If it's one thing Brain Seal Ltd's Dark-Quest [$1.99 / $1.99 (HD)]Β is good at, it's staying close to its roots. In fact, some might argue that this old-school turn-based strategy succeeds in that regard a little too well. Still, as a relatively basic TBS Dark-Quest offers an enjoyable experience with plenty of missions, a party combat system, and a few twists to the standard gameplay that will either intrigue or frustrate you.
If you're familiar with old-school boardgame dungeons such as Milton Bradley's HeroQuest, Dark-Quest will probably seem intimately familiar. Like the classic board game, Dark-Quest's missions are based on pre-generated tilesets full of traps, enemies, and loot. Players have a pre-determined amount of turns to accomplish the board's objectives and escape. Each action, such as attacking, moving, or casting a spell cost a turn. The mission ends when all your characters exit the dungeon (thus signaling completion), die, or run out of turns. Besides its boardgame underpinnings, Dark-Quest plays most closely to a combination of a rogue-like and turn-based dungeon crawler.
The combination of genres makes Dark-Quest a bit deeper than one might initially suspect. While the mission levels aren't randomized, the loot isn't which adds to variation between playthroughs. In addition, the available weapons, spells, and abilities that can be purchased for each hero between missions add to the available tactics and reinforce the roles that each should play. While these are important foundational elements that Dark-Quest gets right in making it a good strategy game, it still felt a little bland overall.
Frustration is also added to the mix with the the skull of fate, where the antagonist wizard will randomly force you to enact a random status effect on you (which is typically negative). The concept is supposed to keep you on your toes as the wizard is constantly watching your party throughout the story, but it seemed unnecessary at best and a cheap way to ruin your mission at its worst.
While Dark-Quest does a good job with the basics of the game, some of its supplemental design decisions are questionable and can be frustrating. For example, each turn defaults to the Barbarian's actions, with the game's limited AI taking over for the other two party members if you don't manually select them before ending the Barbarian's turn. In theory, the AI should go a long way towards speeding up the gameplay and lets you focus on the Barbarian. Unfortunately, the AI is incredibly spotty, with my cohorts either not attacking enemies when they're in range, or doing dumb things like picking up cursed gold that cause health damage. A very recent update thankfully provided the option to turn off auto-follow.
Another questionable decision is the fact that the game does not allow you to save mid-quest. If the game remains in your device's memory you can return to it if you leave the App, but if it gets cleared, you'll have to restart the quest from the beginning. Granted, most of the quests are relatively short, but I still don't understand the lack of some kind of auto-save.
On one hand, there's very little in terms of originality with Dark-Quest, especially in comparison to the board games it gets its 'inspiration' from. On the other hand, it's still an enjoyable strategy game that offers a simplified old-school experience that isn't typically executed well on iOS. Thankfully, as mentioned earlier, the developers are listening to players and updating the game with changes. Assuming you can get by its relatively basic offering (as well as the incredibly simplistic visuals), Dark-Quest is worth checking out for genre fans.