Sierra was always ahead of their time with innovative ideas. Were there even MMO's in 98? There were very very few if any. Which means they'd have no real model to copy from. Which means THEY would have invented what an MMO would be.
Sierra had The Realm, as far back as 1996! It was kinda like Quest for Glory, but had the whole talk to man, read a note style fetch quests. It was in many ways similar to QFG4 as far as the way you explored the world (screen by screen like most Sierra adventure games). So uh ya, Sierra did invent what what an MMO is to this day!!!
So um ya, Sierra already had been 'revolutionary' as far as MMO's went. Could Roberta had taken it further? Who knows....
That being said no one knows when Roberta planned the MMO aspect of the game, was it before Mark Seibert recommended the enemies? Or was it after?
...the boring talk-man-find-objective puzzles they are today.
Hmm, you just described many of the puzzles in both KQ7 and KQ8, and even Quest for Glory V... Roberta was still ahead of most people, but her puzzle types (as well as others in Sierra) were turning/simplified more towards to glorified fetch quests...
It's no wonder Telltalle has turned towards the model Roberta herself was turning towards in her games... They have just turned to the far extreme of that direction... Like you have said they could look at KQ7's model (and elements of KQ8), use it to make this game, and claim they remain trued to the series!
a little more on the exploration and it would have been even better.
Also, you said that KQ8 should have more exploration? It's actually the most exploratory of all the KQ games! I'd say more so than any previous game in the series! (with the exception of maybe the first four games). Each 'world' is extremely huge, with nearly as many locations to find as in most of the early KQ games (1-4) in each of those areas. You aren't pointed in any particular direction in most cases, and have to discover the items on your own (with the exception of an occasional character or scroll telling you to find specific ingredients to some spell).
KQ5 and KQ6 had more claustrophobic areas, with kind of more linear exploration with one screen next to another screen (or two), rather than screens in all four directions (with the exception of Serenia/Desert). KQ3 became more claustrophobic and linear once you left Llewdor (which luckily was more than half the game).
Beyond that many of the weapons in KQ8 were special items used in puzzle solutions, and not simply weapons for hacking and slashing, or shooting to kill! The combat itself wasn't merely use projectiles on all enemies, or swords in all enemies. Some were better killed by projectiles and not hand weapons, many were completely immune to projectiles. So you had to learn the right weapons for the situation!
In other instances weapons were used in unconventional ways (i.e. not as a weapon). A throwing hammer used to throw a switch to cross a bridge, a axe to cut down a tree, a hammer to break a lock (ok KQ5 had that puzzle too,
), icebow to freeze water, a bow to cut a rope to raise a gate, etc! These were unique ideas, and I can't think of any other game that utilized weapons in such utilarian ways (other than Zelda perhaps).
Granted I do agree, if the bosses or individual enemies were more compelling and complicated in Zelda, where you had to take advantage of items collected in the proverbial 'dungeon' to expose their weaknesses, that would have been great to see in KQ8! Zelda had been doing that for years. Then again it would have been even less like any previous KQ than KQ8 had been.
BTW, according to interviews Roberta had her eyes for development on KQ8 based more on Mario 64, Quake, and Doom. Luckily it was not anything like Quake or Doom (first person shooters with nothing but key/switch puzzles), and was more than Mario 64 (except for those stupid tile/platform/box puzzles)...
Combat turned slightly more towards Diablo style point and click interface (which was largely popular back then).
KQ3 was probably the worst of the 'books/scrolls'' telling you pretty much every item you needed to find, (almost all puzzles were spell ingredients, or items needed to hold spell ingredients), or based on those spells (told how and described the types of locations where the spells could be used). Sierra got alot of complaints because of that! Forced them to change things in the sequels.