[PlayStation 4] Dark Quest 3 Review
Roguelite tabletop RPG experience with a bit of deck-building Dark Quest 3 from Brain Seal Entertainment is ready to go on PS4. Learn more in our Dark Quest 3 review!
Sometimes you just have to acknowledge the fact that something is just disappointing. Not bad, just disappointing. Then next, you have to address the reason why you find it disappointing. The usual answer for me when it comes to games is expectations, but as we all know, one should never go into reviews with any preconceived notions. I openly admit I did that with Dark Quest 3, a roguelite tactical RPG from Brain Seal.
Why? Well, tactical RPGs have always been my favorite genre, and the idea of throwing in roguelite elements into the game and then sprinkling in some card collection with deck-building and some dice rolling? This feels like a match made in heaven, a game crafted exclusively for me – more’s the pity then, that it fails to hit every target it sets out for itself.
The plot of Dark Quest 3 is not necessary but does exist. An evil wizard is doing something evil, and it is up to your party of four heroes to stop him. At first, you choose your party of four heroes from the only available options, but as you progress further, you slowly begin to unlock new classes. Each class has its own stats, from strength to dexterity, that affect both passive and active abilities that can be unlocked and upgraded as you progress through each run. The highlight of the game is going back and forth between the different combinations to find the right one for you. After you select your party and do the necessary preamble, you are introduced to the two main gameplay elements of Dark Quest 3.
The first main component of Dark Quest 3 is the roguelite nature of it. Those familiar with roguelite as a concept will be familiar with the randomness of it all, the joy of finding out what the next run is going to get you, being overwhelmed by the odds, and then dying instantly only to gleam something from your run that you take forward with you unto your next attempt. The best roguelites are the ones that seem to give you a say in its randomness or at least the illusion of choice in the randomness. For example, games like Slay the Spire and Inscryption will allow you to choose which path you want to take by offering you multiple potential events and asking you to choose which you feel is more viable for you.
Do you wish to go for the path of least resistance but do so with the understanding that you will be weaker during the more mandatory fights later on? Or do you fight now and potentially die but maybe get rewarded later down the line? Dark Quest 3 does none of that. You are just given a randomly selected number of events and are expected to just go through them regardless of whether or not you want to. In fairness, not all encounters are mandatory in the sense that you can choose whether or not to bypass what is presented to you, or you might end up with a good enough roll to avoid or even benefit from an encounter.
My problem is the feeling of railroading that you get from the game. A lot of the time, you will be presented with a fight scenario, and the moment you choose to skip the encounter, you are presented with THE EXACT SAME scenario you just skipped literally a second ago… not just once but several times in a row. I had to skip the same ambush encounter at least five times before the game decided to move to something else, and this was not a one-off scenario. It almost feels as if each run has an already pre-planned route the game wants you to take and a pre-made list of actions the game wants you to do, and when you deviate from them, it is adamant to course correct back on track.
It feels as if the game is constantly saying, “It seems you have chosen to decline this encounter; did you mean to do that? I have saved it for you just in case.” It is perfectly fine for events to be recycled. It would be ridiculous to expect such a thing not to occur but to have it so many times in a row and to have it be so brazen about its recycling just feels slipshod.
There is room to argue that the attempt at railroading is an homage to the tabletop feel that the game is going for. The game is presented in static images when partaking in the exploration phase. You have your warriors placed in a line on a diorama-type thematic to the area your team is currently exploring. Those of you used to having their roguelites or tactical RPGs with more life and vibrancy will feel short-changed by the lackluster nature of the presentation, but in fairness to the game, it is possible to argue this is one aesthetic the game gets right. Throughout your experience, Dark Quest 3 feels like you are plaything through a Dungeons & Dragons one-shot run. The Dungeon Master sits opposite you and describes the pre-ordained list of events prior to the experience, disguising their intention by giving you the illusion of choice.
You can see what the game is going for. The DnD vibe is strong here. Each character has stats that they seemingly can use outside of battle to face off against the various encounters you can come across, and their stats alter the requirement for your subsequent dice roll. All this is good on paper, but most of the time, it just feels random and impersonal as events are random and targets random warriors without rhyme or reason half the time, thereby making everything feel arbitrary. But I will commend the game for having a nice touch of allowing you to upgrade each area you visit so you can find more healing items and more equipment upon your subsequent visits, it allows you to plan for future playthroughs and future runs.
