For those that grew up in the golden age of PC gaming, the name Sierra undoubtedly brings a smile to your face as you recall its unparalleled adventure games including Police Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, and of course what got them started in the first place, King’s Quest. Okay, so they weren’t great at naming things, but you can’t argue with the games themselves, I spent many a happy night trying to figure out how to help King Graham or one of his children get through their various adventures.
Although Sierra as a company is a pale shadow of its former self, all is not lost. Recently, Sierra has partnered with Telltale Games to resurrect the King’s Quest brand. Telltale is going through a bit of a golden period of its own. What started as a way to make more Sam and Max games (a staple of adventure games in their own right!) have ballooned to include adventure games set around The Walking Dead, Batman, Borderlands, and more.
If you’ve played any Telltale game, you’ve played them all. They are all episodic in nature, with each episode being about two to three hours long. Most of your time will be spent talking to people and searching your environment for items that will help you solve various puzzles. The story bits are occasionally interrupted with some sort of quick time event or choice, which will often have repercussions down the line as you play the various episodes. The reason Telltale has spread its formula to so many brands is pure and simple: the writing and world building is top-notch. Characters are often distinct, funny, and well fleshed out over the course of several episodes. You are really given a chance to bond with them.
I recently sat down and played through chapters 1–5 of the King’s Quest series and have come away both elated and surprised. Firstly, I have to say, the game is MUCH stronger for having played back to back. While I understand the financial decisions behind releasing the episodes, playing them back to back really helps the characters shine through.
The game is centered around an old and injured King Graham telling his granddaughter, and later his grandson, stories from his past. This is a wonderful plot device which allows the game to explore different times in King Graham’s life that conveniently fit into spaces between the original canon King’s Quest games. It also allows the game to showcase Graham as he ages and deals with the things we all contend with: finding a mate, bonding with kids, and something you don’t see often in video games, experiencing old age.
Each of the chapters is very distinct from the next (although 1 and 5 have a lot of similarities) and will take you about three to five hours to complete for a total of fifteen to twenty hours for the entire game, which is standard. As such, I’d like to briefly discuss each chapter individually.
- Chapter 1 is the closest thing to the original format of the King’s Quest games aka a standard adventure game. It serves as a sort of prequel and deals with Graham before he became a knight in the kingdom of Daventry (for those who haven’t played it, KQ1 begins with him already being a Knight). The voice acting in this game is fantastic and features the well-known voices of Christopher Lloyd (who does a fantastic Old Graham), John Keaton (as Young Graham), and Wallace Shawn (of Princess Bride fame) as Manny. I was very impressed with this chapter; it’s a great introduction to all the characters and is filled with humor. Equally important, most of the puzzles found the sweet spot of being difficult but not so difficult that you wanted to tear your hair out.
- Chapter 2 throws the standard adventure formula out the window and is instead very puzzle heavy. Graham and his villagers are kidnapped by the Goblins and must try to help his villagers escape. Each day you are given a limited resource, and you must decide who gets to eat. This particular chapter might be a bit frustrating to people newer to the genre. Experimentation is needed to figure out how to maximize your limited resources; unfortunately, one of the game’s shortcomings rears its head here, and that is the save system. The save system is constantly saving your actions. In any other game that would be convenient, but here it is quite annoying. There’s no easy way to load your game or reset the chapter if you’ve made a mistake in the order of your actions. After some quick google-fu, I was able to get myself back on track, but this seems like an oversight that could’ve been easily fixed.
- I absolutely loved chapter 3. It was probably my favorite of the bunch. Everything from the music to the scenery screams “Adventure!” Once again, the game takes a fresh approach as Graham tells the tale of meeting his wife. The twist is that he climbs a tower only to find two very different princesses who are of course best friends. The writing here is especially on point. As the player, you must try and woo one of the two princesses and just when you think you’ve made your choice, you get sent out on quest with the other one and question your decision. This episode finds the perfect balance of story, action, and puzzles, and by the end, I was quite happy with my selection.
- The next chapter of the bunch (chapter 4 if you’re keeping count!) was unfortunately the low point of the game (one chapter has to be the worst, right?). It focuses on an older Graham who is reunited with his son after being separated for eighteen years. The story itself is serviceable; the issue is with the game play. Outside of a clever 3-D Tetris-esque puzzle and a wonderful callback puzzle near the end, most of the puzzles focus on escaping rooms. The mechanic is essentially the same in all the rooms, with minor variations that get boring quickly. Many of the rooms can be solved in one or two attempts and aren’t challenging. The exception was a multitiered room, but overall I found it very ho-hum. Also, unlike the other three chapters, it never felt like I was making a truly meaningful decision as Graham, which was disappointing.
- Last, but most certainly not least is chapter 5, “The Good Knight.” There’s some clearly wonderful ideas here that unfortunately were not followed through as well as I’d hoped. The chapter focuses on mostly the present with Graham as an old man. It’s very rare that we get to experience anything through the lens of old age when it comes to video games. In fact, it’s quite shocking to seeing your fit, clever hero turn into an old man who moves slow and has difficulty remembering things. Graham is obsessed with having one last adventure, he hasn’t completely accepted being an old man yet. The last chapter is full of callbacks not only to the first chapter but also to earlier games in the series which is sure to delight longtime fans. There’s plenty to love, but things fall apart just a little when the focus shifts to Gwendolyn, the granddaughter who’s been listening to stories this whole time, is now responsible for finishing one last story for her grandfather. While the story is very tight, the puzzles here are lackluster. The game seems to throw up its hands and say, “We can’t figure out a way to make this anymore interesting, so here are five puzzles back to back!” They are thrown in simply for the sake of filler. I was disappointed that the final chapter didn’t have more of an adventure game feel to it. It focuses just a little too much on telling you a story instead of letting you experience a story.
With all that in mind, I have to recommend the whole package. While occasionally the puzzle design did falter, the story was always wonderfully written with memorable characters and lots of great humor (I hope you’re okay with dad-level jokes toward the end, though!). For anyone who is a fan of Telltale, King’s Quest, or the golden age of adventure games, this one should be a no-brainer. Quite frankly, it’s stronger playing the chapters back to back. I have a feeling that if I had only played them every few months as they came out, I’d have enjoyed it a lot less.