girls from Shadow Warrior. Borgov Castle, complete with huge Necrotaur patrolled pathways. Mordavia Town with its scarecrows and pumpkins. Sure, it’s blocky, and your path through it is linear rather than the free-wandering of QFG IV proper, but you can see the love for these screens and fleshing them out beyond their boxy layouts.

Not everything looks great. Mordavia Town in particular really suffers from the engine. With the help of the familiar music though, the interiors pick things back up again. Much of it’s in the detail. Olga’s shop may not be the clustered hall of seemingly random crap as the game, but she’s got her cats and a a roasting fire and hanging garlic over the window. The Adventurer’s Guild has its secret passage and weird bucket-treading gym equipment. The monastery and Crypt of the Dark One look terrific, and it even manages to find a way of working in the cut-scene where the hero drinks some cursed wine and has a vision of the terrible end of the world.

Now, I appreciate that if you don’t know Quest For Glory IV then all of this is meaningless. Semi-related, please play Quest For Glory I-IV because they’re absolutely amazing games. However, even if you don’t know exactly what’s going on, Quest For Glory 3D actually bothers to tell the story in an extremely clever way. Wandering around, you’re routinely teleported in front of a plot card, showing the location/action/character from the main game on one side, and an easily written description in the style of the actual game’s text boxes on the other. Walk through the story and you simply appear where you were, ready to continue. It’s so much more effective than just sticking up a bit of text where the likes of ‘You collected the silver key’ are meant to go.

While unfinished, there’s a serious chunk of game here, running from the arrival in Mordavia to the first assault on the Castle. Sadly, the game doesn’t change based on your character class and there aren’t any choices or puzzles beyond walking to the next trigger point. There’s still at lot here though, including bonus (mostly jokey) characters scattered around, finding key items and otherwise. If you wanted a true modern recreation of the game, yes the simplicity and artifice less slip away than leave together in the back of a valet-driven car. However that’s the point. We have a huge sprawling, detailed, beautiful version of this game and it’s called Quest For Glory IV. Quest For Glory IV 3D is a passionate attempt to see it from another angle… or in another dimension. I really admire how well it’s done, even if this does end up being the only slice of that we get, right up to ending things on a big fight scene rather than just coming to a complete stop. Check the videos to see how that goes.

Of course, any and all of this can and probably will change if the project restarts – finishing the story, and going back to add even more flavour. It’s certainly enough for now, even if plenty of Hexen still remains amongst the Mordavian gloom.

Fan of the series? Check it out here, right here, along with tons of other bits like a tour and walkthrough of the infamous fan-made Quest For Glory 4.5 (which I played for Another Place many ears ago now…), a list of the many abandoned fan-games and the few that made it out, including Heroine’s Quest and Quest For Infamy. Meanwhile, if you’ve yet to play the original series, you’ll find them here on GOG, here on Steam, and the fan remake of QFG2 so that you can run through the whole series in glorious VGA right here… exactly as God intended it before upgrading to a Pentium II.

But move quickly if you’re going to get this one. Just in case the lawyers strike.

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Richard Cobbett

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