The King and his ass
It’s always nice to be given a few choices in adventure games. So often developers fall into the trap of thinking that solid stories require entirely linear gameplay, and I don’t think that’s absolutely the case. Like most things in life, balance is the key, and from what I can tell so far, Christy Marx tried to find this balance with Conquests of Camelot. After leaving Camelot for the first time, a map of the game area was displayed. It seemed to me that I was now free to go wherever I wanted! I’d gathered a few clues while playing that had hinted as to where I should go (Launcelot went to Ot Moor, Gawaine to Glastonbury Tor, and Galahad to Southampton), but what if I chose to take my own path while searching for the Grail? The answer of course is that clicking on any of the other locations resulted in variations of the message “There is nothing of worth to milk from Braunton”. This lack of true freedom is one of the things that separate RPGs from adventure games. There’s a trade-off between a focus on story / puzzles and freedom / choice, with games like Hero’s Quest successfully sitting on the fence (which is probably why I love it so much). So how well does Conquests of Camelot manage this balance? You’ll find out soon enough!
We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.
Off to Ot Moor we go!
Haha, I'm like Jesus, yo! Walking on water and shit! This is so cool, I wish someone could see...
You'd think the magic would lead me directly to the palace right. Oh no, it had to zigzag all over the place!
This is all very similar to the ice castle on a lake from 1984's Conan the Destroyer!
I spoke to her, and she professed knowledge of where to find the Grail! “I sense the presence of Merlin. But I know that which he does not – where to search for the Grail. But to win my help, you must find and return an object of power that was stolen from me. Go, and I will transport you safely across the ice. Do not return unless you bring it to me!” Before I could do anything else, I was transported back to my horse and mule, wondering what it was I was supposed to give her. Clearly I didn’t have it yet, and my original excitement at seemingly having choice in Conquests of Camelot diminished somewhat. I hadn’t exactly been dead-ended, but I may as well have been. The game had given me the option of where to travel first, but I’d chosen incorrectly, which kind of defeats the point of having a choice in the first place. It was all made a lot worse though, because as much as I tried, I was simply not able to climb back onto my horse. I’d climbed on previously by typing “get on horse”, but that was now met with “Your horse is too wise to venture onto the ice”. I of course had no intention of venturing back onto the ice just yet, but no matter what I typed, my damn horse was having none of it. Eventually I tried just leaving the horse there, but trying to leave without it caused the following: “You will find the trip even longer and more tiring without your horse, Arthur.” In the end I had no choice but to restore back to Camelot and ignore that I ever went to Ot Moor.
Oh come on! I just walked across miles of thin ice to get here! And seriously, do you have to use that font colour!?
But not wise enough to know that I wish to go in the opposite direction.
This time I decided to go to Glastonbury Tor, since there seemed no point in following Galahad across the open sea just yet. After selecting my destination, I reappeared in the ominously named Forest Perilous, which must be travelled through to reach the hill of Glastonbury Tor. On arrival there was an odd shrine in front of me that seemed to contain some sort of green statue. I looked at the shrine, and was told that “It is an old, bronze statue of Cernunnos and he holds out a cup for offerings.” Cernunnos is a Celtic god in human form, yet with antlers on his head. He is considered to be the God of nature or fertility, although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical information regarding his place in Celtic religion. As I approached it, a red creature named Widdershins jumped out and made a reasonably specific demand! “Copper or tin! Copper or tin! Copper or tin for Widdershins! I am no troll but that is my toll! Copper or tin for Widdershins!” I had a bunch of copper in my purse, so I gave him one single coin. This seemed to appease him: “Copper is mine! Copper divine! Go your way. No trick I will play!” With that he disappeared, and I was free to explore the screen further and then travel deeper into the forest. I couldn't find anything else of interest, so I moved on to the next section of forest.
The Forest Perilous! I have to go through the Forest Perilous!!??
I hope the locations continue to have such contrasting environments.
Well at least the little dude is easily satisfied!
To my right stood a hunter, and there were several pelts drying on sticks nearby. When I spoke to him it was clear that he was a poor man, and getting anything out of him was going to involve some form of “charity”. When I tried asking about Gawain, he responded with “Even one copper coin would be of much use to me, sire, and help greatly to loosen my tongue.” I obliged, and he offered his assistance, as well as giving me a word of warning: “Beware the Mad Monk of Glastonbury!” Fortunately the hunter did have some information for me regarding the missing knight, announcing that the “goodly knight came this way and rode on into the Forest to reach the Tor where he hoped to find the Grail”. Sadly that was the last time he saw him though, which meant he either didn’t make it or was still on the hill somewhere. I asked the hunter about this Mad Monk, and was told that he had “surrounded the base of the Tor with a sorcerous barrier and stones that speak”. Finally, the hunter offered to sell me his pelts for a silver coin, but I saw no reason to buy them, particularly as I would not be able to return to Camelot to get more coins. I did try it though to see what would happen. I gained no points for it, and didn’t even get the pelts (the hunter told me he’d take them to Camelot personally).
Since when must your King pay you to serve him, peasant?!
