So when I found out that the Coles, the authors of the QFG series, were making a new game, I was kinda hyped. Not necessarily hoping for a game that would be better than QFG4, but at the very least for a new QFG3 - an interesting and unique diversion. (I'm pretty sure damn near everyone who backed or bought this game did so on the strength of the QFG series, so I feel fully justified to constantly make the comparison).
Then, the game kept languishing in development, being re-designed over and over. When it came out, half a decade after conception, the reviews were middling to negative. But I still had to try it for myself.
My reaction? I mean... there's a whole bunch of words to follow and explain what I mean, but I will do you the favor of summarizing: mostly "meh", but mildly optimistic for the future. The game feels like a slightly worse QFG1 - an introduction to a new universe that's still finding its steps, highly limited in ambition and scope, and not nearly as funny and charming as it could be. I suppose some of the bugs listed below might be corrected in future installments / patches, the story scope might expand, and the writing hit its stride... but I kinda doubt it. There are a lot of basic things that the QFG series did right and Hero-U does completely wrong - the problem here is less with those specific issues, but more with how they tell me that no one designing this game is particularly interested in learning any lessons or making any changes.
Short summary of the storyline:
Shawn O'Connor, the incredibly fantasy-Irish protagonist is captured during a burglary and is enrolled in the Hero-U controversial "Rogues" class, alongside 5 other eccentric characters. As you go through the school year, you can improve your rogue skills, take schoolwork seriously and pass your tests, explore the obligatory series of dungeons under the university, deal with the problems that seems to afflict the school at regular intervals, help your classmates with their personal quests and romance them... or just
I'm going to break down my impressions into sections: budget and design problems, gameplay and user interface issues, bugs, and overall impressions about the story / characters.
The game feels like a budget title right away, as though it was written and programmed with the expectation of more money than it ended up getting.
It opens on a splash screen of the city. Just the place for a stirring intro theme of some sort (of the sort you'd get as you start up any QFG title, in fact), but instead there's just a gaping silence.
The splash screen is honestly quite ugly (and unimpressive, compared to the average QFG splash screen). Much like most of the visual design - functional at best, rarely impressive. I'm not talking about graphical quality as much as what everything looks like, if that makes sense. Some human being actually took a look at the main character's running animation, and decided that looks fine. And that all the portraits, particularly the grins, should be deviantart quality. Some of the miscellaneous portraits and the Sea Caves location look nice, but that's about it.
No voice acting. Now - sure, adventure games don't necessarily need to have voice acting (though QFG4 was all the better for it). But the game certainly feels like voice acting was expected but dropped at the last moment. You constantly interact with all these voiceless students in sprawling dialog trees. 90% of the dialog consists of awful puns, and those would only ever have a hope of working if voiced. The characterization for your classmates would work much better if you could actually hear them.
Devoting 90% of your school lore, portraits and rooms to sucking off kickstarter backers is seriously so brazen, I kinda couldn't believe it. You walk around the school, and there are 3-4 backer portraits with short story blurbs in every room. Bigger backers have statues and rooms named after them. Everywhere - that's your entire game world.
Gameplay problems (aka "the lessons we refused to learn").
Training in the QFG games consisted of doing the same task over and over and over, until you ran out of stamina, rested a bit, and got back to it. Very much 90's game design, and I appreciate the improvement - every skill is trained with a single cutscene, only once per day, and it takes a fair deal of time. The cutscenes are even varied, depending on your skill level. Swell - so you can plan your day around training relevant skills in between wandering around, exploring dungeons and talking to people, right?
Wrong! Every single action takes a certain set amount of time. Examining objects, opening doors, transitioning between parts of the game-castle - they all take away discrete portions of your day. Talking to people is the most time consuming task of all, and trying to talk to every NPC will waste away your day. You can no longer just zoom about the entire gameworld and chat to everyone while the clock stops - because that was obviously a problem that required fixing.
Combat is entirely turn-based, with no arcade elements or player input involved. It's... dull. Not a lot of strategic investment or player skill. You can sneak up and backstab foes, and if you manage to kill them in one hit, they won't alert nearby enemies - that's fairly funny, but slows the game way down. You can't insta-kill the toughest regular enemies even with maxed stats and the best gear.
Unlike QFG (except 5), you can fight a number of enemies at once, and it's deeply frustrating. The gog king fight is... quite something. Particularly since terrain doesn't matter in this game, even in terms of walls blocking projectiles.
The day-management and skill improvement system are addictive enough (I actually had to look up some guides to make the most out of my day, but that wasn't strictly necessary - you can work out a daily schedule yourself and max out most stats by the time the game ends).
You can equip a bunch of clothes that appear on your character model in the inventory, but not in the game world. Hell, you at least saw weapons and armor on your character in combat even in QFG1.
Also - most QFG games had linear upgrade progression. QFG5 - the only one that had multiple different weapons and items with different upsides and downsides - had each item spell out exactly what effect it has on your stats AND displayed your stats as you were equipping items, so you could tell what you're doing. Neither is the case for HU.
You can have like 30 different items on your use item bar, and there's absolutely no way to define what order they are presented in (and reusable items you've used go to the end of the bar, which... thanks, thanks a lot, unknown designer. That was obviously the smartest possible option)
Using a healing item doesn't tell you how much HP you recovered or how much you have. And you don't automatically stop using healing items at full HP.
Hiding 2 teachers behind elective classes (and making electives really only worthwhile if you take them twice in a row) is a poor idea.
The game doesn't particularly doesn't care for you taking actions and entering places just as the hour ends and something is scheduled to happen. I was dumped into the same scene twice over on a few occasions.
Went into the wine cellar, fought a bunch of enemies in front of a door, and the camera is stuck in a position that doesn't let me retrieve items from their corpses. And they're the highest-value enemies in the game, at that.
Reloading in a room where an entity (giant Kracken, mosts NPCs) were after they left, consistently drops them back into the world, with certain interactions still available.
If you enter a cutscene that deposits you back in your room (going on a date, for instance) while sneaking, your ability to run in your room will be removed (correction - you can't switch to running in your room by default, but you can enter it while running and keep running around).
I actually have very little things to say about the storyline or the characters. They've left little impact, which is probably the biggest problem with the game.
I appreciate the diversity of romance options and how they are treated.
One of the classmates personal quests had a twist I absolutely did not see coming.
Leading a bunch of zombie pirates to defeat a kracken off the starboard bow was pretty good, all things considered.
Fenster the ghost fence was actually the first time the game managed to be properly and consistently funny.
The game ending was an absolutely wet fart. I'm reasonably sure "oh yeah, this is the house I grew up in" was transplanted from a different draft and had nothing to do with anything.
In summary - I still don't know if I'll buy the sequel (if it ever comes out) - depends on how improved it seems. But to anyone looking for another Quest for Glory - gotta recommend Heroine's Quest. It's free, it's replayable, it has a more interesting and memorable plot AND despite being a free game, it feels more professional.