QUEST FOR GLORY 4 / Sierra / PC
After the decent-but-lackluster outing that was QFG3, QFG4 is a fine return to form for the series. It features a rich game world, compelling characters and story, and plenty of stuff to do and find for all the character classes. Unfortunately, it apparently suffered from another budget or deadline crunch, as it was released with an unacceptable amount of game-crashing bugs. Even after fourteen years, with both a number of official patches from Sierra and fan-created hacks to fix all the issues, one can expect to randomly be booted to the DOS prompt at least once per gameplay session at some point.
The game was first released on floppy disk, and then later on CD-ROM with voice acting and a complete narration by John Rhys-Davies (of Lord of the Rings and numerous other movies fame). The floppy version had a number of crashes, particularly one that would always occur during a necessary event in the plot, thus making the game uncompletable until Sierra eventually released an aftermarket patch. The CD-ROM version is somewhat more stable, but really has problems with timing bugs on fast machines (and by "fast" I mean pretty much anything made after 1995). These timing bugs can be worked around by reducing the speed and detail of the game to absolute minimal levels at certain points where they are known to happen (including another necessary plot event that makes the game unwinnable until you get by the bug), and if using DOSBox, manually reducing the PC "cycles" it emulates at to something closer to a 1994 processor, but there seem to be a lot more of them. The game is completable on a modern system with DOSBox, but be prepared for some frustration.
QFG4 actually manages to be worth the hassle, though. The only low point aside from the bugs is the new combat system, which isn't really all that bad, but for the most part renders combat pointless. Since this was 1994, in the midst of the whole Street Fighter 2 / Mortal Kombat craze, Sierra decided to go with a side-view system somewhat similar to a fighting game. It's a bit cumbersome to control, but that doesn't really matter, as you can set the Hero to auto-battle with various AI settings. Either way, however, combat is just too easy in this one. Even with fairly low stats, you'll still breeze through most of the game's battles. The Thief has gone from being Combat Joke to Combat God in this one, as he has a new Blanka/Sonic The Hedgehog roll attack that can be spammed repeatedly and absolutely devastates the enemies with no chance of retaliation. Life is still pretty easy for the other classes, though, as Mages can blast away with an inventory of spells that are really just too powerful for most of the hapless enemies, and Paladins now have a suite of skills such as self-healing (Fighters and Paladins, ironically, have the combat the toughest out of any class now, since they have to get in there and slug it out, though there are still very few battles that even approach being challenging for them).
Bugs and combat aside, the game is great, however. The in-game sprites and artwork aren't really anything special, but the game now uses full-body portraits for conversation, which I thought were quite detailed and appealing. All of the characters have unique quests, and there is an absolute slew of stuff to uncover and do throughout the game. After being largely abandoned in QFG3, the Thief makes a return - there's only a couple of break-in missions and they are honestly pretty boring, but he has many more unique puzzle solutions and avenues by which to practice his skills this time out. The soundtrack is handled by Aubrey Hodges, and while definitely an odd combination of wailing electric guitar butt rock and melancholy quasi-Russian pieces, it manages to work pretty well on the whole and has some really memorable themes. It also has an unusally dark and sad tone as compared to all the other games, and there are some genuinely emotionally affecting moments in the story.
Hey man! Did you bring the nachos and Heinekin?
* Quest For Glory patches
* Gameplay Video