An old-school RPG for hardcore fans of the genre, it's not without its problems
December 2, 2012
Cinemax s.r.o. (No, not the cable company)
Genre: Action/Fantasy RPGPlatform: PCRelease date: September 5, 2012 (English-language version)Let’s get something out of the way up front. When time permits, I try to play the games I review at least twice. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get through Inquisitor even once. This will be the first time I've reviewed a game without finishing it. However, this is definitely not due to lack of effort on my part. For details, read on. And please know that your experience could vary greatly from mine. Set in a medieval fantasy world akin in many ways to the historical Middle Ages, Inquisitor is an old-school single-player 2D isometric RPG that, after nine years in development, was released in the Czech Republic in 2009. Three additional years were spent translating it into English and proofing the game's 5,000 pages (1.5 million words) of text.Inquisitor is reminiscent of such RPGs as Diablo 2, Baldur's Gate and Arcanum. Its look and general gameplay are similar to these and other isometric RPGs of that era. The game has over 200 weapons, 80 spells, 7 schools of magic, 90 monsters, 180 NPCs, 50,000 sprites, 34 ground locations (forests, cities, pastures) and 37 extensive dungeon complexes. Whew. It's a very lengthy game, billed as lasting up to 150 hours. First, some words of caution: Inquisitor involves torture. The player is the one who does it (and who also facilitates the burning of characters at the stake). If you're averse to such things, this is not the game for you. In addition, I suggest that players who are new to the genre avoid Inquisitor. It’s a difficult game that presumes some knowledge of the workings of older RPGs.Movement (consisting of a choice between "slow walk" and "quick walk") and combat are both mouse-controlled. In-game animation can be somewhat choppy.Keyboard controls are used for various actions and can't be remapped. There is no tutorial.Inventory space is limited. Once the limit is reached, players must get rid of some items in order to pick up or buy others.The game does come with a digital 67-page Game Companion (manual) as well as other digital goodies, among them an Arms and Weapons document and a Book of Magic. Despite this, the game's mechanics and controls (some representing rudimentary actions) along with other aspects of the game aren't explained very well, if at all.For instance: I'd been playing a good ten hours or so before I discovered, quite by accident, that the game can be paused using the Pause/Break button, and that items on the ground in any location can be identified using F4. The Alt key identifies items as well (and also displays characters’ names), but you have to hold the key down for it to stay on. F4 can be toggled on and off. Neither Pause/Break nor F4 is mentioned anywhere.Identified objects are highlighted, making them a lot easier to pick up. Before I knew this, I had considerable trouble clicking on the hotspots of most items, as they tend to be tiny and require precision. On the other hand, object names and highlighting, particularly if there are many identified objects in the area, can sometimes obscure things you need to see. Despite these informational shortcomings, you’d be well-advised to read and refer to the aforementioned documents if you’re to stand a chance of succeeding in Inquisitor. You’re basically thrown into the game and left to manage as best you can on your own. And Inquisitor can be a tough game, even on its easiest setting.Along with digging through the game's documents for answers to questions, I ended up using guesswork and trial-and-error. I also went scurrying around the Internet in search of additional information. I did manage to come across some of the info I needed as I played the game. There are three questions for which I never did find answers.Be that as it may, I did discover some online sources of potentially useful