Sierra quest: Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness (1993)

 If you ask me, Shadows of Darkness is the best game in the Quest for Glory series.  Not only has it got the strongest plot of the series, it's also the most atmospheric one. On the top of that, it has a scene in it that always gets me a bit teary-eyed. It still is just as pun-filled as the rest of the games are. And if you're playing a CD version of the game, you'll get the voice of John Rhys-Davies to narrate them to you.

Wages of War ended with a cliffhanger: the hero had just defeated the demon threatening Fricana and had regrouped with his friends in order to celebrate the victory when a spell takes hold of him. The spells whisks the hero away and when he gains his senses, he notices that he's ended up in a dark, gloomy cave with an old blood soaked altar made of bone.

With all his equipment lost, the hero rummages through decades dead corpses in the room to find some strange coins and some other equipment, which help him to force open the cave door. After collecting a rusting sword and a shield, if you're a fighter, the hero stumbles out from the cave's maw just to be encountered by a beautiful woman, Katrina. She tells him, that he just came out alive from the cave of the Dark One and that he's in the land of Mordavia. This time around the story is inspired by Slavic myths with a touch of H.P. Lovecraft.

Before anything else, you need to create a hero as your image. Or if you've played the previous games, you can always import an existing charcater, like my goody two shoes Paladin here.

In Shadows of Darkness the series gets again back to basics. It ditches the overhead traveling map that was used in Wages of War and the whole of Mordavia is again shown screen by screen basis. Granted, the world isn't huge, but what it lacks in size it wins over with atmosphere and great quality of the background artwork.

The main points of interest in Mordavia are the town of Mordavia, that has an adventurers guild and a shop as well as a cast of locals, who are more than suspicious of a stranger that waltzes in town despite the whole valley has been shut off after a sinister swamp covered the main road. The first major task for you is to win over the towns folk as well as gain the trust of a group of gypsies camping at the edge of the valley. Then there's the old Boyar castle, looming over the land, rumoured to have new occupants who've taken over the castle that has been empty for years. And last, but not for the least, there's a returning cast member from the first game, the ogre sorceress Baba Yaga.

Katrina is the first person you meet. She's also the first friendly person you meet.

The plot is a bit more darker this time around. Despite the previous games dwelled on the subject matter of demons and such, Mordavia is much gloomier place than any of the previous lands. Not only is the place cut off from the rest of the world (very much like Spielburg was in the first game), there's a feeling of melancholy and sadness everywhere. People are not only vary of strangers, they're afraid of vampires and the ever looming Dark One Avoozl, whose shadow has never really left the land. Then there's enhanced effect of sadness if you play as a paladin, when the ghost of Piotyr, a paladin long dead, comes to you for aid, not to mention of stories of lost and betrayed loves and children whisked off their parents hands.

While the plot itself is again filled with fantasy tropes, this time around it also has a good dose of horror elements in it as well. Some of these things are more humorous, some of them very serious and this all blends into a nice mix atmospheric story set in an atmospheric land.

Unlike in the previous game, the plot and quest lines now blend into a better mix of an overreaching arc. Everything you do now is at least in part of a greater whole. Not only do you slowly gain more information of what is wrong with Mordavia, you slowly start to change how people around feel towards you. A bit by bit previously suspicious people warm up to the hero as he does more to bring light back to the gloomy land.

Again night times changes the land. And, just like in other games, the deadlier enemies creep out from their hiding places at night.

Shadows of Darkness also remembers that you are in fact playing the game with 3 different class types and unlike Wages of Ware, remembers to cater class specific stuff within the game. The biggest additions, besides different ways for solving puzzles, are the thieves guild and its missions and the paladin ghost Piotyr, who gives paladin a way getting himself a magical sword and pure mages can meet fairies and get additional spells from them and so on.

One aspect I've not talked about in my articles about Quest for Glory is the music as well as voice acting. That's largely because I've always though the music in the other games is fine, but not anything spectacular and the previous three games don't have voice acting at all. Shadows of Darkness I think does deserve a mention in both, as I do think it has one of the best soundtracks done in Sierra games and the voice acting is surprisingly good for the time, if not a bit uneven. But then again, the quality of the voices work isn't really a surprise, as the cast is mostly very seasoned bunch of voice actors from Jennifer Hale to Neil Ross.

Rhys-Davies carries a huge bulk of this, as he dutifully reads every piece of descriptive and narrative text and there's a lot of it. The other cast members are mostly good as well, but in some places there's odd mistakes in the voices. Like the gypsy fortuneteller, who most of the time speaks with a thick accent, but has some lines with the actress speaking in a very different voice. Then there's lines that should obviously be spoken by a certain character, but have been given to Rhys-Davies as a piece of narrative text. Also, what goes for sound quality, the voices are compressed as hell, so that there's a lot of hissing crackles and pops in it, especially when there's a "S" sounds in the words.

Meet the combat. In Mordavia even little bunny wabits are deadly. On the right side you can see the adjustment sliders for "strategy mode" or as I like to call it "this is a shitty combat and I don't want to do it myself-mode"

The biggest flaw of the game is, not so surprisingly, again the combat. This time around the combat is done in a bit more arcade like fashion and is portrayed from a side view with the hero on the left side and the monster on the right side of the screen. You can use either mouse or keyboard to combat, but again, especially with modern machines, the speed of it is just way too fast and it's pretty easy to take damage from even the easiest monsters, as they move so fast. This time around you can effect on the strength of the spells in your disposal by holding down the spell button, which is a nice addition. Also, you can cast during the combat even as a fighter/paladin despite you have a shield, so there's a bit more versatility there.

What tells a lot about the combat system this time around is the possibility to switch between arcade and strategy modes. In the arcade mode you control the hero, but in the strategy mode it's the computer who does to battling and you can just adjust sliders that make the hero to be more aggressive, defensive or just make him use more magic or stronger attacks.  In a way the strategy mode feels almost like cheating, as it has very little difficulty beating even the strongest opponents, but at the same time it makes the game much more playable.

Outside and inside of the Adventurer's Guild. If you're a thief this is one of the places that give you something extra.

As you might have guessed, bulking up the hero is again an important thing to do. This time around the adventurers guild has a stair stepper that can be used during several game days to get a considerable boost on character strength. You can, also, train climbing there. Other things, like combat skills, are again trained in the wilderness, but the strategic mode makes that a breeze.

All in all, Shadows of Darkness is, despite its flaws, the  best rounded up entry in the series. Not only is it set in a fascinating setting, it also is well written and delivers a story that feels the most complete, especially if you've played Trial by Fire, of which  direct sequel it was originally meant to be. The story of these two games deliver the best thought of body in comparison to the other titles in the series, as they share a connection that just feels overall deeper than the rest of the games in the series.

Shadows of Darkness is a title I highly recommend and is a part of the collection sold by GOG.

Not all that is deadly look that dangerous. But this lady takes you under faster than you can blink.