I love games, and if you’re reading this then you probably love games too. The opportunities for escapism, challenge and enjoyment are only limited by the skill and imagination of designers and development teams. I also love to read, and have probably consumed hundreds of fantasy novels over my forty years. I was therefore really excited by the long awaited debut of the Beast Quest series on consoles. My kids enjoy the books’ mix of mythology and fantasy tropes, and the interactive potential of the trials of a young knight exploring a fantasy world is huge. I therefore take no pleasure in writing a review that contains almost nothing positive about this cynical, dated, and overpriced attempt to hoodwink kids – and their parents – out of £30.
The signs are not encouraging even when first booting up the game, as you’re confronted by a menu screen that looks like nothing more than a high-res PS2 game. I appreciate that this description is commonly used as hyperbole but in this case, the whole game design from graphics to mechanics are ripped straight from two decades ago. Now, I enjoy retro games, and retro-inspired games, but I don’t know anybody who has any great nostalgia for the ropey licensed tie-ins that proliferated the early 2000s. Beast Quest shares far more with the justifiably forgotten likes of the Eragon game than it does with the gaming landscape of 2018. Textures are ancient, screen tearing and clipping are commonplace and the whole thing chugs along despite its lack of visual quality.
The storyline is fundamentally fine, if hugely generic. You play as young Tom, the son of a great knight and master of beasts who has been missing for a number of years. As the game begins you are greeted by a mysterious wizard whose resemblance to Gandalf or Dumbledore is surely coincidental. After a brief tutorial that perfectly sets up the linear gameplay by basically telling you to push up on the control stick you enter a training battle. Here is the one area that might have been interesting, but the admittedly novel mix of real time combat and battlefield strategy soon becomes tired and repetitive. This repetition is not helped by the fact that the whole game only contains eight different enemy types with some re-skins to show elemental types. As a result, combat becomes a chore that must be endured rather than enjoyed.
Controls are cumbersome and heavy. I lost more health to the massively unresponsive jump mechanics than I did to any of the enemies. Passages of platforming – although that term makes it sound far more advanced than it is – are littered around the levels and always provoked a groan from myself and my kids who played the game with me. There is no co-op of any kind, however, and so we played by passing the controller between us as each player became too bored to continue.
The basic combat system has some potential, but feels far more suited to a budget mobile title than a game priced alongside the likes of Dark Souls or Shadow of the Colossus. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the whole debacle is that searching for the older Beast Quest mobile game shows that the iOS and Android version actually looks and plays far more smoothly than this travesty.
Once you make it through the tutorial, you are free to explore the world of Avantia. By free, of course, I mean you can follow the almost entirely linear path through the levels that are only distinguishable by their reskinned graphics. Enemies are always visible on the map, but the actual battles owe much more to the annoying random ones of early JRPGs. Once in a while an enemy will seemingly take far more hits to go down, but there is little logic to this. There are hidden shadow versions of some enemies that are attached to a series of hunting quests, but again, the incredibly linear design makes finding these far from a challenge. Moving between zones results in loading times so extraordinarily long that my kids and I made up a ‘Loading Quest’ song to sing each time.
Aside from the hunting quests, the majority of tasks in Beast Quest are basic fetch quests. This is made worse by the fact that monsters only drop items when you have been given the relevant quest. This means that you must grind out rewards, some of which seem artificially uncommon, in order to complete said quests. The rewards for many of these quests, however, are far in excess of their challenge as you often receive large amounts of the AP required to level up your skills. This suggests a level of customisation and role playing that is not really present.
Most of the spells you unlock are unnecessary and any worry about prioritising abilities is removed by the fact that I finished the game with over 700 AP unspent. Similarly, money is almost entirely useless in the game and only really buys you some upgrades for your potions and an occasional accessory – the latter invariably being inferior to those to be found in the chests that litter the levels. Even these chests are poorly designed as they are opened by keys mysteriously floating in the landscape. Split into iron, bronze, and gold, the rewards are coins, with accessories in the gold chests. However, there seemed to be far more chests than keys, so there was little to be gained from fully exploring the levels.
I am not a fan of overly negative reviews, and usually try to find positive aspects about games that are so often labours of love and the result of many hours of hard work. This cannot be said about Beast Quest though. The whole game feels like a build that has sat unreleased for 15 years and has finally been pushed out in 2018. If it were a low priced game aimed at the younger fans of the book series I might have been more lenient, but to release such a cynically shoddy game and then have the sheer cheek to slap a £30 price on it is inexcusable, and I wouldn’t even recommend picking this up at a sale price. It doesn’t even work on a ‘so bad it’s good’ level. Beast Quest is the gaming equivalent of Old Yeller, but without the emotional attachment.
Version Tested: PS4