information that you might want to hunt down (keep in mind that you may encounter spoilers): (1) The official Inquisitor website; (2) Cinemax’s Inquisitor Forum; (3) GOG’s Inquisitor Forum - this tends to be the most helpful; it’s well-organized and could save you some grief. Inquisitor has no spoken dialog. Instead, it has walls of text that the player must read. No conversations may be skipped. (And sometimes, they come back. I’ll be addressing this issue a little later).There's a lot of dialog which, on its own, represents a lot of reading. Extend this to reading the text of accompanying documents and in-game descriptions of weapons, spells, magic etc. and there’s really a lot of reading to be done. So if you don’t enjoy reading, I doubt you’ll enjoy Inquisitor. The English translation has been done fairly well but could have used a little polish. There are some grammatical/spelling errors; odd colloquialisms and slang words are used, and some things don’t exactly make sense. Nevertheless, I was usually able to get the gist of what was being said.Engaging/fighting enemies is accomplished by clicking on them repeatedly until either you or they prevail. Or, if things are going really badly, you have the option of retreating if you can pull it off.Want monsters? Inquisitor has plenty, among them scamps, demons, apparitions, orcs, giant bats, ogres, trolls and...oh crap...giant spiders "with mandibles as big as sickles." I haaaaate spiders, and this game has a lot of ‘em. Their poison, if it doesn’t kill you, can take up to five full minutes -- an eternity in this game -- to wear off. Also, some monsters respawn.The game is presented in three Acts, and gameplay cycles between day and night. Act One begins after I choose a difficulty level (Easy, Medium, Hard, with no option to change to a different level mid-game) and character (Priest, Paladin or Thief; there is no customization); allocate stats, watch a cinematic and read an introduction to Act One. I’m sent to the town of Hillbrandt in the realm of Ultherst to investigate a rather gruesome murder. This and all other locations come with automaps that expand as players explore.I've been told in the introduction that I'll be going undercover as an errand boy, although this is never mentioned again. The NPCs refer to me as "knight." (I have no name other than the one I’ve given myself before starting gameplay, and it never appears in dialog.) I may be wrong, but I don't think "knight" is synonymous with "errand boy" unless my activities, including questioning people, tracking down possible heretics, gathering evidence, and arresting and torturing suspects represent "errands." But I'm getting ahead of myself.I start out on a road just outside Hillbrandt. Before I can gain access to the town, I must kill all of the giant bats lurking outside its walls. Thankfully, I'm okay with bats.In all fairness, the game does offer an alternative to this. I could have forgotten about the bats and forced my way into Hillbrandt using threats.I, however, want the experience points bat-killing will likely yield, and I figure there’s a chance of finding some loot out there. This will also give me a taste of the mechanics of killing something. In order to locate the bats, I must repeatedly circle the town's outer walls and venture into some of the surrounding woods.Okay. After killing every bat I'm able to find, I try to enter the town only to have a guard ask: Did you kill them ALL? (Meaning no, I hadn't.) So it's back to circling the town and slogging through woods. I find more bats, kill them, try to enter the town, but did you kill them ALL, I guess not, more circling and slogging, back-and-forth, back-and-forth.This quest becomes so silly that I'm determined to get through it no matter what. I'm stubborn that way.Four days later, I finally manage to kill all of the bats. Sure, I wasn't playing every minute of those four days, but still... At this point I start wondering what the rest of the game has in store for me. Little do I know...
