Sunday, June 12, 2011

Game 58: Questron II (1988)

Questron II
United States
Westwood Associates (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1988 for Apple II, Apple II GS, Atari ST, Amiga, and DOS
Date Started: 12 June 2011
Questron II is a sequel to a game that I didn't play as part of this blog, but it was the first CRPG that I ever did play, way back in the mid-1980s. [Ed.: I later rectified this mistake and played it.] When I started playing, I didn't even own it. I'm not sure I even had my own C64. But I was over at this other kid's house and I saw him playing it, and somehow I managed to convince him to leave me alone in his room while he went off and did something else for the afternoon. I was hooked.

Later, I must have gotten a C64, or gotten this particular game, because I have a vivid memory of playing the game in my room and winning a boatload of money at roulette. I was so excited, I ran out of the room to tell my mother. I remember shouting something like, "Mom! I'm playing this game where the most money you ever have is like seventy-five gold pieces, and I just won two thousand!" She said something like, "Uh....great, honey!" while doubtlessly contemplating the likelihood that she would never have grandchildren.

I'll also forever be grateful to Questron for teaching me what a "mace" is. When I first saw that you could buy "mace" in a weapons shop, I imagined you were buying the chemical spray. It kind of spoiled the immersion for me. I mentioned this to my friend and he called me a "retard" but fortunately explained what it really was.

There are three other things I remember about the game:

  1. Your character is a peasant who works his way up in the world.
  2. Different weapons are good for different monsters.
  3. When I won, there was an extended end-game sequence that showed you paraded through a castle and being lauded by the king or something. For me, this set the bar for end games, and I was usually disappointed in future games by how little they gave me.

Writing all of this, I again feel like a bit of a berk for not playing it on this blog. What was my excuse? It didn't have a DOS release? I wish I could go back in time and slap the me of February 2010. (Though it turns out if I did, I still wouldn't have played Questron--see below.) For now, suffice to say that Questron was based on the style of Ultima (Barton says they even licensed the "style and structure" of Garriott's game). In the casino games and stat upgrade games, it featured the first mini-games of any CRPG, I think. These are all things that carried over to Legacy of the Ancients, which I did play here.

The plot of Questron wasn't all that compelling. You have to build up your character so you can take on the lamely-named Mantor, who rules over the even-more-lamely-named Land of Evil with his epically-lamely-named Evil Book of Magic. When licensing the "style and structure" from Ultima, the creators apparently decided this included the needless slaughter of dozens of hapless castle guards, because such massacres feature prominently in both Questron and Legacy. In Questron, the castle's king even knights you for it.

As Questron II opens, a wizard named Mesron is telling me that yeah, Mantor is dead, but his Evil Book of Magic is still around, and it's "so evil that it cannot be destroyed by normal means." Moreover, "its very presence, anywhere in our continuum, poses the threat of corruption and doom to all civilizations." That's some evil. His solution? Send me back in time to the planet of Landor, where the book was created by six "mad sorcerers," and stop its creation. Unfortunately, like the Terminator, I can't take any weapons with me, and the trip will "cause the loss of some of my Questron-renowned power." This is the game's way of saying that I'll get kicked back to Level 1.

We have to pause to consider the game's understanding of time travel, which according to Morle the Magician is quite common among sorcerers. I was a bit worried that if I stopped the creation of the book, Mantor would never rise to power, and I'd revert to a poor peasant. But according to Morle, "Going back in time to prevent an event can do nothing to alter the years between the event and the moment you move back through time. Only the future after your departure will be altered." Right. So let's work this out. Someone invents a time machine in 2012. You jump in and go back to November 22, 1963, run up to the sixth floor, and wrestle Oswald to the floor before he can shoot. But Kennedy still dies because, after all, you can't change the past. You return to 2012, and then, suddenly, Kennedy is alive. Only he's 95, so he probably just keels over.

So if I could go back 16 months and convince February 2010 me to just get a C64 emulator already and play Questron, I still wouldn't play it, but returning to June 2011, I would suddenly find a saved game on my hard drive. Man, time travel messes with the mind.

There's other stuff about the back story that we need to talk about, but you've all suffered long enough without any screen shots. Character creation consists of nothing more than giving your character a name, after which the game kindly recounts the story from the first Questron:

A disembodied voice explains that I'm on my way to another planet, Landor. "Although you are now a baron on Questron," the voice tells me. "You will have no title on Landor. Gather your strength. Marshal your allies. Learn where the sorcerers are and how to attack them. Remember your people and good luck." I wake up with a dagger, a suit of rawhide armor, a gold key, and the Evil Book of Magic, which for some reason they have sent with me. I am immediately attacked by something called a "Mavin," which the game manual describes as an ape-like creature.

Killing it with my sword takes a quarter of my hit points, so I duck into the town north of me.

