Questron II (Q2) was the final offering from the creators of the C64 and Apple classics Legacy of the Ancients, Legend of Blacksilver and Questron. Twin brothers John and Charles (Chuck) Dougherty made these games as part of Quest Software. Like Sierra Online, they were quite smitten with the word “quest.”
For this gamer, Legacy of the Ancients holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the few games I purchased back in the 80s with my own money, and it came in an incredible vinyl-EP-sized flat box with amazing artwork by Dave McMacken. These record-style boxes were often found with top-shelf games from Electronic Arts during the 8-bit era. Legacy of the Ancients offered a brilliant and weird sci-fi & fantasy story and universe, filled with beautifully painted dungeons that didn't make you want to quit the game in frustration. It also offered a world you would want to play through to the end obsessively. Admittedly, it and the rest of the games created by Quest Software were on the easy side of the typical CRPG difficulty scale. But for young gamers, it was hard enough to offer a solid challenge yet still be winnable if one put in the effort, including mapping the dungeons by hand with graph paper and pencil.
From what I can gather, all of the Dougherty brother’s games were based on the same identical engine. And Questron II was the last installment they ever made. (During the win-screens at the end of the game you are told to look for a Questron III in the future. Alas it was not meant to be.)
For the Amiga version, Q2 brought a huge improvement to the graphics over its 8-bit ancestors. It’s not exactly SNES Zelda level from an animation and artistic standpoint, but it’s pretty freaking good for 1988 - a good 3 years before the SNES hit North American shores. Q2 offered Ultima 1, 2, & 3-style adventuring across world maps, isometric overhead town views and 3-D dungeon views. It also innovated big time by offering a real-time auto-mapping feature in the dungeons (something Day of the Viper borrowed the following year), which makes exploring them really easy. Too easy, in fact.
And this becomes the recurring theme for Q2 - it’s simply too linear, too simplistic, and too easy. It’s far easier than Legacy of the Ancients, if that helps illustrate the bar one has to hop. Q2 allows you to ‘cheat’ by going into casinos to load up on tens of thousands of gold pieces in fairly short order. How, you ask? There’s a particular game called Wizard’s Squares, and if you figure out which squares to pick (takes just about 5 minutes of thought), your chances of winning lots of loot becomes very high. This loophole creates a huge imbalance in the gameplay, one the Dougherty’s seem to actually encourage in order to win the game at the end. They attempted to put a cap on it by only attaching weapon and armor upgrades to character level, not by how much money you had. And, you could only increase in level by completing quests, not by how much you killed. But since the magic spells are so powerful, you literally don’t even need weapons.
In their past games, if you won too much from a casino the town guards would chase you down once you quit gambling and try to put you in your place. If nothing else, it made you think twice about trying to win big at the casino and added some balance to the games, particularly in the early goings.
In Questron II, there are no such limits.
As I mentioned earlier, killing monsters in Q2 gains you no experience at all (a typical quirk of the Questron game engine). You only gain levels by completing tasks of your main quest, which are fed to you one at a time in a completely linear fashion. There’s really no way to ever stray and get lost from the plot or perform any side quests. They don’t exist. By the time you reach the final level of experience (knight) you can literally buy hit points up to an insane level so you simply can’t lose in the final showdown with the evil sorcerer Mantor in his conclave. In my case, I was able to purchase 1,000 hit points from a hit point seller in a nearby town; Exit the town; Re-enter the town; Rinse and repeat about 15 times. 15,000 hit points later, I trekked towards the final dungeon using a flying eagle, which allowed me to not have any monster encounters on the continental map (frankly, a huge relief since monster encounters offered jack shit except annoying HP pain and time).
The game’s backstory is really thin as well (fleshed out a bit in the manual) and isn’t convincingly reinforced throughout the game. Like Ultima 1 & 2, talking to NPCs offers you hasty and meaningless replies like, “Begone fool!” or “Find the maps!” and there are probably only a half-dozen total responses to be found across the entire game game. There are about twenty or so lines of “information” you can buy from NPCs in town or when traversing the larger outdoor maps, but they generally tell you what you already know. Indeed, as far as role playing and character creation goes there virtually is none. The only customization you get at the beginning is naming yourself, which is mainly used for your Save Game file and your Inventory screen.
Many of these RPG limitations were found using the same engine on 8-bit machines in earlier games, but the stories and environments were so much better, the game limitations were easy to overlook.
Even the UI, while innovative, is ultimately disappointing. During the dungeon portions of the game from, say, Legacy of the Ancients, you were given your action menu on the left and a large 3D viewport on the right to explore catacombs and fight well-rendered monsters. In Q2, your 3D viewport is tiny, yet the entire right side of the screen is gray. Why? Because after you find the magical Map of Scala, that gray screen area becomes a fantastic auto-mapping feature using up half of your screen real estate. As you explore, any traps you find appear on the map, as well as doors and chutes to go up or down levels. Sounds amazing, right? Except… it makes the game way too easy. I was able to finish an 8-level dungeon in less than 20 minutes the first time I ever entered it. Cool, but ultimately not cool. I wasn’t really in the mood to bust out the graph paper like I did from LotA, but in terms of that feeling of accomplishment - I virtually never really felt it. Had the game been better, I would have happily made the effort. In a way, I was glad to get it over with. So, thanks auto-map!
At the end of the day, Questron II feels like the perfect game for a young lad, say 13-14 years old. Where a game like Eye of the Beholder could reduce some kids (and adults) to tears, Q2 could offer hours - like, six or seven hours - of really decent entertainment and satisfaction. The lack of side quests and NPC interaction is probably a plus to someone just trying to get from point A to point B. The casino’s sloppy pay-out algorithm must have given some kids quite a rush. Honestly, the pay outs can often be more fun than walking around in the outside environment, much like the Vegas strip! And, for the time, when you ultimately won the game the final little story and beautiful pixel art painting you’re presented with would have been quite a nice reward to receive. I imagine it was one of the best up to that point. Hell, it was more thought out than the beginning of the game! And the middle in-between.
One strange oddity worth mentioning: while written for Amiga in 1988, the game only supports single disk drive use and no hard drive installation option. The game comes on one disk and you have to save your character’s progress data to a second floppy (like Bard’s Tale I). But Questron II never looks for anything beyond DF0. Mildly annoying. And you have to boot your machine with the disk in DF0 as well. In terms of copy protection, it only ever asks 4-5 different questions which are found in the included ‘Monster Manual’ that came with the game. The protection is entirely beatable and half-hearted at best (which I really didn’t mind as I was able to memorize most of the questions quite quickly).
Review hardware: This game was reviewed on an Amiga 2000 with 2MB chip ram, a 30mhz upgraded processor and 8MB RAM. KS/WB 1.3