At long last, I’m in Hillbrandt. For some reason, I feel old and worn out. I’ve been told to talk to a particular individual who tells me that heretics are allying with hellspawn -- unleashed during the mining of iron ore -- to destroy the town. My mission expands to include rooting out and prosecuting the town's heretics. It's then that I discover Inquisitor's complete lack of direction. Now, I’m not asking that the game hold my hand or spoon-feed me; I do enjoy challenges and I’m all for having to think. But come on...I'm not given the slightest indication of how to accomplish the main quest or any subsidiary quests. I'm not told where anyone is or how to use the tools I’m initially given (or, for that matter, ones I acquire later). The game does offer lengthy, general descriptions of inventory items but says nothing about using them. I'm left to scamper back and forth between the game and its accompanying literature in search of more info. Sometimes I find it; sometimes I don't. Not having any better ideas, I forge ahead and start questioning the townsfolk. This is interesting at first as many topics are raised, and info is conveyed that embellishes the backstory and advances the plot. I'm also offered many side-quests, some of which I go on to discover are fairly linear.I also learn that there are many vendors in town from whom to buy goods and services. Items sold by each vendor are constantly changing, so I never know what I’ll find at any particular location. During all of this chit-chat with Hillbrandt’s inhabitants, I discover that certain conversations conveying important information can be triggered both by dialog elsewhere and by taking on new side-quests. So I spend a lot of time repeatedly going from one NPC to another in search of new tidbits and/or further triggers. Eventually, dialog becomes repetitive and boring. For example (I’m paraphrasing):NPC: I'm so depressed. I think it's the end of the world.Player: Nah, everything will be okay.NPC: Oh good. What a relief.Player: Can I ask you some questions?NPC: Of course.Player: That's all. Farewell.Zzzzzzzzzzzz.Also while chit-chatting, I acquire a couple of sidekicks: a dog (looks like a Doberman; says "Arf" every so often) and another knight (who occasionally grunts something like “Hey"). They help defeat enemies and level up as I do, which is good. More often than not, however, combat consists of the three of us bunched together with one or more enemies. This makes it easy to click on the other knight by accident, which is not so good. It causes the game to think I want to talk to him, and a dialog wall opens right in the middle of combat.Eventually becoming satisfied that I’d likely covered everything of importance in Hillbrandt -- and having made little progress with any of my quests -- I decide it’s time for me and my companions to venture into some of the game's other locations. These become available on a world map when information pertaining to them is uncovered.
Inquisitor uses no waypoints or anything else to indicate what might be where. All you get are the names of various locations.
So my companions and I, not at all sure what to do or where to do it, go here and there rather aimlessly and discover how easy it is to get killed. Some enemies, such as the bats surrounding Hillbrandt, don’t put up much of a fight (for me, the difficult part was finding them). In other locations, however, enemies are able to take me and my companions out in a matter of seconds. The odds are so stacked against us that we don’t stand a chance. There isn’t even enough time to say, "Oh, %#^&!"
In order to have a chance in such situations, grinding becomes a regular activity. At times, quite a bit of it. This is the first time I’ve ever been grateful for respawning enemies.I also learn that spells carry various percentages of success and often fail. Further, surviving combat requires a lot of potion-drinking to replenish health, stamina and mana. (I could have used some extra stamina myself while trying to play this game).My companions have no potions of their own so they help themselves to mine. This can deplete a supply of potions quite rapidly. There is an option to tell them not to do this, but I don't think it's a very good idea.Stamina does slowly regenerate. For it to do so, however, a character must not move or talk or do anything else except wait. Once I discover the game’s potion-happy feature, I begin stocking up on all three types before leaving the town. I try to buy at least 100 potions prior to each foray; more if I can afford them. If my supply gets dangerously low during combat, my companions and I stand a good chance of being killed unless we can manage to retreat and make our way back to town without dying.In view of all this and in an effort to avoid some frustration, I just resign myself to being killed frequently. Fortunately, when this happens, I’m permitted to continue the game rather than start completely over.As I continue to play, I find the game settling into a pattern: stock up on potions, travel to different locations at random, try to figure out what to do, engage in combat, try not to get killed, return to town, get more potions, travel to more locations at random, try to figure out what to do, engage in combat, try not to get killed (you get the idea), and hopefully, find things that will