Excalibur? Nah, not quite.
Please note that since each episode of King’s Quest features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of A Knight to Remember.
Nearly five months have passed since The Odd Gentlemen’s first installment of its five-episode King’s Quest revival was released. It’s hard to maintain momentum that way — something that TellTale has encountered as well — but the lengthy and enjoyable A Knight to Remember certainly set the table for both an overarching storyline and fully encapsulated episodes.
While the present day aspect of an aged King Graham regaling his grandchildren doesn’t really advance at all in Rubble Without a Cause, his story picks up shortly after becoming King when he finds the mundane task of actually ruling a kingdom to be much less agreeable than adventuring.
After a particularly frustrating session, Graham ventures into Daventry and is promptly captured by a throng of goblins. It’s here, within the dark goblin tunnels, that the balance of the episode will play out as you must not only find a way out, but you must also save your constituents that have been locked up… or, at least, as many as you can.
Choice always plays a part in shaping these episodic titles, and the game is determined to force you to make some tough decisions. That’s fine, but the way it goes about it is questionable as any kind of natural trial and error will lead to negative outcomes. It almost feels structured to nudge you toward playing it a second time, thereby extending a run time less than half of the first episode.
There are a few other notable issues as well. Environmental variety is greatly reduced, making for less interesting exploration, quests feel more repetitive (go somewhere, do something, return later to see results) and, most damning, there’s a rushed feel to certain areas in which animations look stilted and cut scenes appear legitimately unfinished. It’s a bad look, especially given the gap in releases.
Where Rubble does succeed is with the continued adherence to the spirit of the source material as you’ll collect interesting objects and must figure out how to use them properly. Some are fairly obvious, while others require outside-the-box thinking.
At the heart of the episode is a race to save the citizens of Daventry, who have been captured and are starving to death in their prison. It’s an interesting idea, but, as mentioned, it’s unforgiving to the point that any misstep will submarine your efforts.
That’s because once you’re in captivity the game plays out as a series of days, and certain progressions automatically trigger the end of said day. There are also solutions that must be set in motion in advance, so you’ll need to plan ahead to get the best possible ending. How you feel about that setup will largely affect how much enjoyment you get here.
Without question, Rubble Without a Cause is a step back from the strong first chapter, with less content, fewer areas to explore and more structured gameplay that punishes natural progression. It’s not enough to sour us on King’s Quest as a whole, but we’re hoping this is the series’ low-water mark.