This is another quest that's going to defy my normal schtick, this time because it's very exploration-heavy and I (perhaps foolishly) didn't bother to keep detailed notes of my bumbling around the Gulvas Manor. Alas.
The hook for the quest is Maria, a sobbing maid standing outside a stately-yet-imposing manor house in Silvarea, the creepiest place in Misthalin. Seriously, I don't know what possessed someone to build a house here, but they did, and now apparently there's a ghost inside killing everyone. This is my shocked face. At Maria's behest, I relinquish all of my equipment to the conveniently-placed bank deposit box, and enter the manor in an attempt to subdue the evil spirit. All in a day's work.
I'm immediately a little put-off by the non-diegetic popup that appear when I enter the mansion:
As I've said many times, I don't generally like when the game has to give you information like this, though this isn't too egregious of an example because it's explaining changes to gameplay mechanics rather than conveying narrative or puzzle solutions. Still, it's a bit annoying, and I can think of better ways to communicate the same information in a less-obvious way:
- Peeking is actually quite well-tutorialized a little later on, when you hear a scream and find a door suddenly blocked; I don't think it really needs to be tutorialized in a dialogue box ahead of time
- The map could be indicated by an interface change, like what happens in Daemonheim. Alternately, give us "map of the manor" as an inventory item we can examine
I'm sure Jagex focus tested this quest to death, and this over-tutorialization was found to be necessary for player engagement, but it still grates a little.
Anyway, I want to talk about the map a little more, because I really liked it:
It's no secret that Broken Home draws heavy inspiration from the Resident Evil franchise, and that gameplay style really needs a good map, or else it gets unmanageably hard to remember "where was that locked door again?", which is especially annoying in a game where entering the wrong room can very quickly kill you. So I appreciated the layout of the manor, with indicators of locked doors and points of interest. I was worried going into this quest, because I've never really played survival horror games and my only experiences with this quest relied heavily on the wiki, but I found the map very helpful for navigating around.
I won't go through my journey in detail, because it was a lot of bumbling back-and-forth trying to remember which key went to which locked door. If you want a walkthrough, there's the wiki. Instead, let me present some highlights I picked out:
- First thing's first, major props to the audio team on this one. It's not voiced, but the music and sound effects work go a long way to making the atmosphere of the quest work. There's some really good effects, especially with Senecianus eating folk, and some of the haunted servants. Five stars, gang.
- From a design perspective, I like that the quest starts out very linear and then opens up; it's a good escalation of the central puzzle, and keeps it from being overwhelming. Once you enter the manor, there are really only about four room you can enter, and one of them gives you a key that opens up a few more rooms, which leads you to another key, and so on; the full map opens up organically, and then it closes off again as you approach the climax to keep you from getting into too much trouble. So bravo on that
- I also liked how the flavour text motivated your next actions; an early example is Ingram's Research Notes, where he discusses the spell fragments:
Finding those fragments becomes the meta-goal of the quest, and I like how that's established very early via diegetic text. Another example from the climax is Ingram's final message, where he basically tells you to use the spell on the demon instead of the ghost of Ormond. It wouldn't necessarily be obvious to do that (why should we assume the demon is insane, after all?), so it's a good in-universe progress hint
- Lots of very creepy imagery in the manor, which very much suits the theme. This one was particularly good:
Custom model and animation; nice.
- One of the few puzzles in the quest, ironically, is one I very much didn't like; it's this one:
The reason I didn't like it is that there's no deducing the solution: the only thing you can do is keep trying combinations until one works. There are smarter ways to try combinations (pro tip: bubble sort), but it ultimately comes down to brute forcing the solution. It's just a bit disappointing
- I think there's only one room in the whole house you never go into, and peeking into it revealed this:
I'd never thought to try that before, and I'm now sorry I did. That just ain't right.
- The conversation with Ingram through the locked door is fun (though I'm a little disappointed that you can't see him when you peek through), but this line jumped out:
Foreshadowing makes a beeline for the basement.
- Found this room:
First thought: what could this room possibly have been used for?
Second thought: I like how the Rowena ghost swaps sides of the glass, depending on which side you come into. It's creepy (and her interactions are incredibly creepy), but it also subtly establishes her as an ultimately playful figure. It's a nice touch
- Twoie took time to make friends with the creepy ghost girl
So does this mean you won't eat me? No. Ah well. Unfortunately I never thought to come back into this room after Rowena eats Lenian. Missed opportunities.
- Sign-in log in the asylum:
This seems like foreshadowing, but six years later and we still haven't had any follow-up. Sad.
- There's a sort-of moral choice at the very end of the quest, when you can tell Senecianus to either forgive Ormond or devour him. I normally pick the "forgive" option, because I'm a big 'ol softie, but this time I actually read Ormond's will, which lays out the whole backstory of him and why all these ghosts are around. Turns out the dude was kind of a dick even before he went nuts and started killing people, so I decided to let him get a taste of his own medicine:
Very cool animation work.
- Another dropped sequel hook:
Seriously, I want a follow-up to this quest already.
Final thoughts: I both liked and didn't like this quest. I didn't like it because it's not a gameplay style that appeals to me; I'm just not a survival horror fan. But that's not a flaw with the quest, which is actually very well designed. I also liked that it was experimentation that didn't feel like it was losing what Runescape was, in contrast to last time. Broken Home is very unlike any other content in Runescape, but it still felt like it fit into the tapestry of the game; I don't have the vocabulary to articulate why, but I liked it.
I also really liked the lore; despite being a bottle quest, it ties into the game's lore in lots of really interesting ways, some big and some small. I particularly liked the subtle tie-in to A Soul's Bane, which I also hinted at in the post for that quest; one day I hope to get a follow-up that ties it all together more explicitly, though I don't expect it to happen anytime soon.
Bottom line: nice experiment, nice lore. More, please.