Aside from better colors and graphics, the game is essentially identical to Legacy of the Ancients:

We've got the same top-down interface, the same keyboard commands listed to the left, the same statistics (hit points, food, gold), and the same message box at the bottom. I'm not exactly complaining; this is a game I can immediately start playing without messing around figuring out the controls. But I'm disappointed that combat in this franchise still hasn't advanced beyond hitting "(F)ight" until the enemy is dead.

Here's Keeganac's character sheet:

I note that there's no "experience" statistic, and that killing the Mavin got me some gold, but it didn't say anything about experience. One of the things I hated most about Legacy of the Ancients was that all the combat got you nothing but a few paltry gold pieces. Leveling occurred at fixed intervals and was tied to solving quests. It doesn't look like they've changed that in Questron II. They also haven't changed the annoying way enemies can attack you on the diagonal, but you can't.

The nearby town--Folman--has a food shop and an armor shop and a few little NPC villagers who all say one line when you (S)peak next to them, although nothing terribly useful so far.

Not really knowing where to go--the game manual suggests a first step is to seek the "Hall of Visions" so I can communicate with Mesron--I start exploring and find another town shortly to the south. When I enter, the game throws a copy protect question at me:

These are all monsters in the game. If there's one thing about this series, the creators did come up with some original monster names. Questron had pit screamers, dirt weirds, and Irish stalkers. Legacy had mime ghouls, venom floaters, and ventro flailers. This game, in addition to the ones above, has brawn warriors, snooper slinks, and jelly nymphs. Unlike the previous games, this one comes with a manual that fully describes each of them.

Anyway, in the second town, Ontaga, I found that old Questron staple:

They had two games: blackjack and high-low. Even better, they haven't changed the rules on blackjack since Legacy: winning pays even money, and 21 gets you double. Settling in for 20 minutes of 'jack, I turned my 203 gold into 1,290. But I noticed a curious thing: it was harder and harder to win towards the end. With those rules on payouts, I should have been able to keep going indefinitely (Legacy had you break the bank if you won too much, and then the guards chased you out of town). The dealer was getting a lot of 20s and 21s when I had 18 or 19. I wonder if the program is specifically designed to cheat if you win too much.

I kept moving on and found a couple other towns. The only weapons anyone will sell me are daggers, oddly enough, and the only armor I can buy is leather. One armor shop didn't even have anything! (And I don't think it's a Demon's Winter-style thing where you have to cycle through items.) I did buy some rope & hooks for crossing mountains and a bunch of food. It turns out that tavernkeepers give hints when you tip them, and one of the tips was germane to my quest:

Now if only I knew where Redstone Castle was. Also, I think it's "soothe."

The third town--I forgot to note the name--also had a magic shop where I can buy magic missile, one of the game's four spells. The others are fireball, sonic whine, and time sap (ironically appropriate).

My reactions after playing for about 45 minutes are: this is it? The same old game--from the gambling, to the combat, to the rope 'n' hooks, to the dumb leveling system, to the useless one-line NPCs--with slightly better tiles? My nostalgic fondness for my first CRPG doesn't extend to wanting to play the exact same game, especially not in the same year that Pool of Radiance blew all of this (seriously? Only four spells?) out of the water.

I decided to take a gamble. I would return to Ontaga and lay all the rest of my 1000 gold on one game of blackjack. If I won, I would keep playing to the end. If I lost, I would do my six hours as quickly as possible (yes, I know, shut up)--probably with a new character, because I'm only at 58 hit points and I can't yet figure out how to heal in this game.


The dealer busted spectacularly. I now have 2,024 gold. I'm going to see my mother for dinner tomorrow night. I can't wait to tell her.


  1. another of my favs, its quite simple but fun. I think its interesting in that its the only one of the 4 games (ancients, blacksilver, questron1, q2) written not by the Dougherty brothers. It shows imo too. While technically Legend of Blacksilver is the best, overall I think Q2 is the best of the 4 games.

  2. oh, the dungeons turn into a bards tale 3d experience once you hit the second half of the game. very fun

  3. I must say the game looks and sounds rather tedious. I guess there is a reason why I never played it as a kid, even though I bought the compilation with Phantasie I and III, and Questron 2.

    BTW, there is a thread about you on the Dungeon Master forum -
    The essence of it is "My God, I can't believe he never heard about Dungeon Master before?!?"
    Which incidentally was my own reaction as well.

  4. I enjoy your sense of humour :)

    Whereas I loved Blacksilver as a child, I don't think I'd play through identi-copies of it!

  5. Just a note, you need to update your game ticker on the side. Also your comments seem back to normal- I bet they will go back to crazy large numbers when you hit the next gold box game.

  6. Hahahaha, I love the game's concept of time travel - and the logical conclusion you hilariously pointed out.

    Well, at least it looks like a relatively short romp to the end of this one, so don't feel too bad about your unfortunate luck at the casino table. Consider it a palate cleaner for the next games in the list.

