I had originally intended to name my top 25 favorite games of all time in succession starting with #25 and ending with what I consider to be the greatest game of all time. However, As I started formulating the list in my head, I realized the hypocrisy of numerically ranking my favorite games. I’ve often preached about the fallacy of contrasting dissimilar games with one another. For example, by what criteria does one judge the Secret of Monkey Island to be an inferior experience to Super Metroid? I’ve thus decided simply to share – in no particular order – what I think are the greatest games ever made. And the first?
Quest for Glory IV – Shadows of Darkness
Never before – and I’d wager never again – have I found such a gem of a game in the bargain software bin. Truth be told, it I wasn’t even I who found it. My father came home from the store (Walmart, I believe) one day and presented me with a rather plain, white PC game box. Across the front of the box were stamped the words “Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness.” I have no doubt now that my father bought the game solely because of its pretty, almost minimalistic packaging.
At 9 years old, I was not unfamiliar with adventure games. My family had often collaborated on titles such as Myst, the Monkey Island series, King’s Quest, and the Legend of Kyrandia. Even still, I had never heard of the Quest for Glory series before and it would be months before I realized that the game I had grown to love was even a part of a greater collection. In my naïveté, Shadows of Darkness was a standalone game featuring a heroic protagonist with a mysterious past. My ignorance only contributed to the intrigue of the game. Like one of the residents of Mordavia, I learned about the Prince of Shapier’s past heroic exploits as I progressed through the game; all the while, proving myself a hero once more and, paradoxically, for the very first time.
In Shadows of Darkness, I had greater control over the story than I had ever before been allowed in a game. I chose the hero’s profession, his skills, and I chose his actions. More importantly, I decided the hero’s actions, and my decisions felt as if they had true, in-game consequences. In fact, never before had I entered into a virtual world that felt so alive. The cast of characters were fully voiced, and the game itself was beautifully narrated by none other than John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones fame. Each character had his or her own story to tell – often over the course of multiple play-throughs – and their stories often lead to optional side-quests. By today’s standards, many of these side-quests might seem arbitrary, but at the time, they demonstrated to this gamer how the true hero is the one who’s not afraid to take on the little tasks: reuniting old men with deceased wives and wives with their estranged husbands. Solving the depressed Mordavians’ problems one by one felt good, and I wanted to solve them all.
I should add here before going any farther that I was fortunate to have played the game under the best circumstances. I installed the game via CD-ROM onto my Windows 3.1 PC. I’d later learn that the original release of the game was rushed through development in order to meet a holiday release date and suffered drastically because of the shortened development time. The original game was plagued with glitches and game-breaking bugs. In later years, I’d see how fragile QFGIV was firsthand when I attempted to play it on a Pentium 2 machine. To this date, Error 52 haunts me. The fact that so many persistent fans were willing to experiment with and share glitch workarounds is a testament to its underlying, indefinable quality.
What Quest for Glory IV did best was atmosphere. Everything about Mordavia from the swamp to the dilapidated guild hall whispered of a mysterious sadness. Each character class opened up a little more of the game’s mysteries. Adding to the game’s mystique were the rumors that I picked up from a friend at school of a hidden character class playable only by those who had completed at least one of the first three games in the series. When at long last I imported my first Paladin into the game, it was like playing it for the first time.
When I had finally thwarted the vampire Ad Avis’ evil plans and saved the world from certain doom at the hands of the demon Avoozl, I bitter-sweet calm set over me. I felt terribly sad to have come to the end of such a fantastical adventure, but truly happy to have set so many wrongs right with Mordavia’s denizens. Shadows of Darkness gave me the opportunity to feel like a real hero, and I would later sink dozens of hours into this game and the other 4 in the series trying to recapture that feeling. Few games have ever touched me the way Shadows of Darkness did, and for that reason, it remains today as one of my all-time favorites.
The Quest for Glory – originally Hero’s Quest – series was the brain child of wife and husband Lori and Corey Cole developed by Sierra studios. Five years after the release of QFGIV, the series would finally see the release of its conclusion, Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire. The lackluster sales of the game would eventually lead to the termination of the Coles’ Yosemite Studios. Eventually, Sierra’s properties would be absorbed by entertainment giant Vivendi before finally resting with Activision Blizzard.