King's Quest: Mask of Eternity (1998)

I decided to begin my journey to the world of King's Quest in reverse order, as I really wanted to write first about the only game in the series I haven't played before, Mask of Eternity. It's generally thought as the worst game in the series, as well as a technical misfire. When Mask of Eternity was set in development, Tomb Raider came out and changed the face of adventure games, by taking the action-adventure platformers into the 3rd dimension.

While 3D games weren't a new thing, as it was used on simulators and racing games already, Sierra came to a conclusion, that 3D graphics and more open spaces were the directions that adventure games should also go. And thus came Mask of Eternity, the first and only official game in the King's Quest series, that was a free-roaming, 3rd person adventure/RPG hybrid. It also was the last entry in the series before the Odd Gentlemen episodic re-imagining that came out in 2015.

Gone are the Disney-like aesthetics of the previous entry, passed aside from the way of mid 90's blocky 3D models with low-resolution textures. Gone are the handpainted backgrounds and cell animated characters. Gone are the royal members of Daventry as playable characters and gone is the puzzle-based gameplay, giving way to real-time combat and location-based physical puzzles, like sliding tiles and hopscotch. All in all, it was such a drastic departure, that had you removed the name King's Quest, no-one would have ever guessed that it was supposed to belong to the same series.

The only other citizen of Daventry who didn't get stoned, at least completely.

This time around, you play as Connor, a simple villager in Daventry, who by a happenstance becomes the next saviour of the land. And not only Daventry but the whole of the world. There's this thing called Mask of Eternity, which gets broken by an evil wizard type. This turns all the good inhabitants of Daventry in stone and sets out cataclysms and evil creatures all around. Aided by a couple of clues from a half stoned wizard, Connor sets out to gather the pieces of the mask, so he can rebuild it and set the world free again.

The adventure takes Connor to six relatively large locations. Daventry is the place where he begins and which is easily the most agreeable place what comes to design. Then there's the land of the Dead, which is one of the most annoying places ever done in games, the Swamp, which is just a tad boring. And finally, there are the lands of Ice and Fire, offering mostly a couple of simple puzzles and a lot of killing, after which the story culminates in a Temple of the Sun, where you go through several levels, kill enemies and solve some puzzles. After that is done, you complete the mask during an anticlimactic boss battle.

As a game, Mask of Eternity is as far as it possibly can be of what the previous games in the series were. In all, good and bad, the series that Roberta Williams started in 1980s as an IBM ordered project to showcase the possibilities of their new PC machines, was an adventure game, be it mouse driven or parser operated. Now it was changed in a one, big swoop into an action-oriented adventure/RPG hybrid and that didn't sit well with many people.  It also didn't help that Mask of Eternity was a prisoner of its time and a prisoner of the clunky technology it was made. Despite it came out in -98, two years after Tomb Raider, it still has a terribly inferior 3D engine, which doesn't do any services to the gameplay.

The pitiful draw distance shows its ugly head. One step forward and the house model would show up as intended.

The 3D engine that Sierra used is really the real culprit of why the game doesn't work as well as it should. I could almost live with the clunky controls Mask of Eternity has, but the camera control is terrible, making the combat at times more of a challenge than it is, as if the camera gets stuck, you need to do some extra manoeuvring in order to get the camera to rotate on a usable angle. It's also a hassle to get the camera angled right when you are looking for something that isn't directly in the front of you.

But more than that, the minimalistic draw distance the engine has is a root of a lot of problems. You can barely see in front of you, with a thick fog covering the distance. Not only that, often this poor draw distances causes glitches in how models are rendered further away, so ugly, broken meshes aren't an uncommon sight. Not to mention many battles fought with the enemy unseen somewhere in the fog and you firing your bow blindly.

And it's a shame, really, that the barely functioning engine is ruining the game, as there are things of merit in the design. While there are a couple of locations which are flat out examples on how not to design a level, there are good locations as well. And some clever tricks you can do, like ambushing an enemy by sneaking to a roof of a building and jumping on him. The atmospheric soundtrack, as well as music, are well done, though the music does tend to get a bit repetitive after a while.

Connor during a conversation, which are done as in-game cinematics. There are other cinematics as well, like those that show a boss monster attacking Connor and such.

I've read articles, which have stated that the original plans for Mask of Eternity were far more ambitious than what the game ended up as. A lot of content was cut because of time, money and technical limitations and the end result is what it is. There's a glimmer of a better game in it, flaring up once in a while, but it's buried deep under a husk that is far too broken to be fixed.

Mask of Eternity was the end of Sierra driven King's Quest and as far ends go, it wasn't a happy one. By m'90s0's Sierra had turned from a trailblazing company into one, that tried desperately to keep up with the new technologies and the possibilities they offered.

In a sense, the way Mask of Eternity ended up as reflects what happened to Sierra. For a while, it was run by people who didn't get the industry and how it was shaping up as. Then it changed hands many times before it was finally put to the pasture, only to return later as a brand used by someone else, not by anyone who was originally connected to it.

As a game, MoE isn't anything spectacular. It's often boring, technically clunky and broken and relatively unimpressive in art and story. Still, it's not the worst game I've ever played, but at the same time, I have no desire to play it ever again.

Icequeen and her guard. 

I can't really recommend Mask of Eternity, as it's just not that good of a game. It doesn't even have any real value as a historical monument in gaming, as there's a very little uniqueness about it. There are some decent ideas here and there, but as a whole, those ideas are too little to carry it.  In the end, Mask of Eternity is just an old game, wich suffers from bad technology and that's all I want to say about it, as not all old is worth saving nor all old games hidden gems.

If you want to get your mitts on Mask of Eternity, you can get it from GOG, bundled with King's Quest 7. There's also a collection on Steam, but I'm not certain if it has MoE.