*SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains spoilers that occurred during the first episodes of Kings Quest. If you have not played Kings Quest episode 1 I suggest doing so before reading this review or playing episode 2. To continue, please scroll beyond the photo.
When last we left our bony protagonist, he had conquered the tournament of heroes with quick wits and a heaping of luck. After proving he was the strongest, fastest, and cleverest hero in the land of Daventry, Graham wasted no time in rising to the top. King’s Quest Chapter 2: Rubble Without a Cause begins in the Daventry throne room, where the newly-crowned King sits (rather uncomfortably) atop the throne. Fans of this reboot will enjoy the silly antics and quirky dialog found in the first game before he stands up. However, the weight of the crown soon proves too heavy, causing him to flee the castle in search of the comfort of the townspeople who aided him when last they met.
Unfortunately, on his way to the town’s square, dark clouds roll in to signal that all is not (yet) well for this budding king. Suddenly, goblins pounce from the rooftops to capture our friend and drag him to their subterranean kingdom. After poking around a bit, players will find that The Odd Gentleman’s design philosophy with exploration has been trimmed; creating a more accessible environment
The pathways and tunnels in Chapter 2 make it easier for the player to discern which areas contain the pieces they need to solve it, and where challenges lie ahead. Practically, this means that I rarely got lost (a common problem in the previous episode), and while I did find myself occasionally missing the lush fields, vibrant colors, and expanse of Daventry and its surrounding areas, what I definitely didn’t miss was the confused wandering I experienced in the first chapter. Overall, the straightforward approach of the goblin tunnels in chapter 2 is a solid improvement in level design.
Far less backtracking and aimless wandering in Rubble means that puzzles are often easily solved. However, this doesn’t mean that the second entry in this reboot isn’t challenging. On the contrary, the challenge for players this time around is in making tough decisions. In the first episode, choices affected the story outcome but they weren’t particularly emotional or punctual. I was hoping The Odd Gentlemen would improve this instalment by making choices poignant and empathetic, and it seemed that they answered that call.
You’ll find you face these tough decisions after taking Graham out of his cell. That’s when you’ll discover the reason for Daventry’s vacancy, and Graham’s test as King will begin; the townspeople have also been captured by these underlings and it’s your job to save them. The familiar faces of the town start to grow grim. The once hearty and cheerful baker has a starving wife, the fiery blacksmith who starts out with plenty of courage will soon grow weary, and the alchemist couple are trying to cobble together food out of anything they can find. They are all prisoners and it’s the duty of their King to save them.
As players of the first entry might guess, there are a number of items to collect to set them all free, but in chapter 2 the duty to rescue your fellows is a race against time. Each captive (including our protagonist) is starving; every passing day your fellow captives’ health depletes by a fraction. This means that players must deliberate between sharing their limited rations with companions or using food to regain Graham’s strength, allowing him to turn cranks and lower drawbridges to permit access new areas and further escape. It’s a heavy burden that lays on the king’s shoulders, and now it also lays on yours, making for a much darker tale than the last.
The idea of choosing between your own well-being and that of your royal subjects is a dismally interesting one that lends itself well to King’s Quest. More than once I found myself agonizing over these ethical dilemmas. Should I save the bravest companion to ensure escape of some of us prisoners, or try to save them all somehow? These choices plagued me and left me feeling hopeless; unfortunately Gentlemen’s execution of their second choice-driven narrative exacerbates this feeling
Keeping players in the dark about how their choices affect game narrative is essential to weaving a successful player-driven story. The problem with Rubble is that its narrator foreshadows the possibility or impossibility of certain judgement calls. If you take heed, it can influence your actions as you play for the worse. This duped me into making snap decisions early in the game that had adverse repercussions only to find out (despite the narrator’s forewarning) that it would have been possible to act without resulting in any negative consequences. This level of suspense, having the player second-guessing themselves only works when the game remains neutral. It doesn’t work as well when the game seems to be hinting at something.
It’s a shame that the Odd Gentlemen included dialog in the second chapter of King’s Quest that has the potential to alter player decisions. This isn’t Chapter 2’s only stumble (there are some odd graphical hitches and baffling NPC model movement), but Rubble’’s interference with player choice is the only falter that can’t be overlooked. The flexibility in decision-making was the mechanical cornerstone of the first game; It’s such a shame that it’s blemished by simple dialog that could have been re-recorded to sound less partisan.
In Spite of these shortcomings, King’s Quest’s beautiful cell-shaded art style, fantastic cast, and intelligent writing are still present in spades. Even after being influenced by a few unfortunately-written lines, my choices more or less resulted in reasonably inferred outcomes (if not the ones I wanted). The only caution for continuing players is the second chapter isn’t quite as exciting as the first. While A Knight to Remember captured the thrilling journey of a pauper becoming a steward, this entry is more a continuation than it’s own tale. While it’s still a satisfying play, Rubble’s growing pains are more apparent, causing it to feel less like a cohesive expedition than a bridge between episodes one and three. I still enjoyed my time with the game and (after recapping my decisions) I’m anxious to see my choices resonate throughout the following chapters, but I never quite achieved the level of excitement I had by the end of episode 1.