For the past two months now our whole family - my partner, me and our 10 year old - has been totally engaged with Redshift's latest RPG - The Quest. And most rightly so, as this latest release from the people who have been dedicating their skills and efforts for more than five years now to developing serious Role Playing Games for the mobile community (Palm, PPC and Symbian), including the well-renowned Legacy is nothing but amazing.
The story begins with a short and deliberately obscure introduction - Hume, the governor of the island of Freymore has disappeared lately, rumors being he is either sick or missing, and as disorder spreads across the small island, Mersant, the king, decides to send a special agent to investigate into the matters. By a strange request of the councillor of the Magic Ministry this special agent has to be you - a new recruit with little skill and no real knowledge of the island.
In the tradition of classic role playing games you start your quest by "building" your own character - selecting its gender (male or female), race (out of five options) and special skills. These initial choices of yours would later determine not only your battle tactics (e.g. relying more on magic if you belong to one of the magically inclined races) and some of the story developments and branches, but in some cases (such as that of the undead race - Rasvim)
your whole way of living (undead, for example, can not gain regular health points and need special potions to cure themselves).
The detailed and elaborate skills system serves as a good demonstration of The Quest's sophisticated game engine. Your character does not simply belong to a single or double class or profession such as a mage or a thief but is rather characterized by 20 different skills and traits - each with its own importance in the gameplay. These include various combat skills (e.g. Block, Light Weapons or Dual Wield), schools of magic (e.g. Attack magic and Environment Magic), tooling proficiencies (e.g. Repair or Lockpick) and even mercantile skills (such as Pesuade or Mercantile).
There is also a variety of ways to advance in each skill - from perfecting your proficiency while going up levels, through getting private tuition by experienced individuals or using unique magical artifacts, to studying tomes of written knowledge.
One unique trait which is highly developed in the game is the field of Alchemy. Using a mortar/pestle set and the right mixture of herbs you can learn to brew your own magical potions or simply concoct a delicious ale (which in turn might be sold for a profit in villages and towns). As this might become of utmost importance during the game and especially in battles (where having a potion of Healing or of a Cure Poison might determine the results of the fight), you will soon find yourself combing the country in search of flowers, herbs, mushrooms, berries and roots - all of which are beautifully rendered and interestingly spread through the various terrains of the island.
The Quest is a classical Role Playing Game in the best sense of the word. It undoubtedly presents an ample opportunity for fighting (after all - how would one rise in experience and combat skills and gain plenty of gold pieces if not through fierce combat) but this is only a single aspect of a game which offers a much more complex experience than simple hack & slash. First and foremost there is a HUGE world to explore - with villages and cities, swamps and dark woods, mysterious caverns and secret underground tunnels. Each corner of that "small" island you are traveling through is full of people (not necessarily human), rumours, challenges and quests, which, in most cases you are free to explore or ignore as the game does not impose on you any strict path of advancement.
The diversity and imaginative paths of the in-game quests are amazing. Ranging from a simple child's request to find a lost article in an underground cave to a delicate intervention in inter-racial, family inheritance rivalries or various criminal activities, the quests will soon enough have you totally immersed in the diverse affairs of the people (and other races) of Freymore. And in most cases, it would not suffice to be strong and brave or well equipped for the job. A Cunning mind, an investigative spirit and a strong willingness to make difficult moral decisions are all required for true success. And at times - also the ability to admit failure, as in The Quest (just like in "real" life, I suspect...) you have to sometimes lose some to get some. This is supported by an elaborate multi-choice dialogue system which enables you, among other things, to boast, lie, betray or simply turn down an offer.
The developers of The Quest have put a great effort into making the gaming environment highly sophisticated and very realistic. For example - each item you carry around has its weight taken into consideration when calculating your ability to fight efficiently or move quickly around. Clothes, tools, weapons and armor have their own wear&tear status and lose efficiency and usefulness over the time and after being used. Food and water can be fresh or rotten and magical wands have a limited (though at times - renewable) number of charges.
The care for detail and aspiration for a complex playing experience is evident throughout the whole game. Thus you will find the magic system to be highly elaborate - including dozens of different spells and counter-spells from various faculties, magical wands, magical scrolls, a whole system for enchanting magical items and a variety of ways to use spells in battle; the books available throughout the island range from spell books and study books to legends and stories (in full text) of the island and its habitats; the character stats screen to be comprised of five separate sub-screens and the melee system takes into account, among other things, parameters such as weather, terrain and time of the day.
Speaking of combat - though The Quest is more of an RPG rather than a tactical game, and you only control a single player and not a whole party (like in Legacy, Redshift's previous RPG) - it does offer quite a sophisticated battle experience - especially in advance stages of the play. Not only is there a diversity of foes to fight throughout the game, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, but you will soon find the stronger of them to have quite a lot of surprises in store for you - including special abilities and various fighting techniques and strategies.
The strong gaming experience of The Quest is also attributable to the excellent music score and the fantastic graphics - one of the best ever seen on the Plam platform. Smoothly rendered in a first-person view, the world of the Quest is truly immersing. The two stories houses, the vast beautiful gardens full with blooming flowers (very useful for your alchemical recipes...), the looming towers, dark crypts, wonderful coastlines, forests and swamps - sightseeing is as much an integral part of The Quest experience as any of its other engaging aspects.
All in all The Quest is a wonderful gaming experience in the core meaning of the word wonderful - it is full of awes and wonders and is endowed with that rare ability to keep you ever curious and delighted, serving you gifts of delight and pleasurable surprises time and again throughout your playing experience.
My own choice for game of the year 2007 (though the year has only just begun...)