The Silver Lining: Episode 1: What is Decreed Must Be review
It’s been sixteen years since gamers last wandered the lands of Daventry, helping King Graham and his family overcome obstacles in seven different games. (Let’s just forget about Mask of Eternity.) Incredibly, it’s now been eight years since Phoenix Online, a group of devoted fans, first discussed making a continuation of the King’s Quest series. After two separate ‘cease and desist’ letters from copyright owners Vivendi and Activision, many thought The Silver Lining would never see the light of day, but at long last the first episode has been released. As it turns out, What is Decreed Must Be is mainly just a prologue for the next four episodes to come, but fans of the original King’s Quest series will be thrilled to explore a world that’s been radically revamped yet still maintains the feel of the earlier classics.
The game opens with a surprisingly long cutscene, bypassing any summary of previous games to get straight into the action. The camera swoops from the cloud-filled sky down to the Land of the Green Isles, which fans will recognize from the sixth KQ game. A wedding is taking place at the palace and all seems serene until a mysterious cloaked figure appears to wreak havoc. Alexander, Graham’s son, is possessed by some unnatural force and put into a deep coma. Moments later, the bride, who fans will recognize as Graham’s daughter Rosella, falls into the same kind of coma. And this is all before the game’s main menu!
When actual play begins, players once again take the role of King Graham, who soon dons his familiar feathered cap and adventurer’s garb, ready to go on another quest to save his children from their fate. There are a few obstacles to clear before he can get underway, but Graham eventually travels to many recognizable places, from the steps of the Isle of the Sacred Mountain to the foggy banks of the Isle of the Mists. Much of the world feels closed off for now, however, like the inside of the town shops. The restrictions of where Graham can go help keep players on track, but they can feel a little forced, from a tree falling conveniently over the path to the narrator simply saying there isn’t enough time to go somewhere. There are also plenty of familiar faces scattered throughout the game, though most of the characters are introduced only in passing, like Shamir the Genie and Saladin.
The Silver Lining is a simple point-and-click adventure, with the left mouse button guiding Graham, while right-clicking rotates the different possible interactions. It is usually easy to move around, although having the “walk” cursor selected is always required, and Graham will not navigate around objects in his way, essentially getting stuck until the player directs him past. The camera automatically follows him using a variety of different angles, some more awkward than others, like the ones having Graham walk directly toward the front of the screen. Hovering the mouse over the top of the screen brings down the inventory bar, along with the different action icons.
Reminiscent of the original King’s Quest games, there are three main ways for players to interact with the world: look, take/use, and talk, and applying inventory becomes an active option once an item is equipped. Patient gamers who like to experience everything will find plenty to occupy themselves with here, from tons of comments about different objects to conversations between guards going on in the background. The message that pops up after making Graham die is just as witty as ever, although there’s no fear of random, unexpected deaths. You really have to try to kill him, because the narrator warns you beforehand, and I only found one way to do it. Not many objects are picked up in this first episode, though you will need to solve a few simple inventory puzzles in order to proceed.
In fact, when it comes to puzzles, don’t look to this first episode to quench your thirst. You can count the number of puzzles on one hand, but Phoenix has promised more numerous and difficult puzzles in later episodes. Sure enough, by the end of What is Decreed Must Be, a large inventory fetch quest seems to be right around the corner. For now you’ll spend most of your time hopping around the islands, trying to find someone who knows how to reverse the spell on your children, though Graham first needs to charter a boat from a suspicious and enterprising captain to do so. While clearly a traditional adventure game in all respects, this particular episode often plays out more like an interactive movie, with the player simply guiding Graham from one scene to the next.
The bright, vivid graphics in The Silver Lining are easily what stands out the most in this game. The whole world comes to life in full 3D, whether it’s the sea churning from an oncoming storm, trees lashed around in an overpowering wind, or the fog rolling off the Isle of the Mists. The character animations are also good, although Graham walks very deliberately and some actions, like Cassima crying during the introduction, seem somewhat stiff. Graham and the other characters show signs of aging since we saw them last, which is a nice little touch for fans who have been following them since the beginning. There are a surprising number of cutscenes in the game as well, like Graham diving into the water off a boat and being carried away by winged guards.
Sound in this episode is easily as good as some commercial games on the market, with a full cast of actors voicing each character. The actor who voices Graham does a really good job, showing appropriate emotion in all of his lines and sometimes even sounding like the original actor. Most of the supporting characters are also performed very well, from the sarcastic narrator to the restless guard dog who wants to see some action. The music always fits well with what’s happening, playing dramatic tunes during the chaotic beginning and an adventurous melody when Graham sets off to sea, but it never intrudes on the gameplay. Combined with the impressive graphics, the production values here easily outshine most freeware games, and represent a huge achievement for the Phoenix Online team.
This long-awaited Silver Lining debut may be noticeably light in gameplay, but it’s clearly intended as a prelude for a much larger adventure to come, and with a stated goal of releasing all episodes before the end of the year, gamers hopefully won’t have to wait very long for the next installment. It’s got a few blemishes, but What is Decreed Must Be is definitely a significant accomplishment for a team of fans without any financial backing, and anyone who liked Sierra’s King’s Quest saga owes it to themselves to check this game out. Newcomers who are wondering what all the fuss is about may want to wait until the next episode for something more substantial, but since the game is available free at the developer's website, everyone should have a look at what seems certain to be a memorable series.