enable me to complete a quest every so often.Player: Where do you think we should go next?Knight: How should I know?Dog: Arf!Knight: Say, I have an idea: let’s flip a coin.Player: I’d love to, but I’ve just spent every coin I had on potions for you two potion-spammers.Knight: Oh, never mind then. *hic*Dog: Arf! And so it goes...I will say that each time I managed to complete a quest, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Then I fell over from exhaustion.Inquisitor does have nice music. It's quite atmospheric, performed by orchestra, choir, organ and harpischord. It fits the settings and era quite well. The music alternates with periods of silence.Ambient sounds are okay, although some seem a little out-of-place. For instance, I'd hear roosters crowing, horses neighing and snorting, cows mooing and dogs making a wide variety sounds (certainly more than my Doberman's occasional "Arf"). But I'd see no roosters, horses, cows or dogs. Anywhere. Ever.Inquisitor does have sheep. They make one of the silliest sounds I’ve ever heard in a game. They’re always in the same place, and I’d sometimes visit them just to listen. This never failed to make me laugh. NPCs come with an odd assortment of heavy breathing, throat-clearing, sniffling and other such non-verbal utterances.Alas, Inquisitor is not without bugs, some of them serious. It’s possible, however, that you won’t encounter any of them. More than once, my companions and I would return to Hillbrandt only to be met and attacked by groups of NPCs who are supposed to be friendly. On one of these occasions, I decide to stay and fight rather than load a savegame.After my compatriots and I trade blows with the peace-loving residents, we run into the Church. The angry mob follows us. So much for sanctuary.After defending ourselves for a minute, we run back outside and engage in more fighting. Then suddenly, all animosity stops. Once the dust settles, we discover we’ve killed two clerics, two soldiers and a commoner. No one says anything about this, nor are we chewed out, punished or penalized for killing priests. It’s business as usual, with the dead bodies remaining sprawled on the ground in the town square. Conversely, there are times my companions leave me and start attacking friendly NPCs. Well, at least they don’t attack me... The inn in Hillbrandt turns out to be particularly problematic. Upon entering, my character would repeatedly get stuck behind the bar, unable to move. My companions would sometimes get stuck there with me; sometimes not. My character would also get stuck in the wedge of the inn’s open door trying to enter. The door opens outward, and my character would go between the door and the outer wall rather than through the open doorway.At times, we’d leave the inn only to discover that our Doberman had stayed behind for no discernible reason. We’d have to go back and get him. One time, we were outside the city on the way to another location before I noticed he wasn’t with us.Interestingly, I’m unable to purposely duplicate any of this stuff; it just seems to happen at random. I did get in the habit of saving the game before both returning to Hillbrandt and visiting the inn.At one point in the game, we discover a dead body and take it with us. Later, we visit the area in which we’d found the body. My character’s dialog indicates that he thinks the body is still on the ground. Wondering what would happen, I click the area where the body had been and acquire a second body that’s identical to the first one. While none of the above is a show-stopper -- and as amusing as this kind of thing can initially be -- all require loading savegames. After awhile, this kind of obligatory backsliding becomes tiresome. This next thing is bizarre. I’d been pretty far along in Act One when all dialog with NPCs that I’d previously exhausted reappeared, and I had to go through it again. Moreover, the automaps for all locations other than Hillbrandt reverted to their unexplored state, obliging us to explore the locations again. We'd already cleared part of a particularly vexing and difficult area when its map reverted, so we had to fight our way through that part again. This was somewhat irritating. We did, however, retain items we'd collected there the first time.Some quest items, although still in inventory, also reappeared for the taking. I did so in case the game had forgotten I already had them, as there would be no way to complete the corresponding quests without them. This cluttered up my inventory, and I later discovered that quest items can't be dropped even if you have more than one of them. I did lose some quests from my quest list and needed to reacquire them. I also had to reacquire some of the quests I’d retained. Even though they remained in my list, I had to repeat the conversations in which I’d accepted them. Some of these actually could be show-stoppers, depending on the willingness of a player to repeat what could be a considerable amount of gameplay. I continued to forge ahead. Then I hit a brick wall.I encountered something that did stop the show for me. After I’d finally prevailed in one of Act One’s most difficult battles, I needed to talk to a key NPC in Hillbrandt about something crucial. There was only one problem. He was gone. Vanished. No longer there. Poof.This character is essential in order to continue the game. