Heroine’s Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok – What We Think
In a very clear tribute to seminal point-and-click fantasy adventures (the graphics are a spot-on, very faithful and beautifully rendered pixel-art style in homage to Sierra Online‘s Quest for Glory – the kind of games that prevented me from doing my 8th grade homework night after night) Heroine’s Quest is a free, as in “free beer” game, made by fans of the original working collectively under the dev name Crystal Shard over the course of four years that is now also available on Steam.
You are revived by a guild master after he has found you unconscious and frozen in the forest of Jarnvidr, which – in art imitating life – has been struck by a winter harsher than anyone can remember, in other words – a Norse polar vortex of sorts that has caused many dangerous creatures to emerge and populate the once sanguine landscape. The kingdom is in need of a powerful hero/heroine to save them from these newly emerged perils.
The first problems you will face in this magic land infused with Norse mythology, are the basics: hunger, fatigue and potentially frostbite (the last of which can be mitigated by possessing such items as a scarf, boots or even a Flame Aura Spell). These failure states can be turned off by lowering the difficulty, but why would you? It is such a cool element to feature in an RPG, that removing this challenge would make it a far more linear affair. You are able to choose a class – warrior, a sorceress, or a rogue or even a co-mingling of their abilities and traits as you come to grips with your somber, grim task. After selecting your class you have 50 points available you can assign in 5-point increments. You can hop classes by spending 25 of these points across normal disciplines.
There are a variety of special skills including Fast Talk, Herbalism, Animal Ken and a hidden stat called honor that is affected by actions you take throughout the game. Actions which are honorable include being honest, helping others and even keeping promises. Similarly, there are dishonorable actions, like lying and even threatening others unnecessarily. In other words, the game does what it can to go deeper into character development.
Whatever element of your health is currently being affected will be made apparent through an icon at the top left of your screen. Stamina is an overall stat that must be kept topped up or even opening doors becomes difficult or impossible.
All that said, the initial, primary quest to simply eat something is incredibly daunting from the outset. The solution, (and this isn’t really a spoiler since tapping F1 will readily explain this) is to find a spear, which actually just looks like a row of Burnt Sienna pixels laying against the backdrop, and then select that spear as an object which you must then activate against a wild boar somewhere out in the woods. You must then return this meat to a fireplace to cook so you can be fed and actually set out to doing whatever it is you must do. It’s a little grueling to say the least.
Swing and a Miss
Combat uses the square pattern on your keyboard (QWEADZXC) for combat more involved than the classics; you can thrust, slash left or right, block with a shield, parry, strafe left or right and duck. As a spell-caster, you ave a variety of interesting spells, ranging from the standard magic missile types to psychic abilities. The variety of options available via the class-specific perks affords a fair amount of replayability, should you find the campaign engaging enough to revisit.
In practice, I found it was a little confusing knowing when to employ combat was vs. item use when encountering certain opponents. I don’t want to spoil anything but there were certain forest creatures that came at me and trampled me despite all my button mashing, before I sort of figured out that I needed to utilize an item from my inventory upon them. I don’t know, maybe some people really enjoy this kind of “immersion.” I couldn’t really find my stride between the novelty of the clunky pixel look vs the complex mechanics required at certain points in the game.
Don’t Hate The Players
The voice acting, present for all dialogue in the game, is witty, charismatic, cleanly produced and certainly value adding. You can always click to advance through these cut-scenes line by line.
I was happy to trudge along, trying to find the rhythm in this promising looking fantasy adventure, but before long things started to fall apart. Built in Adventure Game Studio – which I know because I tried to rest by pressing Z and the game crashed on my computer, showing an error message from AGS – the game is all the more impressive for all the extra loving attention to detail; clearly the developers have put a lot of work into taking the engine and maximizing its use. Unfortunately, its desire to add complexity gives way to tedium, rather than challenge and it just fails to maintain any momentum, let alone fun.
Doesn’t Quite Click
The thousand or so custom pixel backgrounds and objects are a welcome treat and there is clearly a lot of love put into making this game, with a wide variety of activities, puzzles, interactions and quests to pursue. The game is thick and filled with opportunities for adventure with a generous helping of encounters. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t yet manage to fulfill its promise due to technical and even game design issues we would love to see ironed out to create the full experience offered on paper. Caveat emptor intact, the game is free and I commend the development team on its ambitious offering. I urge you to give Heroine’s Quest a try in hopes you will have a terrific and smoother role-playing experience.
Watch the trailer for Heroine’s Quest: Herald of Ragnarok