Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail
I first played Sierra's Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail when it was released back in 1990, and thanks to DOSBox I got out the floppies and had the opportunity to play it again recently.
Graphically it's showing its age with only a 16 colour palette, and the interface is that slightly awkward combination of mouse and keyboard. The mouse is used for moving your character around and if you right click on an item you get a description, but you can't use the mouse to take things or talk to people. For that there is the keyboard, you simply type in simple commands such as 'take purse' or talk to man' and there is some help to minimise the typing. If you have played any of these early Sierra games before you will remember the interface, and I must admit I soon got used to it again.
The story is based in part, and very loosely, on the romanticised and abridged version of the Arthurian legend. Arthur is King and his Queen, Gwenhyver, of course, is in love with Sir Launcelot. Somehow this forbidden 'love' has blighted the land and the Knights of the Round Table are gathered to discuss what can be done, when a vision of the grail appears before them.
Gawaine, Galahad and Launcelot then set off on separate quests in search of the grail. All three get into trouble so it's up to you, as Arthur, to find them, get them out of trouble, and prove yourself worthy to possess the Grail and heal your Kingdom. Where Conquests of Camelot deviates from the sanitised children's story is by incorporating some of the later reinterpretations of the myth to include the role of the goddess in her various guises as Keeper of the Grail.
Proving yourself worthy involves good deeds, self sacrifice, courage, chivalry and wit. And, of course, talking to people and finding out what they need so that you can get what they want so they will help you in return. The puzzles are largely inventory based where you need to find or buy items to help you along. There are also some entertaining riddles to answer which are fairly easy (or perhaps I just remembered the answers after all these years). Overall it's not a difficult game and it does get a little repetitive at times when doing the chores. There is one market excursion which has you running around from trader to trader buying this and that to mend broken relationships and help those in need, which did go on for a bit too long.
The manual has lots of information and some of it is crucial to help you solve several in-game problems. Much of this is the copy protection, its saving grace is that it's quite interesting reading up on a little mythology. There are also some arcade sequences such as jousting with the Black Knight where you need to use the numerical keypad to adjust the aim of your lance and at the same time use a combination of letter keys to adjust your shield to ward off your opponent's blow. There is a fight as well which demands similar juggling of keys to make different sword strokes and shield manoeuvres. Fortunately, Sierra, in their wisdom, allowed for three difficulty settings for the arcade bits: hard, normal and easy. Naturally, I chose easy mode so I could get the fiddling over and done with and get back to the adventuring.
As with all the early Sierra games you can die a lot if you don't watch your step in Conquests of Camelot, but saving and restoring is very easy. Just don't forget to save often. There are some mild attempts at humour such as the Monty Pythonesque reference to the Lady of the Lake as a 'watery tart', as well as a healthy cynicism about religion where if you pray you are prompted for an earthly gift to help your prayer to reach the heavens. But on the whole the game perhaps takes itself too seriously.
The graphics and music are tolerable but you must remember that Conquests of Camelot is a pretty old game. There are no voices, and conversations and descriptions appear in pop up text boxes. I remember that Conquests of Camelot was reasonably well received in its time but ultimately has proved less enduring than other Sierra games such as King's Quest, for instance, and deservedly so. This game doesn't capture that same sense of fun and fantasy quite so well. It may be hard to find now, but if you can find it then you can experience a bit of adventure gaming history.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2005.
All rights reserved.
DOS! Played fine in DOSBox under Win XP.