King’s Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity

Trying to teach an old dog new tricks.

With King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity, Roberta Williams and the King’s Quest development team have strayed into completely new territory. The interface has been completely overhauled, with the familiar point-and-click movement and perspective replaced by an option to play from either a first-person view or a Tomb Raider-style perspective that allows you to pan and zoom the camera at will, and the game structure resembles an adventure-RPG blend.

5Combat in previous King’s Quest games was almost non-existent, but Mask of Eternity – for better or worse – makes it a central part of your journey. It might not take up the lion’s share of actual play time, but there’ll be points during the game where it sure feels that way. And longtime King’s Quest fans eager to catch up on the doings of characters like King Graham, Prince Alexander, and Princess Rosella will be shocked to learn that the only inhabitant of Daventry found in the game (aside from a couple of very minor characters) is the hero himself.

Naturally, some followers of the series were more than a little angry at these changes – ‘in all but name, how was this a King’s Quest game?’ cried the masses. Williams took a huge risk in alienating King’s Quest veterans in pursuit of her artistic vision, but the truth is you could decry King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity for reasons that had nothing to do with its lack of cohesion with the rest of the series. Almost everywhere you look in Mask of Eternity — story, combat, characters, control, and even saved games — you’ll find problems.

Take the story, for instance — or what little there is of one. As the game opens, you see a mysterious figure cast a spell on a golden mask, shattering it into pieces. One of the pieces lands at the feet of our hero Connor, who’s chatting with his friend Sarah. Just as he picks it up, a black tempest rolls over Daventry, leaving everyone in the kingdom turned to stone — except for Connor. As he moves through the village, he meets a wizard who tells him that the only way to restore Daventry and its inhabitants is to recover the missing pieces of the mask.

3_1It’s a good start, but unfortunately that’s pretty much all there is. Sure, Connor travels through a lot of different worlds, but there are no plot twists, flashbacks, or expository scenes to make the experience or characters more interesting. And while the variety of game worlds provides an epic feel, the flow of events in each of them is almost identical: Connor arrives, learns from an inhabitant that the destruction of the Mask has screwed things up, figures out what has to be done to restore order and sets about doing it, then moves on to the next world and starts the process again.

Though you’ll meet all sorts of characters as you seek out the pieces of the Mask, none of them have any memorable qualities; in fact, they feel like little more than talking heads placed in your path as a convenient way of telling you what you need to do or where an important object is located. The only characters that stand out at all are a girl lost in the Dimension of Death and a unicorn in Daventry that’s been transformed into an ugly beast by the tempest — and it’s possible to complete the game without even meeting them.

And the biggest changes — in the new viewpoints and the heavy emphasis on combat — also aren’t quite as polished as you’d expect. To be blunt, combat is little more than drudgery: most encounters consist of walking up to a baddy and clicking madly with the weapon icon until he falls to the ground. Faced with an end-level monster? Not to worry — it just takes more mouse clicks to defeat (oh, and you might need to use a restorative potion or crystal to restore your health meter during battle). Why include combat — and so much of it, at least on the Normal setting — if it’s not challenging or fun?

8_1Most of the puzzles are of the traditional “find object A to use on object B” fare, but you’ll also encounter machine-based puzzles and some very subtle pattern-recognition problems that will challenge even veteran adventurers – unexpected from an apparent Tomb Raider knock-off. Even without well-developed characters with which to interact, there’s plenty to do in Mask of Eternity — and thankfully, the interface has been designed so you’ve got a pretty good idea what to do next and a general notion of how to go about it.

It’s hard to throw Mask of Eternity into the gutter and declare it an abject failure, but it’s also hard to find much enjoyment with it. The game has some legitimate design problems, with the poorly inspired Tomb Raider-esque overhaul alienating its fanbase and harming gameplay. You can get through Mask of Eternity and even enjoy some of the puzzles, but whether or not you’ll ever want to return to its unfortunate rendition of Daventry is debatable.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95

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