Sunday, May 22, 2011

Destiny Quest review

A new gamebook was published and I rejoiced.  Destiny Quest hit the market and soon it was all over the web.  I first noticed it when Andrew Wright interviewed Michael J. Ward about its creation (more about that later). 

Two posts here and here showed just how big the book is.  And it is a behemoth of a book, split into three acts, each one jam packed with different encounters.  

In Destiny Quest, you play a character who has no memory of your origin and your identity.  All you have is a dark mark on your arm and a sword that has been bequeathed to you by a dying squire, ready to be trained by a wizard known as Avian Dale.  Somehow, you have survived a bloody battle and the squire tells you to take his identity and train under Avian yourself.

So there is a big mystery from the start, which is always a plus.

The story takes you on a path of discovery about who you are and this becomes intertwined with the Legion of Shadow which starts to invade the land at the end of act one.  Act two involves you trying to find out how to stop the legion and act three is the climax where you face the legion itself.  As well as the main story line, each quest is its own contained story which takes elements from all media from fairytales to cinema to Lovecraft.  A particular favourite of mine is the quest involving a castle full of vampires and the great description of the double sword wielding Witch Hunter Eldias 'Glad you could join the party' Falks and his apprentice who takes out a load of vampires by pouring holy water into a cauldron of soup and then tipping the soup all over the vampires.  Inspired.

Where you go and what you do is determined by selecting different quests on a map and turning to the relevant paragraphs.  There is a different map for each act.  Quests are colour coded by difficulty.  There are also legendary monster quests which involve fighting one powerful opponent.  Finally, each act  has a boss monster quest which is the quest that you need to complete to move onto the next quest.

Which brings us onto the quests themselves.  The main reward from each quest is to get better items and help your character grow, increasing their stats.

Your stats are speed which makes it easy for you to hit an opponent, brawn and magic to determine the damage you do (you choose which one you use) and armour reduces the damage you take.  Finally, you have health, which if it reaches zero, means that you have to go back to the map and choose another quest.

That's right, you don't have to start from the beginning if your health reaches zero.  From a rules perspective, this makes the gamebook much more enjoyable as you do not have to repeat the first act every time your health reaches zero.  And, as I discovered later in the book, this was also done for story reasons.

Combat is similar to how Fighting Fatasy combat is resolved but with extra bits.  You roll two dice and add the result to your speed.  You do the same for your opponent.  The winner adds the result of one die roll to their brawn or magic then subtracts their opponent's armour score from the value to determine how much damage they deal.  That's the basic outline.

All the quests involve battling various monsters.  There are some puzzles and non combat decisions that you need to make, but their consequences make little difference to the storyline.  Instead, most of the decisions are made during combat and how to develop your character.

After each combat, you are given a selection of items where you may take one or more.  At first, the items just increase your speed, brawn, magic or armour, but eventually, you get items which give you special abilites which allow you to manipulate dice rolls or change your stats for a round of combat.

This leads to the decision making.  When you have several abilities, every round in combat becomes a complex decision making exercise.  Should you use your charm ability to change a die roll which you add to speed or damage?  Should I use a health potion now or risk another round?  The number of options available to you combined with the fact that every quest provides a different opponent with a different strategy makes every combat a complex and engaging tactical exercise.  There were a few occasions where it was good if I lost an attack round.  For example, the combats where I had an ability which let me reflect damage back to my opponent.

After the combat, you usually have the option of taking one of two or three items (occasionally, you can take all of them) which also adds to the variability of the game.  As well as simply selecting an item, you also need to think about which direction you want to take your character in.  At the end of act one, you select a path from warrior, mage or rogue and each one requires high values in each stat.  I quickly decided that I needed to land hits well, so I concentrated on increasing my speed.  This made rogue the natural choice for me.

As well as deciding on a path, you can then get a career which gives you additional abilities and more options.  I chose the pickpocket career which allowed me to choose all the items left behind if I wanted to.

Destiny Quest has been compared to a MMORPG.  It is like an RPG computer game, but it is better than RPG games that I have played for two reasons:

1)  All of your combats are challenging yet fair and give you a meaningful reward.  In RPGs, I spent a lot of time hacking my way through an army of mooks that were no threat to me.  This definately does not happen in Destiny Quest.

2)  In Destiny Quest, you choose a location and you are there with the turn of a page.  I have spent too much time in RPGs running through empty corridors to return an object I just found which means that all of the time I spent on Destiny Quest was meaningful and entertaining.

In his interview with Andrew Wright, Michael said that he made a herculean effort and spent immense amounts of time playtesting this book and it certainly shows.  Every combat and every item is balanced.  There are no overwhelmingly powerful opponents as long as you make some sensible decisions about your items (focus on either magic or brawn - don't try to increase both).

The format kept me hooked.  I wanted to do just one more quest so I could find an item that increased my speed by one more point so that I could finally take on that quest where I was killed.  The entertaining and immersing stories made it feel more than just a stat boosting exercise (also mentioned here).

I thought Destiny Quest was great.  Michael has been very clever with the way he set out the quests as he can create some add ons for the book in the form of more quests or more shops.  He has already done this on his website.  

Destiny Quest will give you many entertaining and challenging hours and I look forward to the new quests and another book.  


  1. Nice review! I've been on the fence as to whether to buy this book or not but I think I will now.

  2. Great review! I learned a bit more than I have from other reviews.