QUEST FOR GLORY 3 / Sierra / PC
Quest For Glory 3 proves that Quest For Glory on its worst day is still far and away better than many games on their best. I do feel that this one is the weakest overall entry in the series - even more so than the much-maligned Dragon Fire - but even so it is still more than entertaining and thought-provoking enough to add to your Hero itinerary on your way through the world of Silmaria. (Having recently replayed QFG5 for review, I no longer agree with myself. QFG5 is far and away the worst of the bunch.)
This time out - Hero has saved the day in Shapier and become the adopted Prince of the country. Life is good. Soon, however, a magical message comes to the enchantress Aziza from Rakeesh's spellcasting wife, warning that the homeland of the Liontaurs is on the brink of war and requesting aid. Rakeesh and the Hero thus set out via magical portal to look into the matter.
The land of Tarna has an African theme to it, with the Liontaurs as the dominant civilization in a splendid Egypt-like city. The Simbani, a nomadic tribal people who live out in the savannah, are on the verge of war with the Leopardmen, a tribe of magical shape-shifters that live even farther out in the jungle. Apparently, a Liontaur peace envoy en route to the Leopardmen village was attacked, and the sacred Spear of Death of the Simbani was also stolen from their village. Both groups presume Leopardman guilt and are clamoring to start a full-fledged war against them. But more level-headed forces in Tarna suspect that there is more to the story, given that this area has been a historical hangout for trouble-making Demon Wizards, and thus ask you to investigate the matter and find out what the real poop is.
Quest For Glory 3 is the first to transition to the VGA icon-based Sierra gameplay engine, and the transition works well in many cases, but also has it's clunky qualities. Everyday activities are much easier to manage now, but challenging puzzles are almost completely non-exsistent in this one. The battle engine is also a bit iffy - it suffers from the same "stab as fast as you can" weakness that the previous two games did, but magic is also so powerful now (and so easy to raise in level) that even mages can just blast away with Flame Dart and win against even the biggest and baddest monsters fairly easily. The monsters also move so slowly that it is simple to just keep running away a bit and either casting spells or throwing stuff at them - while there is some amusement value in gradually picking a giant bug to death by tossing stones at him, the system as a whole is kind of weak.
There's also a serious imbalance in the character classes. The game seems to have been designed solely for Paladins, with Mages as something of an afterthought, and Thieves totally and completely ignored. The Thief has no break-in opportunities whatsoever, and cannot even practice many of his most fundamental skills, like Lock-Picking and Climbing. His unique puzzle solutions and endgame sequence are also ridiculously simple, basically consisting of just using his rope and magic grapnel to climb over stuff over and over and over again. There's a grand total of one lock to pick, during the endgame, and I don't think your skill level even matters.
Initially the game seems to offer a rich world with lots of depth and complex characters, which is true to an extent, but you soon find out there isn't actually a whole lot going on. Going through the actual plot events that lead to the endgame takes relatively little time, so the only way to extend gameplay is to level-grind in various ways, and as mentioned before there are a few skills that are either really difficult or completely impossible to train up in this one. Certain complex issues are present, like racial inequality in Tarna (the Liontaurs consider themselves naturally superior to humans and thus their rightful rulers), but the game doesn't end up doing a whole lot with these issues. The game also seriously breaks down toward the end, and I strongly suspect the end portion was rushed due to budget or corporate deadline constraints or something along those lines.
The Coles have said that QFG3 was not a planned part of the series from the beginning, and that it was tacked in sort of at the last minute to give the Hero an opportunity to grow before he faced the really nasty Chthulu-undead dangers of Mordavia in QFG4. I get the feeling that this is why the story has a less fleshed-out and cohesive feel than the other games. I also think that the programming team hadn't had enough time with Sierra's new pointy clicky VGA engine to really know how to best use it to complement the Quest For Glory universe. And I think they just ran out of time/money at the end, leading to the rushed, simplistic and unsatisfactory endgame sequence and ending (and extremely amateurish credits sequence). Still, even with all that, there's a lot to like here. The art is very good, the soundtrack by Rudy Helm is great and really suits the African theme, the gameplay is pretty solid for the most part and it has enough of a decent plot to have its points of interest. And it has Electric Bugaloo.
* Gameplay video