Once upon a time in-browser games were a rarity reserved for the occasional Adobe Flash game. RPGs were rare in this medium, in a landscape dominated by dating sims, puzzle games and platformers. Many people considered them too much of an investment and too broad in scale to work within the medium. Into this landscape came Adventure Quest, one of the earliest examples of a casual, social RPG.
Sometimes known by its website address ‘Battle On’ or just ‘AQ’, Adventure Quest is the brainchild of Artix Entertainment and the prototype upon which all their later games would build. On its own it’s nothing particularly special, a simple combat system with a player created character, but when you take in the sheer scope of the world Artix has created and consistently continued to fill with new content, things become quite impressive.
Graphically there’s a mixed bag to be found here, 2D illustrations animated through Adobe Flash range from high quality design to crudely drawn monsters or environments. The art style is also a little inconsistent because the game has always added new content at a regular rate but rarely removes anything. This means that initially crude work from the games early years share screen time with pretty awesome monsters of various sizes. There’s no doubt that the more recent content looks great but the sheen is dulled by placing them amongst lower grade elements. Your character’s weapons and armor as well as NPCs suffer a similar fate, although logging in after a month or so will see elements of your equipment visually altered as Artix tweak the game. The breadth of imagination on display is huge however, with everything from frog-like giant lizards to elemental beings and the undead encountered within an hour or so of play. Visual humor is also a key element of the game with monsters showing a lot of personality through design and animation.
Sound and Music are limited, in fact in many cases there are none although Artix has tried its best the make the game work. For the most part this caters for the kind of audience that are logging on to cheekily play while working or get a battle or two in while multitasking on their laptop. In short, those who would usually mute the audio anyhow. In fact the game gives muting options from the outset for both sound and music, encouraging this. Sound effects are spartan and honestly quite horrible at times, making no sound at all a preferable choice.
Story is hard to nail down for such a broad game, ultimately the player is encouraged to make their own journey through the games many locations and quests but these each tend to be carefully scripted to stand alone as stories. It’s very easy for a player to drop in on the game and follow a single story mission from beginning to end in a single session, with many threads immediately open to the player from the second they log on and even more available as they explore the large world map. These are a mixture of dialogue driven cutscenes around battles, with the sum adding up to a narrative beginning, middle and end. Some arc into additional missions but most are simple stand alone fair. Playing with a specific goal in mind is always doable however, seeking to specialize as a particular class sets an end-game for some time and will see you clearing other classes and saving up for equipment to earn the requisites to become a more advanced warrior or spell caster.
Gameplay is deceptively simply in that it takes the central mechanic of JRPGs and runs with it, turning turn based combat into the central crux of the Adventure Quest experience. Upon logging in you can choose to partake in a quest or dive right in to a random battle by simply clicking a button on the home screen. Character creation itself is relatively simply, allowing you to customize the look of your character and their initial class from a traditional choice of warrior, mage or rogue. What gives the game surprising depth is that every aspect of the combat system has been fleshed out to a ridiculous level. There are literally thousands of pieces of armour, weapons, spells, shields and more to purchase and equip to significantly alter the way you work in combat. Armour is especially important because it’s key to unlocking class skills based on the garb you wear, meaning that donning the outfit of a Dragon Knight gives you access to their skill tree, which you can advance across by performing class-specific quests. You adventure alone unless you purchase one of the many pets to choose from and the game cleverly plays these into the elemental system it has in play to encourage players to have a stable of different kinds of pet. Much of the games content is level-locked to give you something to grind toward, and since the game is 90% combat grinding is what you’re here for, and this is a wise choice because it lets you plan ahead far enough into the future to achieve certain player-set goals. PVP exists but the experience is overall a single player one within a shared world-scape. It is worth mentioning that players have limited inventory space for armour, shields and weapons, etc, meaning that you have to be selective over what to keep. Whilst content is free you can pay up to become a Guardian, gaining access to a special tower and gaining a couple of extra storage spaces as well as now featuring Z-Tokens for the impatient who want to buy better equipment earlier and break the back of the games challenge. Personally I made the one-off Guardian payment years ago and have never touched the Z-Token system, though I do receive plenty of them through standard gameplay.
So does Adventure Quest hold up by today’s standards? Not really, it’s been out-done by Adventure Quest Worlds which is more of a ‘true’ Social RPG, and the ability to produce far more complex games in browser has become possible recently. As a piece of history and a fun waste of time however Adventure Quest is a good time. Log in, click through a quest or two and then get back to work. In a lot of ways it was the original template that many mobile RPGs take now, and I would certainly play the game on mobile were it to be made available (instead Artix produced a match-3 game set in the same world) a missed opportunity if there ever was one. I’ve been playing Adventure Quest since 2002, shortly after it launched and although I gravitate to other games I tend to swing back to it when I’m bored between titles and I always find a host of new content when I do. Try it out for free and come to your own decisions.