Conquest of Camelot (1989)

Conquest of Camelot (1989), written, directed and designed by Christy Marx, developed and published by Sierra 

In the early 90's, Christy Marx who has written movies, TV-series, animations and comics, wrote and designed two games for Sierra, both of which are among the more interesting titles in the company's vast catalogue as well as among adventure games in general. The games, known as the Conquest series, both bring an interesting twist to the genre, as they do ask the player to think of other things besides just solving puzzles. In a way, the first game in the series Conquest of Camelot is to the adventure genre what Ultima 4 was to CRPG; it asked you to think about morals of your actions.

Before anything else, I do want to mention, that the screenshots shown here have been taken in ScummVM using dithering filter, which removes any colour dithering and replaces them with appropriate colour, thus leading to more colourful graphics. It might not always be what the original artists intended, but I do think the mode works very well with this game. You can, of course, play the game with original graphics as well, which is the default mode how the game is installed and I do think it is a good looking game in either way.

Conquest of Camelot is a tale of King Arthur, who, after his three most valiant knights, Gawain, Launcelot and Galahad, go missing, embarks on a quest of finding his knights as well as the fabled Holy Grail. The reason for hunting down this sacred relic is, that the kingdom has been struck by malady, the rivers are dry and the crops meek. So, convinced that the Grail is the key to save the kingdom, Arthur ventures forth.

Like all the Sierra titles, Conquest of Camelot has a scoring system as well, but this time around its sole purpose is not to tell if you found everything possible in the game. Instead of one set of scores, the game tracks three different scores, one of Skill, one of Wisdom and one of Soul. You can complete the game without doing everything possible, like saving all of your knights, but to do so means that you might be judged unworthy of the Grail in the end, which leads into a bad ending.

Gathering the scores is pretty straight forwarded. Skill points are given based on the action scenes, like fights. there are several different kinds of action scenes, ranging from horseback jousting to straight out sword fighting bits. As a note, if you don't like action scenes, there is a difficulty slider which does come in handy, as some of the scenes are a bit clunky. Wisdom points are rewarded from discussions with the other characters as well as finding out things about the world. Finally, the Soul points, which you get by generally doing good and noble things. I'm not certain what amount of the scores affect the most on getting the good ending, but I do assume the Soul points might be weighted in the most.

The game begins in the Camelot, where Arthur is readying for departure. You can talk there with the queen, who knows a thing or two about one of the missing knights, pray at the temple of the two gods and get some money before you go. This segment also has a quick ending, where a portcullis crushes Arthur to death if he doesn't do one important thing before his departure. Here it is also shown, that some things in the game can be done inefficiently, which gives you fewer points but allow you to continue none the less.

The next step is to travel around England, looking for clues of the Grail and the knights, two of which, Gawain and Launcelot, are in England. You meet the Black Knight, a Mad Monk, trio of ancient gods and the Ice Queen before you've rescued the duo or left them to their fate. But the Grail is not in England, so the next destination is to Gaza, where you learn of the six Goddesses, who have placed trials to the path of Arthur in order to see if he's worthy.

From Gaza Arthur finally travels to Jerusalem, where Galahad went to look for the holy relic. There Arthur has to prove himself in many ways before he finally finds the treasure he seeks. Many of these trials require you to peruse the manual of the game, Liber Ex Doctrina, where many necessary things are told. An interesting thing about this is, that it really didn't feel like a copy protection method more than it felt like a genuine part of the gameplay.

And so goes Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail, from mythical England to the mysterious Est, where the pagan Goddesses finally judge him. This mix of ancient paganism, folklore and Christianity is a relatively unique setting for a game in any genre. Perhaps CRPG's have explored the matter to a degree, but with Conquest of Camelot Marx dwells deeper to these matters than most others have done. Arthurian legends are not a stranger to games, but I don't know if they've ever been narrated in this manner in any medium.

Conquest of Camelot is based on the Sierra SCI  parser engine, capable of showing 16 colour EGA graphics and supporting soundcards for music and audio. Graphically the game is relatively good looking and perhaps among the best looking of the games Sierra did develope with this particular engine. The music is very good, bringing in solid ambience and nice tunes in general, which isn't a surprise considering the composer was Mark Seibert who is responsible for the many memorable tracks for various Sierra titles.

The parser system feels smarter than in many other Sierra titles of the era. In many ways, Conquest of Camelot might have benefitted from being among the last games developed with the engine. Generally, the parser understands even somewhat complex sentences, which is almost novel for a Sierra game. You can also use the mouse cursor to either move around or just to look at the objects on the screen. Conquest of Camelot isn't the only parser driven Sierra game to have this feature, but it's still worth a mention.

Conquest of Camelot isn't a perfect game though. There are parts in it, like some of the action sequences and the frozen lake maze, that could have used a bit more fine-tuning, but all in all, it still is one of the more interesting games in the genre. It has a somewhat unique perspective and a thematical structure, that hasn't been seen very often in games. It's not quite a full-blown virtue gaming system like what Ultima 4 has, but it does feel like it is somewhat related to it, taking its own twist on how to play with moral values.

For a good while Conquest of Camelot wasn't sold anywhere, but it now on sale in GOG. I'd say it's well worth a purchase, even in its full price of 5.59€.