  7. I think I'm not the only one to find this post hilarious!

    I've never played either game but I read their mini-reviews by Scorpia in the old CGW days, and I remember she liked the first one a lot (and I think she commented positively on the ending) but wasn't too impressed with the second for some of the same reasons you mention. From what you've said it seems the developers were heavily inspired by some of the early Ultimas (Evil Book/Mondain's gem, time travel)

  8. I vaguely remember having tried to play this at the time, not understand anything (was 8-9 probably) and let go. I guess I didn't miss much.

    Thanks for the funny post, thanks to which (as an unintended side effect) we now have ads for online casions in the sidebar.

  9. Jelly Nymphs? Are they just an amorphous blob or do they have a... sultry appearance?

  10. Interesting historical footnote: after the Dougherty Brothers finished Questron for Strategic Simulations, they were lured away by Electronic Arts and Made Legacy of the Ancients for EA.

    SSI still owned the IP for Questron, though, so now they needed a company to develop Questron II. They chose a new company called Westwood Associates, who would later rename themselves Westwood Studios and pretty much create the PC RTS genre with Dune 2 and Command & Conquer.

  11. Glad you liked it and go the humor. Most people don't know when I'm kidding.

    I can't quite decide if this game is a palate-cleanser or just a really, really bad game.

    Adamanytr, the next time I encounter one, I'll post the shot, and you can decide. I like the idea of a "sultry jelly nymph," which probably suggests I've had far too many gimlets.

  12. I did chuckle throughout the reading of this post.
    And for me as a consumer if the game is bad but it makes for good blog postings then just stick a bit longer to it than intended.

    If it's a boring game and you can't make the postings interesting then just ditch it, or maybe race and cheat yourself over the winning line to show us the ending of the game, this has some added value.

    I have to say I really really like the frequency of your postings it has become my waking up ritual.
    Thanks alot ( )

  13. you have to remember, q2 is a novice game and por is an advanced game. different audiences. yeah the q2 story is a rehash, its fantasy crpg, a lot of games rehash the crappy story.

    I thought it was fun, some 2d mazes and some 3d dungeons with automap. shrugs..

  14. I think I must have had a fairly fortunate playlist of early CRPGs when I was a kid having hit many of the better ones that are still fondly remembered now but missing a lot of others.

    I've never seen this game before (though I have heard of it), but man is the colour palette ever ugly. Well actually the text boxes and inventory, etc. seem alright but the overland map and gambling screens are burn your eyes out brutal. I guess as I got older, I lost my tolerance for staring at neon green for any length of time. Anyway, stuff like this tends to make me wish for an alternate reality where old game designers found inspiration in Ultima's use of black in their tile sets. Hopefully the rest of the game has some interesting features, though.

    As an aside, I wasn't aware that you joked in this blog at all. I'd have thought telling your mother that you still like to spend your time playing the same games you did as a child (and write about it for any number of similarly interested adults) would be a wonderful dinner conversation to have - possibly as a lead in to discussing the devolution of our species.

  15. I do find the mental image of nymphs wrestling in jelly VERY appealing. Their not at all unexpected Charm attacks would be certain hits against me!

  16. I loved Legacy of the Ancients, but Questron II...meh. I barely remember being very underwhelmed when I bought this game.

    It's still interesting to see it again.

  17. I suppose there is a place for "novice games," Stu, and perhaps I should give them a break. But since the beginning I've ranked games against each other without considering their eras or intended audiences. I'll keep playing and might find I enjoy it more. I'm traveling this week, so I really don't have time for a complicated game anyway.

  18. Had to smile when I read you memories of Questron. This was my first RPG we well. The thing was, being a foreigner, I knew only very basic English at the time. My friend got the game on his C64, but was not sure what to do… neither did I - but it was different and I kept at it while my friend played jetpack on my spectrum 48.

    A week after I started, I finished the game. It came out of the blue. I was not sure why I won (did not understand 90% of the story) – but hell, the game said I dd and I was happy with that. It was time for a game of atic atac!

  19. I loved this game as a kid! I played Questron 1, Legacy of the Ancients, and Legend of Blacksilver as well. They were all great, I actually liked them better than the Ultimas.

  20. How do you get Questron 2 to work in DosBox? It keeps asking to insert Game Disk in the drive but then nothing ever happens...

    1. In the version I have, every time I start it, it asks me what graphics adapter I have, then has me choose from one floppy drive, two floppy drives, or "hard disk." I only get the message you're talking about if I don't choose "hard disk." If you're not getting the same options, I'm not sure how to help. My blog isn't really about tech support.

  21. As some other people have suggested, I think this is a great game for a younger RPG fan. Or at least I assume so, given that this game (along with Legacy of the Ancients) was one of my ... well, not *favorites* (that honor belonged pretty exclusively to Wasteland and Ultima VI until Fallout came out), but one of the games that was always fun to play for a while. Kind of a "casual/social" game of its day I suppose (in the good way, not the bad way).


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