Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2014 Review: Arqon

Posted by Reiko on November 13, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Arqon, A Criminal’s Journey
Author: H. J. Hoke
Format: Inform

This is an RPG-style game using the same system as the Reliques of Tolti-Aph. The problem with that system is that magic uses the same points as health, and many spells use consumable items, so there’s hardly any point to using magic except where required to solve puzzles, because the resources available are so limited. As a result, combat is mostly luck-based. Reliques, while certainly a flawed game, did a good job of making puzzles that used the available spells. Arqon makes no such attempt. In fact, at least one of its available spells might not be castable at all. I found no source of its consumable resource, and nowhere to use it even if I could cast it: it’s a healing spell, but spells can’t be cast on oneself.

Not only is there hardly any strategy available in combat, the whole game is more or less trivial to complete if you get the better weapon and use the poison on it. Nearly half the combats were over in a single blow. Maybe I just got lucky though. There was one combat that killed me the first time I tried it, and then the second time it was over in a single blow. With a couple of judicious restores, I didn’t take enough damage over the whole game to require using any of the strength potions. In other words, the difference between the minimum and maximum damage one combat might inflict is often the difference between no damage or total damage (death). That makes any strategy pointless, and restoring for minimum damage the only fun way to play.

There were also numerous issues with the text itself. Many misspelled words, spaces in weird places, extra blank lines, etc. There’s a comment in the game that the author has vision issues. But in this age of spellcheckers and online beta testers and such, there should be very little reason to have these issues. I also came across a persistent run-time error with the hermit (who seemed to have very little point to exist either – he didn’t even respond to half of the suggested conversation topics).

In short, this game needs a lot more work to be engaging. What’s worse, it seems to be only half a game, really. You’re hired for a particular job, but told to do a different one first to prove your worth. Well, the game ends after that first job is complete. The second one might theoretically happen in a sequel, according to the comments available after the ending.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 7, -1 for numerous text issues, -1 for trivial combat, -1 for run-time error, -1 for an unfinished plot


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