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Qvadriga (PC) artwork

Qvadriga (PC) review

"Qvadriga introduces some refreshing ideas that are nearly hamstrung by their execution."

I never knew Qvadriga existed until the quirky indie game was offered as part of a recent Humble Bundle. I was intrigued from the moment I first saw it, but I was also completely broke. Then the title appeared again in a subsequent bundle, and I knew I couldn't pass it up a second time.

Qvadriga is an odd duck, one that you might see classified any number of ways. The obvious hook is that you get to race chariots around ancient arenas, so maybe it's a racing game? Except that label doesn't quite fit, because events play out in a turn-based manner by default. You're expected to decide whether to encourage your horses to move more quickly, or slow them down, or lash out at another racer's steeds, and you don't have to make any choices in a hurry unless you select the "dynamic" setting. So maybe it's actually more a strategy game. But then you're expected to use your winnings to set up four "teams" with the best possible equipment, and to hire specialists who can keep everyone in top form as you traipse around a map of Africa and Europe, growing more famous with each hard-earned victory. So... maybe it's a management sim?

No matter how you finally decide to sort it, Qvadriga is different from a lot of other stuff you'll likely find on the Steam marketplace. Sometimes that's good and sometimes it isn't.

Qvadriga (PC) image

Turnopia, the indie developer responsible for the design, didn't produce any particularly impressive visuals to dress up the project. All of the available action unfolds in a few basic arenas that are populated by static crowds. The basic visuals at times look almost like they could have been produced in Microsoft Paint (though the shading is at least decent enough to make that unlikely). Worse, the interface is sufficiently awkward that it took me a while to even access the campaign. A rather lengthy text tutorial is provided to show you the ropes, and I absolutely recommended reading it, but the text is difficult to make out thanks to poor color contrast. Besides that, it's riddled with minor grammatical errors.

"But that's all nitpicking," you might reasonably say. "How is the proper game?"

I wish I could say everything turns spectacular once you get going, but that's not the case. Qvadriga has a brutal learning curve, and I had to attempt the campaign several times--over the combined course of several hours--before I was finally able to make my final attempt actually stick.

You'll begin by choosing your faction, which slightly impacts your starting configuration. You can decide whether a skillful chariot driver is your priority (which it should be, I've discovered), or a bulkier chariot that can withstand more damage from the aggressive competition, or just plain speed. There are a few combinations offered, but I didn't find a lot of meaningful differences between them because the scales are weighted against you no matter what.

Qvadriga (PC) image

After you have settled on your affiliation, you'll have to pick your starting region from one of several points on a handful of maps. This process is needlessly complicated, and doesn't make a lot of difference, so I don't recommend spending too much time fussing with it. You'll eventually be able to access all of the areas, anyway.

Once you have tended to most of the preliminaries, you'll see a list of your starting three teams. You can move horses around, and chariots, and their drivers (called "aurigas"). When that's all done, you can finally proceed to the actual race, which might pit you against anywhere from 3 to 15 or so other drivers. There will always be a handicap of some sort in place, and it is chosen completely at random. Sometimes that works in your favor, like when the potential prize money for the winner is increased. In other cases, it's less beneficial. You may find that you can't attack your rivals, or you might learn that after the first turn, you will automatically be forced to slow to a crawl for a bit so that basically everyone can pass you.

When you participate in an actual race, it could play out entirely in a loop area (think NASCAR, but with literal horsepower), or you might have to jockey for position with other chariot drivers as you all roll toward the track and get to work on the required laps. By default, the viewing perspective is close to the action, so that you can see little touches like drivers cracking whips and blood spatter as the weapons lash against animal flesh. There are less subtle touches, as well, like when a racer wipes out and leaves a huge blood smear on the track, or a chariot breaks apart and becomes an obstacle for the other competitors. Even if you scroll the mouse wheel to pull the camera back, you won't ever see an entire lap at once, although 1920x1080 resolution is supported and should have been able to fit things quite nicely.

Qvadriga (PC) image

Chariot racing was a treacherous affair back when it was something real people actually did, and Qvadriga captures the danger perhaps a bit too effectively. If you approach a corner quickly, especially with a stunned driver, it's easy to wipe out. Typically, this means your chariot falls apart and your driver drags behind the charging horses. The soil tears him apart fairly quickly, but you can usually tell him to exit the arena in shame rather than trying to win the race without a vehicle. Of course, then a rival might gleefully run him over. Just like that, you've lost precious components that you might not have the resources to replace. So you learn to approach corners cautiously, but then the other drivers pass you like you're standing still, because they do a better job at maintaining an even speed. They might wipe out a lap later and leave you in first place, but you can't count on their misfortune and the prize for a first-place finish is leagues better than the remainder that goes to the other teams. You have to be at least as reckless as your most capable opponent, or you'll never finish in a way that matters.

As I played, I slowly got the hang of Qvadriga. I learned when it made sense to keep to the inside track and I found a variety of ways to avoid braking, so that the other competitors couldn't easily pass me on the last lap. Most importantly, I managed to more dependably minimize my risk. Over the course of the few hours I spent with the game, the experience evolved slowly from brutal and exotic, to difficult and addictive, to tedious.

I'm glad I bought the game as part of an affordable bundle, because that transaction allowed me to get more than my money's worth. I don't recommend purchasing the title yourself, though, unless you obtain it under similarly favorable circumstances. The industry definitely needs more development teams that are willing to try something as refreshingly different as what you'll find in Qvadriga, but it's worth remembering that overly steep learning curves and sloppy presentation do no one any favors.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 30, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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