Before there ever was a Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire, there was... the quest for Quest for Glory V. When Sierra opted to discontinue the Quest for Glory series after releasing the fourth instalment, Shadows of Darkness, the decision prompted a significant public outcry. In a time when the Internet was still a relatively new phenomenon for most gamers, series fans seized the opportunity to form an online coalition, rallying for organized boycotts of Sierra products, petitions and e-mail writing campaigns. Convinced at last that the series still had a viable following, Sierra ultimately gave in to the protests and Dragon Fire was made a reality, though not without some notable changes, and not all of them successful.
For the series’ final instalment, Lori Ann Cole was asked to return as designer. Given a substantial budget, she chose to aim high, with an expensive new 3D engine and a fully orchestrated score. She also envisioned it as a sophisticated multiplayer game with different playable characters and expansion packs to be released later, but these goals were eventually dropped. Yet this disappointment didn’t stop Cole from being ambitious, as Dragon Fire is a departure from its predecessors in various ways, though still remaining true to the original design ideas laid out ten years earlier.
Dragon Fire opens with a clever introduction sequence. Players are given an account of the past, present and grim-looking future of a kingdom called Silmaria, as narrated by the country’s king mere moments before he is murdered by an assassin. We learn that ages ago, Silmaria was terrorized by a fire-breathing dragon. Unable to destroy the beast, it was instead bound by magic to stay in its lair, laying dormant. Years of peace followed, and most people have forgotten about those times of chaos. One person, however, sees the dragon as the key to gaining control over the kingdom, and as this villain now seeks to release it, Silmaria is terrorized by armies of foreign invaders. Powerless to mend the situation, the king realizes that only a Hero will be able to save his kingdom. With these grave thoughts recounted, his throat is slit and the stage is set for Dragon Fire to begin.
In this time of need, the friendly wizard Erasmus, whom we met in Quest for Glory I, summons the series’ protagonist to the kingdom. So once again we find ourselves in an entirely new culture, as Dragon Fire takes us to the Greek-themed city of Silmaria with its pleasant winter climate. The Island of Marete is set in the Quest for Glory-equivalent of the Mediterranean Sea, and Silmaria appears to be a relaxed and laid-back destination, filled with people to see, things to do and places to visit. No one seems aware of an ancient dragon that may pose a threat, and though word of invaders has scared many townspeople into fleeing, the danger still seems distant and the remaining inhabitants don’t appear disturbed at all.
Erasmus is but the first of many familiar faces that the Hero meets in Silmaria. Another friend encountered early is the noble Liontaur Paladin Rakeesh, and both he and the wizard want us to enter the Rites of Rulership, through which the next king will be chosen. Contenders for the throne are required to compete in a series of quests, and the winner claims the crown. The hope is that by competing in these Rites, we might be able to discover who killed the previous king and why.
The moment the Hero enters the competition is when the actual plot is set in motion, but you’re advised to take some time to relax first, and it is amazing how free you are to explore the island before the Rites begin. You can spend hours (or weeks, in game time) solving quests and puzzles, meeting people, fighting, competing in minigames and practicing your skills before the main action kicks off. Alternatively, you can enter the Rites of Rulership immediately and explore later as the story progresses. This game offers a lot of freedom, which is certainly one of its major strengths.
Dragon Fire also presents the most expansive world in any Quest for Glory game. A large number of diverse locations spread out over different islands can be visited, all displayed in lush and colourful pre-rendered 3D graphics, from panoramic blue beaches with vivid green palm trees to majestic valleys with high mountain peaks. All backgrounds are nicely designed, but some are truly outstanding, showing bright, clear graphics with plenty of artistic detail. A few locales seem somewhat artificial, however. One area in particular, Silmaria’s so-called Science Island, feels very out of place in a medieval fantasy-themed game with its modern, electronic look.
A downside to the scenic nature of these backgrounds is that most are completely zoomed-out to fully display their splendour, which makes two crucial hotspots rather difficult to discover and the characters look small and distant. Though the polygonal character models are of decent quality, they often look grainy from being scaled to such a small size. Also, most supporting characters are poorly animated or not at all, making them appear lifeless.
Small character portraits do appear during conversations, but the poor overall visual presentation of Silmaria’s inhabitants is a missed opportunity, since the game features a lot of dialogue. In fact, there is so much optional dialogue that you could spend hours just talking to people, only a minority of which are human. Most characters have an interesting story to tell, like the fisherman Andre or the somewhat incompetent Gnome innkeeper Ann. Many also offer a sidequest as the game progresses, and will often respond to the various events that occur, which greatly helps to make the world feel dynamic. Voiceovers are handled very well, as both the serious and the humourous personalities are conveyed by suitably matched actors. The voice of the art seller Wolfie in particular had me laughing with almost every line.
The dialogue and narration – which isn’t voiced this time around – is as cleverly written as ever. Still, while Shadows of Darkness shone with an intriguing plot supported by well-developed characters, Dragon Fire disappoints in these categories. The characters are amusing to talk with, and you’ll find yourself continually going back to many of them to check if they have anything new to say just for fun, but they ultimately lack any depth and significance to the overall storyline.
One new character development this time around is the option of marriage. There are four women in the game that you can pursue and end up marrying. Though the ceremony won’t actually happen during the course of this game, the fact that you can propose and get engaged is an interesting feature, especially since the courtship becomes a sidequest in itself. As one of the many subplots, it is a nice example of the nonlinearity and replayability of Dragon Fire, as the outcome of choices you make in certain events, as well as the quests you complete, influence the game world, its characters and possibly even the final outcome.
Unfortunately, the Greek setting never seems believable, nor does it manage to create an immersive atmosphere, partly because the indigenous Silmarians are vastly outnumbered by people from all over the world. The city sometimes feels more like a seaside resort where all the Hero’s old pals are hanging out rather than an ancient city-state. The references to Greek mythology, such as Pegasus and the Sibyl, feel forced, and the lack of connection with the residents ultimately makes the presence of these legendary beings irrelevant and expendable.
The same issue is sometimes true of the game’s music, as some songs don’t seem to fit in well with specific locations. That’s the only negative thing I’ll say about the score, however, since otherwise it is excellent. Chance Thomas used a full orchestra to perform the music, which gives the game a feeling of grandeur throughout. Calmer settings are accompanied by gentle flutes and Greek-sounding guitars, while combat scenes are driven by bombastic horns, strings and drums. There is one scene where the Hero dances in a Dryad’s grove, which is enchanting in its splendid use of graphics and a beautiful symphony by Thomas. Overall, Dragon Fire’s soundtrack rivals that of many top movies in quality.
The main focus of the game is a series of seven tasks, the Rites, which range from fetch quests in Hades and Atlantis to a number of missions in which you’re sent out to kill a certain creature or person. When competitors start being assassinated much the same way the king was murdered, it becomes ever more apparent that someone evil is after the throne of Silmaria. The problem here is that the story recycles a plotline from three previous games, making it feel shallow and uninspired. Not only is the villain’s scheme unoriginal, the way it’s executed is somewhat illogical, so uncovering Dragon Fire’s secrets probably won’t leave you satisfied.Continued on the next page...