Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail Review

Screenshot from Conquests of Camelot where King Arthur is jousting with the Black Knight
King Arthur preparing to engage in combat with the Black Knight

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: January 1990
  • Time played: 4 hours

What is it

Every adventure gamer or gamer that played games in the 80s and 90s, would've heard of the company Sierra On-Line and probably played one of their "Quest" games during that period, although the company did start to experiment with their existing adventure game formula by developing games like Conquests of Camelot and The Colonel's Bequest (which incidentally are still technically "quest" games since the word exists within "conquest" and "bequest" ;))

Conquests of Camelot was designed by screenwriter, author and game designer Christy Marx and her late Australian husband, cartoonist and illustrator Peter Ledger. While the game didn't take as different a direction to your typical Sierra adventure as The Colonel's Bequest the game does require you to have a certain number of points in skill, wisdom and soul in order to successfully complete the game.

Conquests of Camelot is not surprisingly a game based on Arthurian legend. You get to play the role of King Arthur on his quest for the Holy Grail. You'll travel to several locations in mythological England as well as the Holy Land not only to search for the Grail but also the whereabouts of your knights, Sir Gawain, Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot.

Conquests of Camelot uses an early version of the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) engine which replaced the older Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine in the late 1980s. While the engine allowed for improved graphics, audio and mouse support it still retained a text parser meaning in order to perform actions in the game world, you would still need to type them in.

Conquests of Camelot received generally positive reviews back in 1990 and the game was complimented for its refreshing medieval setting and its almost cinematic quality, although some reviewers criticised the game for being too easy when compared to previous Sierra titles and some felt the EGA graphics were starting to look a bit dated.

On GOG, the game holds a very positive rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars with users praising Christy Marx's thorough research into Arthurian legend, logical puzzles and the soundtrack. GOG users did criticise how linear and restrictive the game felt, and were divided on the supplanting of Sierra's usual puzzles with action sequences and riddles.

How I got it

Ever since purchasing the old Sierra "Quest" games on GOG I decided I wanted to try some of the other games developed by Sierra during their heyday. I also wanted to acquire copies of a couple of Legend Entertainment adventures while I was at it, so during a sale back in December 2018, I purchased Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood, Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail, Spellcasting 1+2+3 and Eric the Unready.

The games sat dormant for a while until last year Choona suggested I revisit all the Sierra adventure games as part of my Pile of Shame Initiative. I've already reviewed quite a few Sierra adventures over the past year and after completing reviews for other SCI0 adventures (such as Space Quest III and Quest for Glory 1 (EGA) ) it was time to give Conquests of Camelot a go.

Screenshot of ham and jam and spam a lot easter egg in Conquests of Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a looooot

What I like:

Monty Python references

There's at least a couple of Monty Python references in here including Guinevere referring to the Lady of the Lake as "a watery tart" and even an easter egg where when you type "ham and jam and spam a lot" in the Treasury, you're treated to knights dancing to the tune of "Knights of the Round Table".

Mini-games and riddles

While an adventure game shouldn't be entirely about mini-games and riddles it's refreshing to see Sierra try something different with Conquests of Camelot compared to the many games it developed during the 1980s.

Puzzles aren't too convoluted?

Most of the puzzles in Conquests of Camelot have logical solutions and despite using a walkthrough, I found that there were only a few instances where I would have been truly lost without it which I'll discuss below.

Screenshot of King Arthur and the Riddle Stones in Conquests of Camelot
While the game does have logical puzzles, riddles and mini-games, it still has some puzzles that require on trial and error to solve

What I dislike:

Knowing how much to pay

At the beginning of your adventure, King Arthur will take some money from his Treasury. At different parts of the game you will need to use the money in order to progress but determining how many gold, silver or copper coins to use at each of these moments in the game is a mystery. There doesn't seem to be any clue on what is the suitable amount which leads me to believe that you have to use trial and error to figure it out.

Purchasing things that aren't advertised

At one part of the game you're expected to purchase an item from a merchant but if you ask what he sells, he never mentions the item you're looking for. Again, it seems trial and error would be required to figure this one out, but you also have to have some idea of what to be asking for in the first place.

Secretly useful inventory items

Sometimes when you play adventure games you end up with inventory items that are Macguffins or worse just useless junk. So when I acquired a relic from one location in England it did not become immediately apparent that it actually had a use in helping me navigate to my next objective. It would've been nice if there was some backstory given (by Merlin perhaps?) about the item I acquired but apparently you're just meant to guess when you're supposed to use the item at the right time.

It's still old

It's not as dated as the AGI adventures of the early to mid 80s, but low-resolution graphics, a lack of colour depth and MIDI-quality music means that even indie adventure games of today seem like technological marvels when compared to Conquests of Camelot; although without games like Conquests of Camelot to inspire the current generation of game developers there'd probably be a whole lot less indie adventure games today, so I'm definitely glad it does exist.

It's also worth mentioning that Conquests of Camelot was released 30 years ago… that's a long time ago in the world of computing.

Score – 6/10 (Okay)

Sierra should be commended for trying their hand at something different and developing an SCI adventure based on Arthurian legend (with Monty Python references to boot). Generally logical puzzles, mini-games and riddles also make the game more straight-forward than previous Sierra adventures but there are times where there is no hint whatsoever on how to solve puzzles and it seems like trial and error is the only solution.

(I've placed the following disclaimer when reviewing Sierra games before and I'll say it again: before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2020. No doubt the game was highly regarded by fans in the 1990s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $7.99 AUD?:

No. Considering there are collections out there where you can get other Sierra adventures for $5 or less, it seems a bit dear for a Sierra adventure back from 1990. However, the game often goes on sale so if you're wanting to try a Sierra adventure based on Arthurian legend, best to get it then.

If you like this game, you might like… [ LINK: Conquests of Camelot @ GOG ]