Stones that speak you say! I don't suppose you've been partaking in strange mushrooms have you?
I felt I’d finished with the hunter, so I walked my horse to the next screen. As I did so, my mule appeared to get scared and bolted back in the direction of Camelot! I pushed on without it, and was told that I could hear something rustling in the bushes. It was a boar, and after a brief pause it rushed me and knocked me off my horse! This ended my life of course, so I was going to have to restore and figure out how to avoid or defeat it if I wanted to progress. I tried getting off my horse but was told that wasn’t a good idea, so could find no way to get past the vicious animal. After two or three crushing defeats I noticed on restoring that the hunter was holding a spear! This seemed an ideal weapon to kill the boar from horseback, so I asked him about it. “The boar spear once belonged to the Black Knight and is powerful enough to kill even the giant boars of this Forest. He has laid an enchantment on it so that it belongs to the Forest and cannot be taken from here.” I offered to buy it from him, and thankfully he agreed to do so for one gold coin. I paid his price, and the hunter fastened the spear beneath my horse’s trappings. I was now ready to face the boar again, and the hunter warned me once again that the power of the spear would only exist within the Forest.
Oh you think this is funny do you!?
You mean, from your left hand!?
Once I returned with the boar spear, there was an instruction on the screen to press the spacebar to “Thrust Spear”. When the boar charged me, I simply pressed the spacebar at the right time to take it down! Victory... or so I thought! After a couple more steps, another boar came out of the bushes and charged me, knocking me off my horse after my mistimed thrust. There was no way of saving once I’d entered the screen, and it turned out I needed to thrust my spear into three boars at precisely the right time to be able to progress. I have to admit this took a few goes, despite being sure I’d nailed it on more than one occasion. I managed eventually, and trotted away from the bloodbath feeling only mildly triumphant. As soon as I entered the next screen, a crow began speaking to me! “O Fool, you seek death by coming here. Turn back now or die!” Beneath the stone that the crow rested upon were the bones of an unfortunate soul, and there were some mushrooms to the left of screen. The large tree next to me caught my attention too, so I right clicked on it to see whether it had any relevance. “’Tis a Father Tree. Sometimes if you are worthy enough, such wise and ancient beings will even speak with you.” I typed “talk to tree”, and the response I got wasn’t an inviting one. “Who dares to speak to Old Father Tree? You are but a twinkle in time, mortal. Let me sleep long and dreamless sleep of deep roots and sun on branch.”
This third one really troubled me for some reason.
Aha! There are the mushrooms...
...and now I'm talking to birds and trees! These are fantastic!
This wasn’t the first time that the game had made part of the scenery seem important, only to reverse the sentiment a short time later. When I tried to talk to the tree again I received the following: “Do not disturb him further, Arthur. He is an old and weary tree.” It's unusual for superfluous events like this to occur in adventure games, but I don’t mind it at all. It’s not realistic that everyone and everything you come across should play an important role in your quest, so it’s nice to feel part of an environment where there are “extras”. The mushrooms were similar in this respect, as I wasn’t able to do anything with them, despite being informed that they were of “the species Amanita Muscaria” and are “very dangerous at the best of times, and said to cause madness or death”. As I approached the crow, it spoke to me again: “Hear me, then, O Brave Fool. The Black Knight is the greatest of all knights. None have beaten him. His is invincible. Even Sir Gawaine was grievously wounded. The Black Knight awaits you for a joust to the death. Do you accept the challenge?” What else could a brave knight do but say “yes”?! The crow told me I was a fool, before flying off to the right of screen, presumably to tell the Black Knight of my answer. Before I followed it to my apparently inevitable death, I spent some time checking out the corpse.
Clearly this Black Knight has never gone head to head with me! After all...I'm...still alive!
“Naught is left but a bit of armour, his bones picked clean by the crow, and a bit of brightly colored silk. Odd. Although this lady’s sleeve has surely been here as long as the dead knight, it is as new as the day the lady wore it. There is magick involved here.” I picked up the sleeve, and then after a deep breath, prepared myself for battle. As soon as I entered the next screen, the Black Knight was waiting to joust. He did give me a choice though: “In the forest beyond me, I have imprisoned your friend, Sir Gawaine. He is sorely injured and shall die soon without help. To free him, you must joust with me. Three times you must unhorse me before I can die. Three times must I unhorse you to slay you. The first knight to strike the third blow is the victor. No matter who wins. Gawaine will go free. But if you joust with me, you will surely die. Therefore I give you one other choice: I will let you pass untouched… but I will take Gawaine’s life in exchange. I lay the challenge before you. Will you joust with me for the life of Sir Gawaine?” The only honourable thing to do would be to accept the challenge, but you’ll have to wait for my next post to see how I fared. I’m really enjoying Conquests of Camelot, despite a few bugs and flaws doing their best to taint the experience. Some of the comments from other companions on the blog hint at nasty dead-ends, so I’m really hoping I can avoid those. If I don't post within the next few days, I guess I perished in battle!
Oh yes, there is definitely magick involved here! Not magic mind you. Magick!
Can you repeat the bit about you being invincible? I felt like there was something important there.
Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 00 minutes
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!