Review: FreeCell Quest

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If you ask me, there should be an RPG version of pretty much every genre. I’m a big fan of watching stats get bigger and collecting loot and clearing maps of content, and I guess the FreeCell Quest developers know someone like me because they made a game where you do just that. They’ve married the classic Windows time-waster with character classes, magical spells, and a vast world of card-based conflict, and on the surface it seems like everything I could ever want. In fact, the only real problem with it is that it never goes any deeper than that.

Freecell Quest is certainly named appropriately, because your quest here is to play freecell. Freecell, if you somehow got this far without knowing, is a common version of solitaire that uses open cells to move cards around one by one as you organize them into stacks. The “quest” part is in how this is all set up for you. Your character starts in the corner of an enormous continent, comprised of hundreds of towns, cities, forts, and points of interest spread over more than a dozen kingdoms. Each of these locations is a game of freecell that “liberates” the place when you win. Liberated locations can offer you rest, shops, or training to help you continue your quest.

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At the start you’ll be stacking two suits of cards with plenty of space to work, but further in you’ll be working with up to eight suits in a single game. The major progression is unlocking additional free cells by collecting cards from victories until you have a set of 52 to convert. Having more cells to shuffle cards around is essential but your spells and your gear play an important part as well. Spells can move difficult cards around by shuffling stacks or swapping spots. You can also be attacked for taking too long, and if you can’t counter by uncovering a specific card you’ll have to rely on your equipment to keep you from taking too much damage. Leveling up mitigates this as well by giving you more health to soak attacks and more mana to use your spells.

As you get the hang of winning hands, collecting loot, and leveling your character, you’re sure to enjoy the journey across the gigantic map. Each kingdom has dozens of locations to liberate, including ports that link across the seas and odd points of interest like monster nests and mysterious caves. But these aren’t anything unique, just harder rounds to play. And that’s where the game loses some of its luster, when you realize there’s no real “quest” here besides playing freecell. There’s no story, no NPCs, no cutscenes, really nothing besides the map, the loot, and the cards. You’re playing to tick boxes in a long, long list of conquest, and all that requires is stacking cards and doing some light character-building. And you need to pay attention to the difficulty curve because ending up in a region too challenging for you can be frustrating, and hiking back across the map is both time-consuming and dangerous because liberated locations can be “attacked” again as you pass through, forcing a match on the spot.

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For what it is, FreeCell Quest looks and sounds fine. The map is appropriately fantasy and the cards are sharp and animated well. There’s a generic hero’s soundtrack to carry it along, paired with a few functional sound effects. It does the job of pushing you along to finish one more hand or reach that next level before bed, and I can’t deny it has an addictive quality when hands click and you just knock over towns and cities one by one. You do need to pay attention to your spells as you progress, and make sure you don’t wander out of your depth too soon, but it’s still just freecell at its core. Don’t expect the depth of a Puzzle Quest here, just come get your card-stacking fix along with the simple joy of watching numbers get bigger.

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