With over 11 years' worth of material to draw inspiration from, a video game adaptation of the Beast Quest franchise arrives with a somewhat decent amount of potential. Telling tales of mythical creatures and the heroes that slay them, does the series’ first attempt on consoles go down in the history books with a lasting legacy like King Arthur – or is it more likely to go the way of the dodo?
Taking place in the kingdom of Avantia, four legendary beasts that used to protect the land are now causing havoc after being cursed by the dark wizard Malvel. Ancient scrolls told of an event such as this, but they also prophesised that an unlikely young hero would be the one to put things right. You play as a youthful boy named Tom, and of course, you’re the one that folklore speaks of. So, after some stilted attempts at comedy and the donning of a jumper that Nintendo could probably sue for plagiarism thanks to how similar it is to that of Link’s from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s time to set off on your adventure to rid the world of evil.
This is a very, very straightforward tale that laughs at the thought of plot twists or world building. Your quest to free the four beasts of the spell put upon them remains true throughout the entirety of the game, with no other sources of conflict or story diversion presenting itself. You’ll get a small bit of backstory on the character of Malvel part way through, but by and large, you’re going to learn very little of the kingdom of Avantia, its inhabitants, or the larger world and its dealings. What we have here is a narrative at its very simplest.
You’d think then that all the eggs in this basket could be found in the gameplay department, but in reality they’re missing there too. This is a linear third-person adventure that puts a whole host of combat in your path, as well as some platforming, simple puzzle solving, and key collecting for hidden chests.
Engaging with the battle system is where you’ll spend most of your time in Beast Quest, which actually almost plays out like a turn-based RPG. You can never directly control Tom’s movement, rather you’ll select to position him in the centre and then move left or right. You can then swing your sword with light or heavy attacks, and then block or dodge blows from the enemy. An ability system also lends a helping hand, with enhancements such as a speed buff, fireball, and the ability to regain health with a successful counter. On top of that, every single attack builds up a meter, which when full, allows you to call in an ally to unleash a devastating attack that more often than not ends the battle. While there’s no literal turn taking, the way that combat flows usually dictates that after you’ve finished with your offensive output, it’s time to block what your enemy has to throw at you. And then it’s time to repeat that all over again.
Every one of these mechanics works just fine in unison, but the problem is that even on the normal difficulty setting, it’s all just too easy. We found that activating the ability that speeds up your attacks would make light work of nearly every villain we came across. No matter whether it was a soldier, wolves, spiders, goblins, or skeletons standing in our path, they could all be taken care of in a flash. The combat system as a whole lacks any depth, and any variation it does have almost feels obsolete as there’s always going to be a quicker way of dealing with the adversary in front of you.
The main quest can be completed inside 10 hours, and a smattering of side quests give you little incentive to deviate off the central path. To sum them up, they’re just a bunch of fetch quests: find a particular plant, collect a number of berries, kill a certain enemy, and so on. It’s the worst type of quest design that turns anything off the beaten path into a complete bore thanks to a whole host of the most generic objectives.
But here’s the real kicker: Beast Quest runs terribly and looks even worse. Seriously, if you put some screenshots in front of us without any prior knowledge of the game, we’d absolutely believe it if we were told this is an early PlayStation 3 game. Character models look awful, textures are incredibly muddy, and the overall graphical quality is some of the worst we’ve ever seen this generation. We understand that the title wasn’t developed on the biggest budget, but visuals as bad as this are simply not acceptable in 2018. Just to make things even worse, the game struggles to hold a consistent framerate even on the PS4 Pro. Despite only aiming for 30 frames-per-second, dips into the teens are aplenty along with constant hitches that’ll pause the action for a second.
Furthermore, there’s also a very noticeable amount of input lag. This doesn’t have too much of an effect on the experience most of the time, but when it’s time for some precise platforming, it turns things into a complete chore. You’ll have to line up your jump and then press the X button to perform a leap a full second before you actually get to the edge, and even then we fell to our deaths far too often. Just take a look for yourself. It feels like a lottery whether you’re going to pull the dive off correctly, as well as being unnatural and frustrating in the first place.
Beast Quest feels unfinished. Its graphical presentation is put to shame by many PS3 titles, and we’re absolutely baffled how the experience doesn’t even manage to run at a consistent framerate on the PS4 Pro. But even if these two aspects were up to snuff, the gameplay and plot are still below average. Beast Quest has very little to offer to even the most die-hard fans of the book series, and everyone else is advised to steer well clear.