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Quern, Undying Thoughts. - Zadbox Entertainment (2016).

December 21, 2021 game review, point&click, puzzle
Homage to Myst.

'Quern' - Zadbox Entertainment
"Quern - Undying Thoughts." - Zadbox Entertainment (2016)

Note : Please take these game reviews with a good chunk of salt. They are about my personal experience with a game ; yours might be very different.
Also, I have a professional interest in figuring out what works in a game and what doesn't. I know from experience how hard they are to make !

Quern is a first-person puzzle adventure game in the style and spirit of the Myst franchise.
I -really- wanted to love this game ... but alas.

Let me start with ...

The things I liked :

  • Quern is a Myst-style game. It brought back some very nice memories.
  • Quern - Doorway.
    'First look at Myst island' vibe.
    Quern - Myst vibe.
    Waiting for the wahrk in Riven ...
  • Strange 'Witness' vibe.
  • Quern - Backstage.
    Backstage - not quite sure about its significance in Quern though ...
  • The game world looks interesting and is very well done. The music and sound effects fit the game well.
  • Quern - Central tower. Quern - Device.
  • Quern was obviously created with a lot of love.
  • Quern - Beautiful end scene.
  • The idea of building a game around crystals with different properties is interesting.
  • Quern - Crystal lab.
  • Zoom functionality.
  • A hint system (alt key).
  • Toggle between 'first person' controller and 'free mouse' view.

Not a fan of this :

  • This game is killing my computer !
    Even though I started playing Quern with the lowest possible settings, the power usage was still through the roof and the fans were going crazy.
    Because I was playing the game with all the settings turned down, the visuals were not that nice to look at. There was also a lot of clipping (lod) going on, which was rather distracting.
  • The game is 100% linear, meaning there is always just 1 puzzle to solve. Especially early on in the game, I spent more time looking for a puzzle than actually solving one.
  • This is a serious design flaw : in the game, you can find 20 (?) letters. These letters are probably meant to develop the story, but that didn't work well for me. So, I was often tempted to just ignore them. But that would have been a fatal mistake since I would not have been able to finish the game.
    Towards the end, there is a puzzle that requires you to have read and collected all letters. When you realise this and want to go back above ground to collect the missing letters ... well ... the game doesn't let you.
  • Quern - Letter.
  • The puzzles in Quern were a bit of a letdown for me.
    Some of the puzzles were too easy, some seemed to me to be not logical at all. Some were not very original (blocks puzzle, light all lamps, mastermind). Still other puzzles required you to follow a recipe (collect items) and required no thinking at all ...
    I'm also not a fan of having a player solve a puzzle more than once in a game (eg. blocks puzzle).
    If you're a fan of juicy logic puzzles that you can spend some time thinking about, Quern is not where you'll find them ...
  • Quern - Block puzzle at crystal lab. Quern - Recipe puzzle in Chemistry lab.

Minor annoyances :

  • The game takes a long time to load (about 1 minute on my laptop).
  • During the first part of the game, the use of the crystals felt a bit random. I also found the concept of the blue crystals slightly annoying, as I ended up playing much of the game with the blue torch in hand ... just in case.
  • There's a fair bit of needless walking around in this game. That's something a lot of games in this genre like to do.
  • Navigating spiral stairs with the mouse is a bit of a pain.
  • Quern - Spiral stairs.
  • The hints in Quern are sometimes so subtle that you can only recognize them as hints -after- you have solved the puzzle.
  • Quern - Hint in watch tower.
  • The inventory screen scrolls nicely through all items, except when it comes to the end of the list. Then it goes a bit crazy ...
  • Text / font : if you play the game in windowed mode, the text on the inventory screen is placed too low and can't be read. Also, the font used in the letters and on the inventory screen was too small to read comfortably.
  • Alt key : although this hint system is an interesting idea, the execution was not as good as it could have been. Sometimes, the 'sparkles' were all over the place, which made it hard to see what exactly you could interact with.
    Also, even when you have 'used' an item and it no longer serves a purpose in the game, it still sends out sparkles (eg. keys in door locks).
  • RMB : this is also an interesting idea, to let the player toggle between 'first person' controller and 'free mouse' view. In theory, this would make it easier to interact with puzzles. In Quern however, switching to 'free mouse' view on a puzzle sometimes resulted in screen mouse clicks not being mapped to the correct 3d location. One such instance is in the crystal lab, where it was impossible to press the correct buttons in the symbols puzzle.
  • Quern - Crystal lab puzzle.
  • In-game map : also an interesting idea, but the map was too small to be very useful (1920x1080 resol). Also, I would have preferred it if the map had a bit more details on it (locked / unlocked doors, location of puzzles in the area that has been explored, landmarks, ...).
    I also found the arrow indicating player position hard to spot (tiny and same color as the rest of the map).
    There was no map functionality available underground, which struck me as a bit odd.
  • Quern - Early map.
    Early map ; can you spot the player ?
  • In-game notebook : stylistically beautiful (pencil drawings), but all in all not very useful. The 'picture taken' is not identical to what you see onscreen and there are no colors (eg. flowers).
    A safer bet is to take screenshots or to use pen and paper (as you should ! =)).
  • Quern - Notebook.
  • Game save : there are a limited number of save slots. The pictures in the save slots are tiny, and the slot titles are generic [eg. 'main square'). This makes the saved games difficult to distinguish from one another.
  • Quern - Saved games.
  • Just a question : why is there a 'jump' key in the player controller ?
    'Jumping' is not really a core functionality in this game ...
  • Maybe Quern tries to do too many things at once (above ground, caves, under water, library, and computer lab) ...
  • Quern - Above ground. Quern - Underground. Quern - Under water. Quern - Library. Quern - Computer lab.

So, all in all, Quern felt a bit like a missed opportunity to me.
I do however think that a second game created by this team has the potential to be great.