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to discover a workaround for this bug. With a little digging, I did find a cheat with which to bring characters back and, in desperation, I used it. Yes, the character comes back. But he will only talk to me about things we discussed upon first meeting each other. So my only options are to (1) load a game I saved before the character went missing (without even knowing when it happened) and risk losing even more progress, or (2) start over. Considering how long it had taken me to get as far as I did, neither choice is viable. Both options would consume more time than I cared to give at this point, and there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t encounter more bugs.So after having spent two-and-a-half months with Inquisitor without even making it through Act One (although I did come pretty close), I reluctantly decided to stop playing so I could write my review. Now we hit what I consider to be an extremely serious issue. Inquisitor's developers disbanded years ago; publisher Cinemax carried on with the English translation. I’ll let Cinemax take it from here (this is from several posts in theInquisitor Forum, all by Martin Kovar of Cinemax):"...Inquisitor was originally released in Czech language in 2009 and after several patches in the ensuing months, there were no other reasons for the developers to stay in the gaming industry. This was always a fan project and the authors got together just to create this game with no plans to build a regular development studio and develop more games.”"The developers patched what they considered necessary to patch when the Czech version was released and I was told that it would be very unpredictable to start meddling with the code after all those years again. We will be able to do minor changes in the script and the like though.""Our hands are tied a bit since we can't do any changes in the code because Inquisitor's programmers are out of our reach. But we can do changes in various scripts and we will strive to fix/change anything that will be possible for us."“I got a chance to talk (mail) to them a few days ago asking about mod possibilities and tools they were using, but they said their tools were totally undocumented and very user-unfriendly which makes them unusable for anyone else, meaning we won't be able to make any mod tools available, unfortunately. It will definitely be up to the community to come up with something."So...where to go with this review? Inquisitor does have some things going for it. Its story is rich in history and folklore; its dark atmosphere appeals to me and I enjoyed its investigatorial aspect. I wish there could have been more of that. The game can be brutal and rather unforgiving, but this is the way RPGs used to be. Inquisitor is advertised as “old school,” so most players should have a general idea what to expect from it. Unfortunately, story and combat are not well-balanced, Combat occupies around 75% of Act One, and I have no reason to believe that Acts Two and Three are any different. I have nothing against combat, but when it goes on and on it can become tedious. After awhile, it gives the impression of just being filler.Considerable time and effort have been expended on Inquisitor by many hard-working and dedicated individuals, and I appreciate that. What I don’t appreciate is the release of a game containing major bugs for which no patches will be released or even possible unless the community is able to devise something.Now, this may sound weird, but having spent so much time with this game I feel rather attached to it. I stuck with it after encountering quite a few bugs because I felt Inquisitor was worth it. I think I could have tolerated just about anything other than a bug that was serious enough to bring the game to a screeching halt. No major character has ever disappeared on me before. It felt very weird.All of this is really a shame, as Inquisitor has a lot of potential and I did enjoy playing parts of it. I really wish I could have finished it. Maybe I’ll give it another shot someday. As I’ve said, there may be players who slide through the game without encountering a single bug. However, my assessment of the game must be based on my experience with it. Also, FYI, there are plenty of posts in both the Cinemax and GOG forums by others who have been plagued by various bugs. All things considered, I can only recommend the game to fans of old-school RPGs who are prepared to deal with unbalanced, highly-challenging gameplay and are okay with the possibility of encountering bugs -- possibly show-stopping ones -- that, as of this writing, will not be fixed. Anyone who does tackle Inquisitor should do so at his/her own risk.BTW, there is talk, on both the GOG Inquisitor Forum and Steam Greenlight, of an Inquisitor 2 being developed. It’s too bad the first Inquisitor can’t be fixed. Final grade: CMinimum system requirements:Windows XPSingle Core 1.6 GHz processorRAM: 512 MB3D graphics card supporting DirectX with 64 MB of memoryCompatible sound cardHDD: 2.3 GB of free disk spaceMouse, KeyboardRecommended system requirements:Windows XP / Windows Vista / Windows 7Dual Core 2 GHz processorRAM: 1 GB3D graphics card supportiing DirectX with 256 MB memoryHDD: 2.3 GB of free disk spaceCompatible sound cardMouse, Keyboard