You awaken in a dark cave. Your last memories were of being snatched from the land of Tarna by some mysterious force. Where have you ended up this time?
Shadows of Darkness is the fourth game in the much loved adventure/RPG hybrid series, Quest for Glory, created by the now-defunct Sierra On-Line. You are a hero in a strange land, surrounded by strange people and stranger creatures. Will you take up the path of Fighter, Wizard, or Thief?
The game begins with you in a strange cave, from which you must make your escape. Once you are outside, the true quest begins: who brought you here, and why? The land of Mordavia is fraught with all manner of dangers, be it living or dead. Something is obviously amiss.
Based on various myths and legends from around the world, Mordavia takes particular influence from certain Eastern European and Slavic mythologies. This brings much life (and un-death!) to the monsters and people that you will meet in your quest. The game world has reverted back to something reminiscent of the first in the series (after a rather different look and feel in the third game), based around a small town in the middle of a forest. The daytime is generally quieter, while traveling at night is not recommended for a novice adventurer. However, it is said that there is a safe haven in the forest for those who are caught out at night.
The land is cut off from the outside world by mountains and swamps, and the people are suspicious of strangers. The only other recent visitors are the new residents of the castle, to the east of the town. An abandoned Adventurer's Guild is in the back streets, next to an old monastery. This grey stone monastery has a particularly strange design, but it looks like it has been abandoned for years.
The game plays as a blend of point-and-click adventure, coupled with plenty of role-playing elements. Your first choice is to pick your character class: the direct option of the fighter, the sneaky thief, or the thoughtful wizard. Each class will be able to solve puzzles in a different way, providing much replay value. If you have completed the previous game in the series, you can transfer your character to Shadows of Darkness. There is also a fourth class, which you can unlock in the previous game, available to play if you transfer your character from any of the previous games.
The RPG elements comprise the class system, and the various statistics and abilities that each class has. The system is quite simple, with each class needing to focus on certain skills in order to be able to fight and solve certain puzzles. For example, you may require a certain amount of practice in climbing to be able to reach that unlocked upper window, or you might need enough strength to move a heavy object. Skill points are gained by using those skills, for example: throwing will improve throwing skills, and casting spells improves magic usage.
Fighting takes place in a separate system once you come into contact with a hostile enemy. The battle screen appears similar to a side-scrolling fighting game, with you on the left and your enemy on the right hand side. Attacking is as simple as clicking on the enemy when they are in range, and other commands are available in the menu at the bottom of the screen. When you have defeated your foes, don't forget to check if they have anything valuable on them; adventuring is expensive work!
The adventure game side will be very familiar to anyone who has played a Sierra adventure game, specifically those from the mid-1990s, where all actions were undertaken by using the mouse. Left clicking will use the current icon on a location, while right-clicking cycles the available icons. There is a menu found by moving the mouse to the top of the screen, which also pauses the game while you select an icon, which includes your inventory, the options screen (where you set the game difficulty, speed, volume, and other options, as well as saving the game) and all the icons found by right-clicking your mouse.
The plot is linked to previous games in the series, which provides extra background for those who have completed the other installments. There are a couple of recurring characters, which can help or hinder your progress. The storyline is perhaps a touch cliché, as you are tasked with (yet again) saving the world, but it mixes a Gothic feel with lighter tones throughout.
The sound and music are well done for its era, with the rather impressive addition of voice acting for the CD version. Of note amongst the voice actors are John Rhys-Davies as the narrator, and Jennifer Hale as the mysterious Katrina, the first person you meet after escaping the strange cave at the start of the game.
The artwork is generally well done, with painted backgrounds that are rich and detailed. The character sprites are of lower quality, but do not distract from the general experience. When speaking to the various characters in the game, you will be treated to a more detailed close-up of their faces and torsos, which adds depth to each character.
On a more negative note, this game was rather hurriedly finished by Sierra, which does mean there are a few bugs that will quite often crop up in the game. A couple of these are related to more modern processors, and can easily be solved by going to the options and moving the "detail" slider to the top and the "speed" slider to the bottom. The first of these problems occurs very early on, at the path next to the obelisk, while the second is some way into the game. The third common error occurs in the very final scene, so remember, save often! There is a patch available which solves some issues found in the floppy disk version; the CD version should be more stable.
Despite its issues, the game is fantastic, and a personal favorite of mine. The story and the characters will draw you in, and you'll find yourself playing through the game with every possible character combination. It works even better when played as part of the series, and there are many advantages to bringing a character from the previous game.
A must play for adventure gamers, RPG fans, Sierra lovers, and the rest!
Part of the Quest for Glory Series