By the time Quest For Glory 4 hit market, the Sierra On-Line that adventure gamers had grown up with was nearly dead; it took a great hue and cry from the fanbase to get the post-1996 Corporate Overlords of the company to even consider finishing out the series with one final sequel. If fans could have foreseen what they would get, they probably would have spared themselves the effort.
It's possible the Coles just misfired on this game; I really don't know exactly who is to blame for it turning out so badly. But it *smells* like your typical game made by late-90s clueless Corporate Marketroids lobbing orders down from on high. "It's gotta be polygons! Everything is polygons now!" "It's gotta have multiplayer! Online Deathmatch!" "Yeah! And less talky-talky! More fighting! And this detailed 2D art you've been doing is way too expensive! Just use that voxel garbage or whatever!"
QFG5, really, plays more like an offline loot-grinding MMO than adventure-RPG hybrid. The multiplayer ended up axed from the final product; it only appeared in a pre-release demo tucked in with PC Gamer magazine. Funnily enough, the multiplayer was by far the most entertaining part; I keep a copy of the demo in my archives just because it was such fun. The multiplayer is still key, however, because the rest of the game was clearly designed around it. The game is laden more heavily with combat than anything else, and instead of switching to a "battle screen" to go one-on-one with a monster a la all 4 previous games, battles now play out in real-time with the Hero engaging multiple enemies at once (though only two attack at a time; the rest stand around in the background politely fapping or something until it's their turn.)
The combat wasn't even the main cause of the game's failing; it's jerky and a little uneven, but not terrible. QFG5 has three major failings, as I see it. The first is simply the pace. You're expected to toodle around the game world at a leisurely walking pace; running everywhere helps speed things up a bit, but only a bit, and meanwhile mercilessly drains your stamina bar. This makes walking around Silmaria a chore, and exploring wilderness environments to figure out how the game wants you to climb or manipulate poorly-drawn shit an absolute headache.
You have no real desire to explore the environment since it's so cumbersome to do so, and that ties into the second major failing - the game has no charm whatsoever. Atmosphere and charm were key to the experience of the previous games, and that was largely conveyed by detailed hand-drawn art. In this game, everyone looks like wax figures. You can always expect some technological shortsightedness in the early era of major trends, in this case the transition to 3D polygons as what a AAA game was "supposed to be", but QFG5 really doesn't even look very good for a 1999 release of that nature. The backgrounds are pretty simplistic, and the characters look like emotionless, featureless robots. Again, there's little desire to explore when everyone and everything is so goddamn *boring*. It's night and day from the emotional, engaging, hand-crafted world of QFG4. At least the soundtrack is good - newcomer Chance Thomas takes advantage of the CD format with a Mediterranean/symphonic soundtrack that seems to almost entirely use live instruments (a small orchestra was actually hired to perform, if I remember a "making of" video I saw ages ago correctly.) Aside from that, though, Silmaria ends up being one of the dullest, most generic and waxy-looking environments you can encounter on a PC.
The third failing is the writing. While it's not terrible ... it's very fan-ficcy. Given enough time, most fictional series end up turning into a caricature of themselves out of lack of ideas, and you get the feeling that started to happen here. Seemingly every character from the previous games has to be crammed into Silmaria, some for extremely contrived reasons. The Coles are still at the helm here so the dialogue isn't bad and the game has its moments, but on the whole it resorts way too much to mass amounts of combat solving everything, with the Rites that constitute the bulk of the game's story consisting mostly of the Hero charging shit tons of enemies and slaughtering them (regardless of character class.) You can also woo several ladies and eventually marry one, though this part wasn't handled all that well either. Elsa is alright and at least makes some sense. Erana is the most interesting of the lot; she's built up to be this almost-goddess through the previous games, but when you bring her back from hell you find she's a lot more emotionally complex. Nawar (the hypersexed-but-unseen harem girl from the Thief's ending path in QFG2) is basically a joke character. I know everyone loves them some Katrina, but her "romance" with the Hero never made sense to me in QFG4 and the way it plays out here makes even less sense. If they felt compelled to do the whole "shipping" thing, we could have at least had some more possibilities, at least for the poor Thief who is basically stuck with the village bicycle. I always thought Zayisha
was pretty hot
. Or Aziza and her giant rack
, for the coug crowd. Or why not bring the Rusalka
back while you're down there in Hades? At least her and the Hero developed the semblance of a real relationship. Well, whatever the case may be, it all plays out like a fanfic - shallow relationships, talking-head characters, and heaps of silly over-the-top combat being used to move the action forward constantly.
I don't know exactly why, but it seems like human touch is gone from the series here, replaced largely by Grindan Dem Mobs so you can Epic Raid Dem Quest Brigands An Dragons or whatever. Which is strange considering Everquest was the only real MMO going at the time this came out. As the Coles are reportedly now big WoW players though ... I gotta wonder.