clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Healer’s Quest gives the most unloved adventurer the starring role

Sure it’s funny, but it has some serious RPG chops, too

Pablo Coma/Rablo Games

Do you like playing the support role in your adventuring party? The healer? No? Hell no? Well, tough luck, bub, you have no choice in the forthcoming Healer’s Quest, a wry, fourth-wall-breaking satire of classic RPGs that turns out to be a pretty good one itself.

I got my hands on a preview build of Healer’s Quest and wasn’t really expecting much other than a few good chortles at the tropes and tendencies of an old-school action (or real-time combat) RPG. But my encounters, mirthful as they were, quickly became teeth-gritting battles of attrition that had me planning my spell loadout and prioritizing my targets as if I was a wizard or a fighter on the offensive.

Healer’s Quest is coming to PC on April 18, from Rablo Games, whose sole developer is founder Pablo Coma of Belgium. He is merciless in bagging on the unloved support class. Though the Healer the player chooses may be of either gender, good or evil karma, with tons of outfit options, their dialogue portrays them as the drip, the pollyanna, the go-fer of a strikingly incompetent adventure party.

The scene that best describes this relationship is when the gang checks into an inn, which restores everyone to full health and good morale (except Grumpy the Barbarian, whose mood ranges from pissed to super-pissed). There are only four beds in the inn; so the Healer (whom I named Drippy) always sleeps outside. And the cutscene of him (or her) standing out there as the four doofuses snore inside was almost heartbreaking.

Pigsmell is a recurring adversary, even dumber than your four teammates, if possible.
Pablo Coma/Rablo Games

But for all the jokey presentation, the gameplay works as advertised. In my 2.5 hour playthrough, Drippy met up with Tanky, a rather pedantic Knight whose special ability kicks in at full health, then Grumpy, whose special gets going when he’s in the low range.

From there we crossed paths with Murky, a lecherous magic user in the mold of Glenn Quagmire from Family Guy. He didn’t want to join up at first, but when we added the long-locked Beauty the Ranger, who is in fact male, Murky came aboard, believing him female.

Team fully assembled, my job was now to douse all four adventurers with healing stars, plus other spells, as they slugged it out with vermin, brigands, trolls, goblins, undead and other belligerents. There’s a slick blending of game actions that kept me from using a single tactic or command exclusively.

To wit: the basic spell is a healing spell, but you don’t click on the character to heal — holding down the left mouse button is more efficient than rapid tapping (the game reminds you of this). But sometimes a super-sized star will appear over the hero, and if you do single-click that in time, he’ll get a boost to his health restoration. Later on, the fighters will acquire super moves, another key press to be mindful of.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of loot and gear to equip (and throw away).
Pablo Coma/Rablo Games

Of course there is mana to deal with, and that is continually draining from use (and never replenishing to your convenience). Healing, or any spell, done with low mana is less effective (represented as smaller stars in the healing spell). There’s also a “heat” meter on the Healer’s wand that will require a cooldown if it maxes out. It’s a lot to keep track of, and there were times when I felt like my eyes were darting from one meter to another bar rather than actually looking at the game, which is illustrated in a pleasing style reminiscent of children’s books. But on the whole, it works.

Combat in Healer’s Quest is frantic as hell, but still entertaining. When I scraped through a fight with just Murky left standing, tossing double-damage fireballs thanks to a perk I’d acquired with the Meditate spell, I was proud that I’d kept that one in my loadout (you can choose four spells) and knew how to use it.

The comedy of Healer’s Quest may ride up front, like the four stooges in the party. But underneath is a design with a lot of choice, a lot of thought, and a lot of balance put into it. There are 18 spells to acquire — and your loadout can only carry four into a battle. Each of those spells has a skill tree that includes passive and active benefits. This forces a considerate decision among, say, the instant save-my-ass effects of a Super Heal or a Shield; the long-play benefit of faster health or mana regeneration; and the absolute necessity of something like Remedy, which removes poison and disease debuffs (which you’ll see a lot).

There’s a skill tree for each of the 18 spells in the book, presenting a lot of decision-making outside of the main game.
Pablo Coma/Rablo Games

The adventuring gets tough immediately after finishing out a series of tutorial missions that gets the party together. Healer’s Quest has an overworld with shops, inns, side quests and random encounters (which are a given the further you stray from a road). There’s an option to flee encounters (particularly useful in the overworld) or to “bribe” your way out of them, which is there in case you’re going back into a dungeon, whose encounters will be replayed from the beginning if you leave to rest up at an inn or stock up on health potions. Any defeat immediately replays the encounter, with the health each party member had going into it.

My adventuring hit a wall in the first dungeon (not literally); I barely overcame the first mid-boss (which, of course, everyone acknowledged by that name) and then ran into some of Grumpy’s old pals from the Baddies’ Guild. There some repetition and predictability going through the dungeon but not enough to discourage me from thinking I could take this thing down with the right spell combinations and a bathtub full of health potions, if necessary.

Mostly, I was impressed that something with as many sight gags and one-liners about video games as Healer’s Quest had some serious RPG chops to it. (Of the jokes I saw, my favorite was the “Ring of Stupidity,” which buffed damage and defense by +1, but gave the character an Intelligence of zero. “You can ignore the debuff,” said the menu, “as there is no INT in the game.”) Healer’s Quest may say it’s about the worst or least desirable job in fantasy RPGs, but it still plays like the good ones. It just approaches RPG combat from the other side of its equation.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon