“Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a great hybrid adventure roleplaying game that hits all of the nostalgia of 80’s and 90’s Sierra and Quest For Glory games, whilst still being its own outstanding modern adventure.”
A Brief History
Before I get into Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption by Transolar Games, I wanted to quickly recap a series that I loved playing as a teenager. I’ve mentioned some Sierra Online games in a previous review, but Sierra was a huge name in the 80’s and 90’s with epic adventure game series’ such as King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest and the Leisure Suit Larry Series. There’s another Sierra game that was equally as important; a little gem called Hero’s Quest which came out in 1989, designed by Lori Ann and Corey Cole.
This game holds a special place in my gaming memories as well as my mate Grant “Gruntels” Lehmann. Hero’s Quest came shipped with their new family PC around 1991. I used to go around to Grant’s place to play Hero’s Quest and Legends of Kyrandia, taking turns at controlling the character. Real office chair co-op in those days. The name of the game had to change given conflicts with an already registered board game, and thus Quest For Glory: So You Want To Be A Hero, was born.
Grant remembers playing the original and tells me, “one of the floppy disks was faulty on my 16-colour EGA version and used to crash if I tried to go left at the entrance to town. I could never go to the magic shop or thieves guild for a long time until I got a new copy. Was a game changer, literally!”
What made this game stand out was a couple of major points – class choice at the start of the game, additional roleplaying game elements like skill progression and light-hearted humour via punny puns! At the time when playing with Grant, we were only early teenagers so many of the puns went over our heads, but they were much more appreciated when playing in later years as we matured. Skills increased as you used them, so the mantra ‘practice makes perfect’ came into effect here.
Grant recalls, “Some of the best memories for me were probably making a paper mud map of the forest and battling a goblin for the first time and only just surviving. Other memories were cleaning the castle stables to earn gold, and not getting back from the forest before dark when the city gates closed. This meant you had to spend the night out there where all the tough monsters lurk about. Was damn scary for a 10-year old!”
The Coles, as they affectionally became known, went on to design four other games in the Quest For Glory series spanning from 1989 through to 1998, though it took fan petitions for Sierra to get QFG5 released. They also worked on multiple other games such as Castle of Dr Brain (Sierra, 1991) which my wife Heather remembers playing and Shannara (Far Productions/Legend Entertainment, 1995) which was based on Terry Brooks’ book series. QFG1 was remade in 256-colour VGA in 1992 which is my favourite in the series for nostalgia, and QFG4 is a close second which featured voice acting.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption
After decades of game development experience and having to prove themselves to parent companies and publishers, in October 2012, Corey and Lori Ann set out to create a great game they really wanted to make on their own terms. They started a kickstarter project to crowd fund a new hybrid adventure roleplaying game called Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. They reached their modest kickstarter goal however without the financial backing of a publisher, they self-funded the remainder of their budget. In 2015, a second kickstarter project was launched to try help them reach some of their final development goals. A full breakdown of their proposed financial budgets is outlined here which is an interesting insight into the costs of developing a game. What this does show though is that voice acting didn’t make it into the budget which is a shame.
A lot of pressure was now placed on the Coles and their development team at Transolar Games by the fans who had supported them along the journey, to make Hero-U stand up against the original QFG series. In my mind, it has done that. If you look at how the five QFG games developed from one game to the next, you could almost call this a spiritual version of QFG6. Understandably the QFG name and setting couldn’t be used due to licencing, so Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption came to be after more than 5 years of development and launched on July 10, 2018 on Steam, GOG.com and Linux.
You play as Shawn O’Conner, a budding thief wanting to join the Con Game Thieves Guild. The Chief Thief has tasked Shawn with searching a house for a small silver coin that will be evidence enough of your thieving skills and gain entry to the guild. After the opening cinematic showing a castle high up on a hill overlooking a town, Shawn enters the designated house to find the ‘Lucky Coin’.
The game utilises an isometric view and point-and-click controls to move Shawn, the scroll wheel zooms the viewpoint in and out and right-click does a quick-look short description of an item. On the walls are some amazingly detailed paintings which you can view close-up. A lot of these paintings feature kickstarter backers as well as throwbacks to Sierra and the QFG games/lore. These often had me smiling with nostalgia each time I recognised something familiar. The context menus present varying options depending on the object and come with many puns. The music here is quirky and almost instils a feeling of tiptoeing around, suiting the scene perfectly. Each new scene/area in the game has its own fitting music which gives great immersion for areas such as the school, wine cellar, sea caves and catacombs.
There is a cat in the room, and if you have played Quest for Glory 1 and faced with the same options, you’ll know what NOT to do here. In the options available to interact with the cat, one of them is ‘kick the cat’, so I did. Of course, the cat caused a ruckus, woke up the house owner and I was subsequently thrown in jail, thus ending the game. I had to start again from scratch as I hadn’t saved my progress. This reminded me of the adage common with games of old – ‘save early, save often’. This did come back to bite me at some parts of the game where I lost an hour’s worth of play, but that’s my fault for forgetting to save!
Upon successfully finding the Lucky Coin and exiting the house, I am stopped in the street by a mysterious hooded figure who threatens to turn me in to jail. He does offer an alternative though, to become a student at the Hero University. With no better option, Shawn complies with the stranger and off he goes to the castle on top of the hill.
Once inside we meet Mr Terk, a grumpy old fart who really doesn’t want us at the school. Terk puts you through an aptitude test before letting you into class. The answers you choose determine how your character’s stats and skills are distributed. This reminded me of the intro sequence to Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. As I answered the questions, some of my stats started rising such as Charm, Smarts and Luck.
In Hero-U, the main stats for Rogues are Agility, Smarts and Charm. This is a slightly modified from other roleplaying games that might have Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. Charm allows you to make friends and influence your fellow students and teachers. Smarts allows you to impress people, but others may think you’re a snob. Moxie is another new stat in place of Charisma and is gained by how sarcastic you are towards others which may get people offside.
We are taken to class and introduced to our teacher Master von Urwald and fellow students Caesari Sosi, Esme, Thomas Kent, Joel Kyro and Katie MacMichael. Urwald introduces us to the rules of the Rogue class by asking Caesari, “What is the first rule of Rogue class?” I said the answer in my head before it hit the screen, “There is no Rogue class, sir.” This cracked a smile on my face with the throwback to the movie Fight Club. Urwald gives us our first task for tomorrow’s class, to study the “Beginner’s Guide to Picking Locks” and to purchase a Lockpick kit from the school store. This is a primary method giving us guidance via our journal on what to do next. Thus, our semester starts at Hero University and we behind our journey to become a Rogue.
The main game loop is now present where we start each day in class until 2pm. From 2pm-5pm we have free time where you can choose from multiple locations to visit within the school bounds. You can explore sections such as the practice room, library, Hall of Heroes, visit Joel and Gregor’s stores to buy and sell items, and play games in the recreation room such as darts, billiards and a great card game called Poobah. This is a great way to earn money.
Your spare time is initially best used to train your skills and converse with other students and teachers, but you have freedom to do whatever you want. Further into the game, new areas will reveal themselves and these are exciting to explore. Much like in the Quest for Glory games, practice makes perfect, so every day try to focus on skills you want to raise whilst leaving time for exploration and conversing with other students. As you increase your stealth and perception skills, new areas to explore will start to reveal themselves and this is where the fun and intrigue really gets going.
At 5pm the dinner bell sounds. If you make it to the dining room straight away, you will have some conversations with your fellow students about your day and events that happened. If you stay out training too long, the game will take you to the dining room at 6pm, as everyone must eat. From 7pm to 10pm, you have free time again until Terk yells curfew and you’re sent to your dorms. Here you can have conversations with your roommate Aelous who is a Bard in a different class. You can also study notes from class to increase your smarts, or you can go to sleep.
At first it felt a bit strange to be locked into a time schedule, only having limited time to explore, train skills, talk with others, complete tasks and earn money. Partway through the game you can choose one elective subject such as Science, Magic or First Aid, which can be studied between 3 to 5pm. These electives teach you how to use new tools that aid you through the game. I chose First Aid so I could search for mushrooms and create bandages, pills and potions. There were times throughout the game where I was wondering what I should do next and it slowed my enjoyment of the game right down, until I found a hidden passageway or a new story arc appeared.
Tasks and story arcs will present themselves over time and are tracked within your journal which also acts to expand the story. There are events such as a cheeky thief in the night, a student who goes missing and a drat invasion (dire rats). Unfortunately, some tasks I either ran out of time or forgot about as I was focused on something else. In this case, other students completed these tasks and get the glory for it. It is entirely your choice if you want to try completing everything that is presented to you, or if you want to pick and choose your battles. This promotes multiple playthroughs which is great, as I would love to explore the storylines that I missed.
Combat in the game is turn-based. If you watch the movement patterns of the monsters, it’s possible to sneak by most of them if you have high enough stealth. You can commence combat by setting traps and throwing things, or you can sneak up to them for a powerful attack. It was a little tough at first due to my low combat skills, but I quickly got the hang of it and loved the diversity in using traps, throwing objects and runes.
If you feel you’re getting stuck or can’t find a place in school, inside the game install directory are some amazing manuals that you wouldn’t know were there. One is the Student Handbook which contains some great maps of the school and explains more about the various classes and staff at the Hero University. Another great read is the Technical Manual. I wish I had read this prior to finishing my first playthrough! I am definitely going back for a second playthrough.
I mentioned earlier that there are numerous paintings depicting throwbacks to Sierra and QFG games. Well deep in the catacombs I found a plaque that read “Point and Click Adventure Games. 1983-1995.” This made me laugh but it’s true, there was a long period where different game genres took the focus over the years from FPS, to RTS, to RPGs and MMORPGs. I believe 2018 was a renaissance year for point-and-click adventure games, and Hero-U is one of my favourites from last year, along with Lamplight City and Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry.
Overall, I gave the game a 9/10. Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a great hybrid adventure roleplaying game that hits all of the nostalgia of 80’s and 90’s Sierra and Quest For Glory games, whilst still being its own outstanding modern adventure. This is a passion project for The Coles and their development team, and you can feel this through the rich storytelling and simple, yet fitting gameplay. Voice acting was absent from the game but the written stories and constant tasks were ample entertainment. There is great replay value with Hero-U given the sheer volume of content available to the player. Every character has a story to tell.
This review was played with a game key provided by Transolar Games with 27 hours of gameplay. I urge you, whether you’re an old-school Sierra and Quest for Glory games fan or an adventure/RPG fan in general, purchase Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption from either Steam or GOG.com.
For fans of The Coles, they recently recorded videos on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day as they played through Quest For Glory 1 and 2, explaining their design philosophies and experiences. It’s fascinating to watch and listen to their stories. There are plans to develop further games in the Hero-U series, with the next instalment called Hero-U 2: Wizard’s Way, however this will depend on the success of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.
Head over to their YouTube channel and enjoy the nostalgia, or if you want to support The Coles, the Hero-U website has a shop to purchase items or donate.