Developer & Publisher: Zadbox Entertainment
Released: November 28, 2016
Requirements: OS: Winows 7 or above
Processor: Minimum, Intel Core i3 2100 or AMD equivalent; Recommended,
Intel Core i7 3770K or AMD equivalent
Memory: Minimum 3 GB RAM; Recommended, 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Minimum, Nvidia GTX 650 2 GB/AMD HD 770 2 GB;
Recommended, Nvidia GTX 950
Storage: 9 GB available space
Quern: Undying Thoughts
Hands up - who doesn’t like solitary first person adventures, where you have complete freedom of movement, where there is no one else to annoy you, and the puzzles are very definitely the thing? Where you take notes, and draw pictures and pull levers and turn knobs, and then when nothing obvious happens you make another note and do something else and then try again? And so on.
If you answered ‘not me’ to all of those, Quern will admirably tick all your boxes. Or to put it another less convoluted way, if you like games like Myst and Riven you should certainly enjoy this.
It is more than a few years old, but games and time being what they are, I bought it and then never got round to playing it. I am currently filling in some of that back catalogue, and this came to the top of the pile. I am very glad it did.
Quern is an island, or more than one, where in the best interests of such games you find yourself for no readily discernible reason. As you stand and start to clear your head, the sound of the portal closing behind you means you only have one real choice. Which is to explore Quern and start fiddling.
An aspect of the game I feel compelled to mention up front is the notebook which you find early on. It enables you to ‘draw’ a picture (with the touch of one key) and enter any notes you might want to relevant to the drawing. Sure you can do it yourself with pen and paper, and probably still will to some extent, but this neat and nifty collection of what are essentially screenshots just makes the whole thing a little more organic and a whole lot more user friendly. Plus, you don’t have to rely on your later interpretation of the chicken scrawl you might have scribbled quite a while ago.
The puzzles abound, and you shouldn’t think that one is solved forever. You will revisit several more than once and paying attention to the clues will help. Which is a redundant sort of thing to say, but I could have kicked myself when I failed to appreciate that the little picture was telling me to go back and do one again. So take that as a gratuitous heads up.
It was at times lacking in direction, and there were more than a few occasions where I had no idea what to do next. By which I don’t mean the nature of the puzzle eluded me, rather it was a question of where the next puzzle was. Or any puzzle. On an island where there is so much to do and achieve, it seemed incongruous to be wandering around clueless as to my next objective.
Having said that, I accept that things like this are part and parcel of why we like these types of games; we don’t want flashing lights pointing the way. And I might of course have missed or failed to understand the piece of information that would steer me to where I needed to go. But I did think that a little less vagueness at times would have helped.
It is though a rather fascinating place to explore, so wandering about for a time was not without its attraction. You are constantly opening up access to other areas; unlock doors or gates, raise bridges, lower barriers, rotate rooms etc, even warp occasionally from here to there. A map will help tell where you are and assist in pointing the way to where you want to be, but I suspect you will develop a fairly good sense of where everything is as you criss-cross Quern.
The puzzles are many and varied. Some repeat, most need piecing together different bits of information or interpreting the clues you find. Some require fiddling with in order to work out what button or lever or switch does what in order to start plotting a solution, and only a few are simple. Many are mechanical in nature, but you will also concoct potions and engage in a bit of botany and some alchemy. Two involve sound.
A two-machine puzzle at around the mid-point was about the only one I thought was too fiddly for its own good, and in a game with so many puzzles and conundrums that is pretty impressive. More than that, they are the sorts of puzzles that encourage you to keep at them, producing that little thrill of satisfaction when you get it right.
It goes without saying that you should look at everything. Many puzzles will be unfathomable if you haven’t examined the appropriate notes or drawings. Search carefully too, as inventory items are many, with some used more than once. And if you can retrieve an item after having used it, you would be well served to do so.
Some items need to be manipulated in the inventory in order to utilise them effectively in the game world. These are keys on the whole, or objects where you need to put them in the right shape or configuration. There are also items (e.g., torches and crystals) that have certain properties that need deploying appropriately, literally shining and showing the way.
The interface will be familiar, and is easy to get comfortable with. It uses both the keyboard and mouse, and you can map keys to suit your preferences. By default, the WASD keys are used to move around, although you will really only the need the W key, being able to ‘steer’ your character with the mouse. You have complete freedom of movement and view. A range of keyboard keys bring up things like your inventory, map and notebook, and you can do things like ‘Shift” to run and ‘Alt’ to highlight usable objects. The mouse is how you engage with the world, in response to action-specific icons – either look, take or use - that appear when the curser finds a hotspot.
Left click is how you interact with the world including inside your inventory. The curser is fixed at the centre of the screen and the image effectively moves around it, although right click will free the mouse and lock the scene in front of you. What you then have is the capacity to explore every nook and cranny of that frozen screen, without it moving in response to the mouse. It will usually be used when focusing on a puzzle, especially one where you might be trying to e.g., match shapes on a machine with an image on the wall, and having them both stay still in a single field of view can be helpful.
A third mouse button zooms in, and the mouse wheel is also a useful tool. It superimposes an image of a portion of your inventory ribbon onto the game world, and you can scroll through to highlight the one you want to use. Clicking the hotspot will then use that highlighted item, assuming it is correct. It prevents you having to open the complete inventory, which takes you out of the gameworld and into the inventory screen, and I thought it helped maintain the immersion.
It should be apparent from the above that you don’t click and drag items into the game world. Whichever item is highlighted in the inventory is the active item, and will try to be used at any hotspot you might choose. It will remain active until you choose another, facilitating the capacity to try it in several places, or if it is a single use item and it disappears from the inventory.
The Tab button will bring up a similar superimposed menu which you can use to access the map, the notebook, your collected notes or the inventory, or you can just use the keyboard control for the particular screen you want (‘M’ for map, etc.). Within each of those individual screens you also have a menu to access all the others, making moving between them quick and easy.
Quern is a richly detailed world and graphically it looks beautiful (less so under ground). The sound effects are high quality also, and together produce some really excellent moments (lowering the tower is probably the highlight). There is an etherealness to the musical accompaniment that I found rather calming, although as always I had it turned down fairly low, all the better to experience the rich ambient soundscape.
The story is told through letters you find and by an incorporeal shaman who appears as a green floating orb. It is the least interesting part of Quern and I will let you discover it for yourself. I will tell you though that the letters are from an archaeologist - it is he who has brought you to Quern - and all is not well between the both of them.
You will hear both the shaman and the archaeologist. The former tells you things, the latter reads you his letters. The voice work of both is rather good.
As intimated up-front, Quern plays in the first person, and while it autosaves at various times you can also save at will. You have at least seven save slots plus the autosave, and you might well have more than that. I didn’t keep multiple saves so don’t know whether if you get to seven the slots just keep coming, but in any event seven should be more than enough. About two-thirds through the game you go below ground, at which point you can’t come back, so if you want to do more wandering, make a save before heading down (you will know when). The ESC key brings up your main menu (or backs you out of the various in-game screens (inventory, etc.) from which you can save and load and tweak numerous game settings. There is a comparatively long load when you start and don’t panic if it appears to freeze momentarily; just wait a few more seconds and all will be well.
It took me over 20 hours to complete, and that was with help more than once. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB