[This article was published in the July issue of Indie Game Magazine]
Just so we’re clear on this, we only have a very early alpha build of the Cardinal Quest 2 (CQ2) available to us right now; so all those screenshots you see dotted around this article? They’re mostly made up of placeholder graphics recycled from the first game. It all looks perfectly fine as-is though, so I’d say the promise of higher rez sprites in the future is a tantalising one indeed. But more importantly, even in this early build it’s already abundantly clear that CQ2 is on course to be a quantum leap over the original CQ, which was a pretty neat little title in its own right (It scored 70% on our review scale back in February!). Rest assured, It still has all those lovely Roguelike trappings that fans expect: Randomly generated dungeons, oodles of loot, plenty of stats to tweak and, of course, a rather harsh difficulty curve (my first attempted playthrough lasted oh…..about 5 minutes?). But on top of all that we’ve now got a significantly expanded feature set that adds a whole host of new and intriguing tactical possibilities.
So what’s so different then? Well, the most significant change is the level of control you have over how character evolves throughout the course of your adventure. In the original CQ, you simply chose a starting class and then….. that was pretty much it really. The game auto-equipped any decent loot you found without asking you and leveling up just increased your health a little. CQ2 on the other hand drops the whole auto-equip thing, allows players to invest skill points into a talent tree (every RPG has to have one of those now, it’s a law or something) and provides you with shops that offer randomised selections of loot to spend your hard earned coinage on. Together these mechanics allow players to build their hero in a direction they’ve actually chosen (e.g. a flimsy but speedy Warrior or a super bulky yet slow Wizard) while still not overwhelming them with pages of unnecessary statistics and decisions like so many RPGs are wont to do.
Joining the original trio of Thief, Warrior and Wizard we’ve got at least 3 new classes on the way. First there’s the Pugilist; a macho-man brawler that refuses to even touch those wussy weapons the other classes use, instead relying his ever-reliable friends “left fist” and “right fist” to stun then toss around anyone who gets near. Next there’s the Paladin; a powerful servant of light who starts with a high faith stat and a rare healing spell by default, but must sacrifice his own HP to cast non-holy spells like fireball. And finally there’s my personal favorite: the Ranger; that iconic fantasy archer extraordinaire, now accompanied by a delightfully derpy lookin’ dog that draws away enemy’s attention while you pelt ‘em with arrows.
In addition to the original’s narrow confined dungeons, CQ2 introduces expensive outdoor environments, which include tons of lovely lovely bushes! Wait, is that “uh, why are bushes a big deal?” I hear you say? Well, they have huge effect on not only your character’s line of sight, but also that of your enemies. This allows a correctly specced hero to get the drop on unsuspecting enemies, thus granting access to those brutal backstab damage multipliers previously only available to the sneaky sneaky Thief class. But be warned, hiding in the bushes also has a drastically detrimental effect on your defences, adding yet another layer to CQ’s engaging risk/reward dynamic.
The only downside to all this extra content is that it’s made CQ2 rather less ‘snappy’ than the original, resulting in a far slower and more methodical experience that may take a little longer to get to grips with than before. That said, It’s still an exceptionally accessible title. Thanks to a simple control scheme, a smart UI and very helpful tooltips, anyone with even basic understanding of RPGs should be bustin’ monsters with the best of ‘em in no time! To sum it up, CQ2 is looking like it’ll be everything a good sequel should: bigger, deeper and more fun, all while not abandoning anything that made the original so engaging in the first place. It’s one worth looking forward to for sure.