Isn’t it always the same? You wait years for a game like Myst or Riven to come along and then two come along at once. In recent times I have found myself playing through two games that have very much been influenced by the classics of times gone by. The first – Obduction – came about via those behind the original Myst, and the second is this one which we are examining today. Quern – Undying Thoughts is a title by Zadox Entertainment; a game created by four Hungarian graduate students. It harks back to an old, thoughtful puzzle adventure and I have spent many a head-scratching hour in its company.
Quern puts you in charge of an unknown person transported for some unknown reason into a strange unknown new world. There are lots of unknowns in this adventure. As you arrive, the teleportation device that took you there has been destroyed. Now what? Well, the next part is up to you. You start to explore this magical odd world, discovering weird-looking machines, locked doors, and complicated devices. But then you happen upon a letter, and it seems as if a man is sending you his thoughts about your arrival. Is he your friend or your enemy? Who knows, but you soon discover you are on an island called Quern, and it’s a magical scientific place and this guy is giving you guidance and clues about where to go next. The story is compelling, and one told only through these letters and a mysterious entity you meet later on. It’s a narrative that rewards those who look at every drawing and read every book; only then will you maybe draw your own thoughts about what it all actually means.
The game is a first-person puzzle adventure, very much aligned with the likes of Myst and The Witness. If you hate those games, that slow pace, or the tricky puzzles they deliver then I feel you’re not going to get much out of this new addition to the genre. Quern – Undying Thoughts rewards patience and those happy to examine every clue in the surrounding areas, writing a thesis, ringing Nobel Prize winners, and asking their advice. And even then you may need to take a peek at a walkthrough. Seriously though, the puzzles included here are excellent and when you solve them it makes you feel like the most intelligent person in the room. There are others which are unbelievably tough but everything you need to solve is in the world. It just takes time and a lot of brainwork.
Throughout your time you will be found picking up objects and placing them in your inventory. Here, each object can give you a hint about its use, with specific ones coming with switches or the ability to be manipulated for use. In-game you walk around as you would expect but, in a twist from the norm, this time you get access to a run button; something which is hugely helpful as you will be doing a lot of backtracking in this game. But for the good, there have been times where I’ve felt that the UI isn’t particularly helpful, and some of the controls are a tad annoying. There is a nice option though to change the way you can interact with objects or devices, making things slower and ensuring that it is easier to grab things and use them.
Coming with an open-world feel to it, much of your time with Quern will see you wandering around looking at all the puzzles. But after completing some you will open up new areas and new doorways, adding variety. There are some nice sections in the game where you have to make recipes from the contents of a garden, eating berries as you go; the consumption of different types gives you some very interesting side effects. It’s not all straightforward stuff though, and there is one particularly troublesome part which involves clever teleportation and travel. It seems as though I spent hours on this one bit, but the desired result is well worth the time taken to solve it.
Quern – Undying Thoughts looks great with its mix of old-world architecture, steampunk elements, and fantasy magic. There are some mild pop-ups in the draw distance but nothing to go wild about, and overall the level of invention, design, and innovation provides an excellent piece of work throughout. I love this strange island that is full of intrigue, and as previously mentioned there is an element of joy that hits you when things go right. The audio is an emotive, highly relaxing score that helps you journey across this island. In fact, the score works like a piece of meditation music and does a good job of calming you in the trickiest of moments. The effects are very good too, especially in regards to the machinery. Even though there is only a tiny bit of voice-over work included, it is solidly performed and the narrator tells a good tale.
If you like games like Myst and the more recent newcomer Obduction you are going to love Quern – Undying Thoughts on Xbox One. With the amount of content included it is great value for money, and whilst the puzzles can seem pretty hard everything you need is around you; trial, error and patience is rewarded. This is a game in which you have to train your mind to think in a specific way, and when you do it rewards you generously. Yes, there are some problems with the control scheme and a few graphical glitches that crop up, but in general Quern is a brilliantly designed affair.