Compared to companies like Telltale, Sierra and The Odd Gentlemen seem to be spacing out episodes of their episodic King’s Quest reboot a little more (Chapter 1 launched in July). Still, the first chapter of King Graham’s comedic fantasy journey had me interested, and I was still looking forward to trying out the second installment, Rubble Without a Cause. As it turns out, this installment is handled in a way that makes it feel very different from its predecessor, and while I have to give props for its novelty, the way it’s handled (along with a few other factors) makes this chapter a bit of a letdown compared to what came before it.
The game still makes use of the framing device with the elderly King Graham recounting stories of his past adventures to his grandchildren, and takes place a short time after the first episode, which ended with the then-novice younger Graham proving his worth to the kingdom. Now, Graham has been crowned king, but finds the endless amount of requests and decisions taxing. A more serious problem rears its head when an army of armored, gibberish-speaking goblins invades the kingdom and kidnaps Graham, his knights, and some familiar faces that Graham previously encountered.
Trapped in a large cavern prison and forced to figure out an escape plan, Graham is let out of his cell every morning by the dim-witted goblin soldier to be the daily feeder for a ferocious rat monster. However, Graham instead makes use of his freedom to explore the prison and catch up with his captured friends. Some of them have come up with escape plans, but are stuck in their cells, leaving it to Graham to collect the items they require, escape the prison and confront the goblin’s leader head-on.
This setup not only makes for a different kind of story, but also a different approach to exploration and gameplay. Puzzles still revolve around collecting and using items and branching conversations with NPCs, but the world is more compact and easy to get around this time. The added weight on Graham’s shoulders in this episode comes in the form a stamina system for him and his fellow prisoners.
While Graham can’t die, he has three levels of stamina that decrease with each day, requiring him to make use of his daily drumstick to recover. His allies have it tougher. Each one has three to fix hearts displayed whenever you talk to them, also with one unit depleting each day. Graham needs to keep good track of each character’s health before they run out of stamina and are removed from the game.
The reason players should try to keep characters around is that some of them will offer escape plan opportunities. In the end, though, Graham will only need to make use of one plan to succeed. This ultimately opens up an element of choice that few conventional adventure games have. While I spent some of the game attempting to carry out one character’s plan, I eventually hit a roadblock when it came to finishing it, but because another character had a plan, I was able to try that one out and eventually succeed with it. The one downside to this is that you’ll likely encounter puzzles that you never solve and items that you never use, which can be a little confusing once your inventory gets bigger.
All these elements result in Rubble Without a Cause managing to feel unique compared to the first installment, but it also brings some sizable drawbacks. There may be a smaller amount of environments to explore, but this compact nature means that you’ll be running between the same environments to the point where you’re sick of seeing them. A series like this could also really benefit from some kind of fast travel option, though the added ability to skip most dialog and transitions with a shoulder button is still welcome. It doesn’t help that the meat of the game being entirely underground results in environments that offer little visual variation, though there are still occasional moments of eye candy.
Also, the game initially threw me with what seemed to be a darker tone. Because I didn’t fully wrap my head around the food and stamina mechanic, I lost two characters early on, and was pretty shocked to see their motionless bodies removed by the goblins. Ultimately, though, the last portion of the game makes you realize that this supposedly sinister turn was more of a facade than anything and definitely won’t impact future episodes at all, which felt like a bit of a cheat.
The episode still has a few memorable moments, especially the way the climax plays out, but I walked away from it feeling like just about every aspect paled in comparison to the first episode. I’ll give The Odd Gentlemen some respect for refusing to play things completely safe, but the risk with that approach has always been coming out with something inferior to its predecessor.
Furthermore, while I praised the first episode for delivering a smooth and solid technical experience, this one didn’t go as well. A cutscene involving goblins running about late in the game ended with them running to the edge of the screen, stopping, and running in place. Worse yet was a later pillar-jumping section, as for some reason, the screen kept flashing previous moments for a split second, resulting in one of the most unpleasant glitches I’ve ever experienced.
It remains to be seen whether the remaining three King’s Quest episodes will also attempt something different with their core mechanics, but if that is the case, I hope they end up more successful than Rubble Without a Cause. While the first chapter still ended up being an enjoyable experience despite some flaws, this one ultimately feels like the good qualities are drowned out by several notable issues. The jury’s still out on how well King’s Quest will be as a whole upon its conclusion, but hopefully it can recover from this installment.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which was provided to us.
It's nice to see King’s Quest: Chapter 2 – Rubble Without a Cause provide an interesting twist on adventure game mechanics, but a limited amount of mostly dreary environments leads to hours of repetition that, along with awkward mechanics, burns a lot of good will.