For me, the game struggles with the fundamentals of a roguelite, the key balance between trying desperately to survive whilst trying to be cunning at the same time. Yes, you get several events in a row that injure the party, thereby creating the “will they, won’t they survive” scares that other games have, but with the lack of choice, your experience just ends up feeling pedestrian. This feeling of impotence of the player extends into the combat as well.
When combat does occur, the view switches to the standard tactical RPG grid, but just like the lackluster effort placed into the roguelite portion of the game, the tactical RPG section is severely lacking. When playing tactical RPGs, there are certain staples that one comes to expect in a standard experience. The reason why it is called a tactical RPG is that you are able to strategize and position your units in such a way that you can one-up your opponents even before the fight truly begins. Here it just does not feel possible to do so because of the game’s inability to give you information during combat.
In a tactical RPG, it is customary for units to have limits on how far and where they can go. With this information in hand, you can bait your enemies into positions where they can be attacked without being able to counter your offenses. In Dark Quest 3, this idea is thrown out of the window. Every character and enemy can move anywhere and everywhere on the map as long as there is nothing in the way or another currently occupying the spot. Thereby completely taking away one of the key components of a tactical RPG out of the game.
A good tactical RPG features a turn order. This tells the player the order in which allies and enemies will attack. With this information, players are able to effectively plan combats that end flawlessly, with enemies not even able to land a hit on you. Depending on your team and their stats, a good tactical RPG allows you to build a fast team and not even allow the enemy a chance to move before you annihilate them…this is entirely not possible here as the stats your warriors have seem to be ineffective, more so in combat than out of it.
Instead, the game is a “you hit, I hit” system where someone from your team makes a move and then an enemy unit… it genuinely does not make sense. The game tries to explain, but it feels illogical at best. You are told which one of your heroes is going to attack next and which enemy will attack next. On the surface, this information sounds okay, as common sense will tell you to attack/defeat the enemy that is about to attack before they do that. But any seasoned tactical RPG fan will tell you that the enemy that is about to attack is not always the biggest threat.
Many times, what happens is you are told enemy A is going to attack someone, so you defeat enemy A, but upon A dying, B is promoted next to attack. Since you did not have any forewarning of the attack, you end up suffering horrendous consequences. Far too many times did I see an ally get demolished when I assumed I had more time to either heal them or move them to “safety.” The combat just feels like the gameplay equivalent of a shrug half the time, as nothing makes any sense. The game insists it’s “you hit, I hit,” but then it is not uncommon for enemies to have multiple moves and suddenly turn a comfortable fight into a tense one. This always feels unearned since if the game had properly telegraphed the impending doom, it would have made the switch way more satisfying, but a lot of the time, you just feel cheated.
Another gripe I have with the combat is the inability to rotate the combat camera. A good tactical RPG will have the diorama effect that is present here, but you would be allowed to rotate the camera to see the battlefield from multiple perspectives. Way too many times, I found myself in combat with one enemy and planned accordingly, only to find out that behind that big one were two or more smaller guys. And even then, you are not always able to see their stats, yet more vital information that the game deems unnecessary to tell you. The only way to know this information beforehand is to manually trace through the battlefield and individually highlight each unit before you can get their information. This just feels like basic steps that should have been present from day one.
Dark Quest 3 had an idea to tackle two genres and marry them into something unique. Sadly it can be argued that by going towards trying to make two ideas work, it failed at both. Dark Quest 3 is not a horrendous game by any means. There are specs of quality buried under everything. The soundtrack and sound design are palatable if forgettable. The voice work is solid, and so is the artwork, but everything else makes no solid attempt to make the experience truly enjoyable. Dark Quest 3 is a game best described as something that had a good – if a little ambitious – intention but sadly falls down at the most basic of hurdles. Dark Quest 3 is out on PlayStation 4 with an $18.99 price tag.
This Dark Quest 3 review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy provided by Brain Seal Entertainment.