King's Quest: Mask of Eternity
When is a King's Quest not a King's Quest? When it's King's Quest: Mask of Eternity!
Oh how I would have liked to have started this review in any other way. Like thousands of players I've been waiting for this next episode in the magical King's Quest Series for over two years and, to put it mildly, I'm just plain disappointed. Even though I was expecting changes with the inclusion of obligatory action elements I didn't lose hope, I didn't let it dampen my enthusiasm. So much for enthusiasm, because mine's been drained away along with all the magic of this series. Mask of Eternity is most certainly something different.
Did I just say different? I did indeed. In contrast to previous games there are no flesh and blood Daventry Royals to be seen except in the closing and opening sequences. You do briefly encounter King Graham but, along with all the other inhabitants of Daventry, he has been turned to stone in the wake of a fierce tempest that smote the land. Something's amiss, the Mask of Eternity has been torn asunder, and you, Connor, a mere tanner, must put things right.
As Connor your quest is to travel the land and find the missing mask pieces. Including Daventry there are seven locations to explore, each rendered in 3D graphics and populated with unfriendly monsters such as zombies, skeletons, slimes and spirits who are intent on stopping you in your tracks. Thus Mask of Eternity leaves behind the fairytale world of the previous King's Quest games and enters a darker, meaner world, albeit just as rooted in folklore and fantasy.
The game can be played either in first or third person perspective, but if you do choose the first person option it feels even less like a King's Quest. Sad to say I spent a lot of my time in this mode because navigation is via the keyboard and, for me at least, it was easier to manoeuvre Connor and avoid bumping into everything. Either way keyboard navigation will take a lot of getting used to for many King's Quest fans as it's a total 'hands-on' experience requiring that the movement keys be held down constantly during exploration. More exciting for some, and especially action players, but quite alienating for many of us who find mouse navigation easier.
But the mouse hasn't totally disappeared, it's still there for picking up objects and using inventory items and, sometimes, but not always, for manipulating objects in the game environment. When you can't manipulate an object with the cursor, bumping into it to move it is usually the answer. Also, you cannot identify objects before you pick them up, very annoying in adventure games, but I suppose more in keeping with action games and it is action that comprises most of this journey.
Admittedly this latest King's Quest has been promoted as an action adventure and that it certainly is. The action (combat and jumping) probably comprises 70-80 percent of the gameplay; true adventuring or inventory based puzzles are at a premium with few items to collect and no opportunity to manipulate them in your inventory. Hence, though you do get a glimpse of the old King's Quest, you also get a good dose of Tomb Raider, or any of the other dozens of hack and slash titles, and in the Gnome's underground world there's a lot of the feeling of a roleplaying game complete with levers and pits and rolling rocks.
So what sort of a game is Mask of Eternity? There are minimal statistics, heaps of real time combat (you won't be worrying about the answer to a puzzle over dinner, you'll be wondering what monster is waiting around the next corner), lots of action, and a few adventuring puzzles. Quite simply, as an 'action-adventure' it leans heavily towards action ... even story development and character interaction are minimal in line with action titles. This means that the old King's Quest 'feel' with lots of entertaining characters to help or hinder is lacking. Thus there is very little to learn along the way so the puzzle complexity fails to grow much beyond weighing down pressure plates, jumping across molten lava, finding a few keys and a couple of other crucial items. Other than that there is really only a handful of familiar adventure-type problems. Sure you can find an item for the unicorn or the ingredients for a couple of spells but, strictly speaking, you don't have to bother about these.
Sorry, the magic is gone, and not only is it gone in the sense that there's not much in the game to do with magic itself, but the new, dark King's Quest delivers a more sinister atmosphere rather than a magical one. Although you concoct the magic potions mentioned above and you do meet a few 'magic types' the emphasis is on mean critters who want to kill you and, of course, you must kill them first.
So for most of the game you are running around sword in hand. It is the answer to almost all your problems, even the magical characters fall prey to the mighty blade, thus changing the whole ambience of this episode and violating the integrity of what we have all come to know and love as King's Quest ... If only Alexander had known, he needn't have bothered with cats and cookies in King's Quest III, he could have just stabbed Manannan in his sleep.
Needless to say Mask of Eternity is going to come as a shock to many King's Quest fans. Of course, we had all been warned that it was going to be different ... but this different? Where the series was once charming and friendly and beckoned everyone to play, in Australia the box cover now displays an age recommendation. It's not for children, too many red splotches and too much combat ... and it's not for many traditional King's Quest fans either. I know there will be some players rubbing their hands with glee, but for the rest of us it's just too sad.
With this game the King's Quest series has clearly been wrenched from the hands of its traditional fans and offered up to the teen/action market who will appreciate the almost constant combat and the paucity of inventory-based puzzles, not to mention the spectacular burping episode. It is a very sad end for the King's Quest saga and a very bad omen for puzzle loving adventure gamers delivered right at the close of 1998. If King's Quest isn't sacred then what is? Should we expect Gabriel to be simply spraying silver bullets everywhere from beginning to end in the next Gabriel Knight mystery?
So if you are a King's Quest fan who doesn't play combat games and still insist on playing (yes, I do know fans who will refuse to ignore a Kings Quest no matter what) then play it on the easy level. I played it on the normal level and met many an abrupt ending during combat (I cannot speak for the difficult level). Even if you don't expire during combat the jumping episodes will ensure your regular demise. Save often.
I played Mask of Eternity minus a 3D card, I don't have one, and apart from severe sluggishness in saving and loading, and when it loads information to the hard drive for new locations, it behaved perfectly. However, I have heard of others having problems with high-end systems and you do need to watch out for the patch if you want to finish it. It has great music, but that was probably its high point for me apart from the few familiar puzzles. It also has subtitles, but the one aural puzzle is still around to haunt hearing impaired players.
I did contemplate reviewing Mask of Eternity as an action game after dismissing it as a King's Quest. I decided against this because it is sold as a King's Quest and the front box cover promotes it as a continuation of the much-loved saga. It isn't. Borrowing from the familiar, yet terrible puns of the earlier titles in the series, all I can say is: King's Quest: Mask of Eternity: To Forgive is Beyond Me!
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998.
All rights reserved.
Minimum: Pentium 166 with 32 meg of ram, DirectX compatible sound card, DirectX compatible video card, 4 speed CD ROM, Win95/98, keyboard, mouse.
Recommended: Pentium II 266 or faster, 64 meg of ram or more, 3DFX or D3D compatible video card, 32 speed CD ROM or faster.