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Preview: Quest Master

7 Jun 2023

It can sometimes be really difficult to tell if a given “maker” game is going to be really fun or really middling, and part of the problem is just that these games are not… well… games.

That might sound incredibly mean, but it’s not actually meant as any sort of denigration; it’s just the reality that any sort of toolset where the primary appeal is that you get to make your own X requires not just the making to be good but also requires a setting to show off the X you make. If the tool you get is robust enough, you wind up with something like the RPG Maker series, which is basically programming lite and lets you do very powerful things but requires all the art, music, and design from scratch. At the other end are things like the Super Mario Maker games, which let you make one thing with a whole lot of permutations.

Quest Master is definitely on the latter end of the spectrum; it’s aiming to be a Legend of Zelda-maker (specifically the top-down classic Zelda games) because for some reason Nintendo hasn’t stepped up to the plate for that yet. And there are questions that we just can’t answer yet from this preview, because we don’t know how the uploading will work yet, what future additions are planned, how the overland will work, and so forth. But we can evaluate the nuts and bolts.

It’s Possibly Dangerous to Go Alone

When you first launch Quest Master, you get a choice between starting out with the sample dungeon or jumping right in making a dungeon. The smart option, of course, is the former. That lets you see the basic mechanics, and they should be very familiar to anyone who has played a classic top-down game in the genre. You swing your sword with one button, use items with another. Slash at enemies and scenery, avoid damage, trip switches, grab keys, and so forth.

All of this is solid. I found that the default configuration on controller didn’t exactly feel comfortable, but that’s down to me rather than the game; the controls themselves were responsive and sharp. And once you beat the boss, you unlock the editing mode… which is kind of a gag, since you can actually go into editing mode any time you want, it’s just framed as the “you finished the tutorial, now go explore” moment.

From there you have the tools to make your own dungeons, and they are, in fact, very solid! The interface works nicely on a controller (and let’s face it, this is the sort of game where a controller is almost de rigeur) and I found that it was very comprehensible using my now-usual style of “let’s press a button and see what happens.”

I should note that this was not necessary. I was given a very comprehensive manual detailing how to do everything in the game. But the real test of a game like this or any other game is how quickly you can pick it up while reading nothing, and I am glad to report that the answer is “quite quickly.” You will find almost instantly that all the controls are intuitive and straightfoward for making your own dungeon.

And… well, that is where it’s hard to really evaluate the game any further. Because evaluating the builder myself is like evaluating a sheet of paper as a vessel for drawings.

The thing is that while I felt like I had all the tools necessary to make a very solid dungeon, there wasn’t really any incentive to do so. Indeed, currently there are some things that just feel kind of useless. There’s a currency that doesn’t have any way of spending that I could find. There are no unlockables or story, and there’s no way (at this time) to link multiple dungeons together. Sure, there are an impressive assortment of powerups you can sprinkle in for dungeons to create interesting challenges. The developers did their work in making this a good toolset.

But… well, I’m not going to surprise myself. Unless I was going to make a dungeon, leave the game for a year, and then try to remember what I was thinking, any dungeon I make is also one I can clear effortlessly because I literally watched myself design it. Nor is there any reason you can’t, say, spawn oceans of health power ups in the starting room or make awful bullet hell rooms that require precise movement to get through.

As a game about going through dungeons, Quest Master has the mechanics down. As a game about making dungeons, it has the mechanics and tools there, too. But as an overall experience it’s really going to rely both on community created content and how diverse the toolset ultimately becomes by full release. If it nails the toolset (and potentially some sort of overworld linking dungeons) and creates incentive to clear through dungeons? Good show. If not? Well… it’s a cute novelty and nothing more.

It’s Actually Pretty When You Go Alone

The sprites and graphics of the game are instantly recognizable in their style, reminiscent of SNES emulated graphics with specific graphical smoothing turned on. It would be easy for all of the items and tiles and the like to start looking similar, but to the game’s credit everything feels distinct and quite attractive. I liked it.

Sound effects are also good, although music is… like… it’s technically fine, but it’s instantly forgotten? There’s no tools for making your own music, which is a down side on one level but it also means that you will not encounter two dozen community-made dungeons with terrible attempts at recreating Megalovania so let’s mark that down as “swings and roundabouts.”

The style also manages to be very reminiscent of the top-down Zelda titles without directly copying any of them, which is quite frankly not an easy hurdle to clear. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game has a bracingly unique style, but it fell on the right side of “inspired by” vs. “blatant copy.”

Try Some Force

I feel like on a whole my experience with Quest Master was sort of negative, which wasn’t really intended. The game/tool as presented is all fine. It works fine, it looks nice, and it’s easy to learn when you sit down and take it on. The problem that I consistently ran into was just that as a one-person experience, it was fun for about fifteen minutes and then there wasn’t more there. There were no challenges to try, no real way to share my creations, and no goals to achieve by creating or clearing dungeons. It’d be like endlessly making Doom maps but never sharing them with anyone; you can get a momentary rush out of feeling like you figured it out before you realize how far you’ve stacked the deck in your favor.

That’s not to say that Quest Master is without merit or potential. I’m actually really curious to see where this one goes. With good community support, tools to create overarching goals, and a reason to take part? Yeah, this could be a fun little tool to play with or a fun roulette of Zelda-style dungeons to try out.

But I can’t evaluate it based on that just yet. All I can evaluate is that if it gets those things, it’ll be pretty keen.

Preview copy provided courtesy of Apogee Entertainment for purposes of evaluation. All screenshots courtesy of Apogee Entertainment.