I do adore a good dungeon crawl and I remember playing text-based dungeon crawlers on my Commodore 64 to all hours. There is something extraordinary about scouring through sewers and castles, finding loot and defeating enemies. VR versions of these games could not be far away now we have PSVR, surely? Maybe The Mage’s Tale is one of them. Let’s hope the transition to VR will be a good one and not detrimental to the overall experience.
This Mage’s Tale is a spinoff of inXile Entertainment’s The Bard’s Tale, except you only play as a mage rather than any of the other classes present in the original title. Your teacher gets abducted by a malevolent mage early in the game and you are left to fend for yourself. You are left with nothing to help apart from an annoying mentor who is berating and moaning at you at every opportunity. He does give you some important information between the snide comments but I would have loved to set him on fire. That would have entertained me considerably.
With it being a VR game we should probably talk about the controls early on. Controls are quite a game breaker for most VR games in my opinion. Early on I had real issues with the controls for this game, I found the spell casting inaccurate and the movement quite sluggish and awkward. After a few tweaks in the settings though and some time in the game I really got to grips with it and it was a non-issue. The move controllers tracked efficiently and eventually, the movement became natural. You pick up items with the T button on your move controller and you don’t have to even be over it. You can grab objects from a distance and this helped a lot, especially with the limited viewing angle of the camera. The other buttons control movement and spell selection and after a short time controls became straightforward and worked well.
Your task is to find the older mage and vanquish any foes on-route. The gameplay mainly consists of travelling through rooms, some puzzles, some battle arena’s and make your way to your goal. On the way, you will find many items that will help you on your quest, spells, spell modifiers, health and a small number of tools. If you end up in an arena room your task is to eliminate all foes to continue, standard fare really. Environmental puzzles meet you at every turn and you must use your spells to overcome them.
Your spells come in many varieties, fire, wind, ice, thunder and they can all be augmented through modifiers you find. They can be manipulated with various effects and statuses, all helping you on your quest. These are created in the hub of the game, here you will find a cauldron which is where the ‘magic’ happens. Sorry, I had to put one mage pun somewhere in the review. Every spell and modifier you have found in the game is laid out around the cauldron and you just drop them in, give them a mix with your skeleton stirrer and you’re off. The great thing about this hub is that you can get there from absolutely anywhere in the game. Just raise your move controller above your head and you are transported back. You are then free to resume exactly where you left off, it’s a very good system.
The battle system took me a little while to get used to. As I said earlier, I actually hated the controls when I first started. It felt to inaccurate and cumbersome. I had a fiddle through the controls, which improved it a lot and also tweaked some spells with homing traits and really got into it after that. After an hour or two I really started to get into it. The battle system is actually quite fun to mess around in and experiment with. Freezing enemies, setting them on fire or blowing them off cliffs. It’s good fun and quite satisfying. Designing new spells and seeing them pay off in battle is very rewarding.
The puzzles in The Mages Tale are very well designed and I enjoyed them, it broke up the battles and combat sections perfectly. In between the fast-paced combat you had little sections you had to think about and even sometimes design new spells for. Switches had to be pressed, lanterns lit in the correct order or big machines lined up correctly. It was all varied and fun to solve various problems, some of them were optional and only led to a treasure chest but I for one, cannot leave loot behind. What if it’s something wondrous?
As you are fighting goblins, in various varieties, from heavy shield bearers to long-range arrow flingers. You level up after you have gained enough experience from defeating foes and solving puzzles. Every time you do you are given a choice of two upgrades. The choices were always valid and each one helped, whether it was a health upgrade, extra spell slots or faster spell regeneration. They changed often and each time I got one I did mull over the consequences of each choice. Did I want more health or more spell upgrades?
The Mage’s Tales graphics are adequate at best, there is quite a bit of aliasing in the game but after a while, I stopped noticing it. In the immersion of VR, it’s far less noticeable and not that much of an issue. I have just played a lot of better-looking games on the headset. On the other side of that though, the environments and creatures are well designed. I was thoroughly immersed in the world around me. The sounds design in this title is very good. The sound effects are very believable and the music appropriate and fitting to the style of game. I especially liked the ethereal music in the loading screens. It was beautiful and soothing.
The Mage’s Tale performed very well, apart from one crash early on I had very few issues. The controls may have been an issue early on but that was solved over time. Very rarely was I stopped in my tracks by something technical, the game was very smooth, well designed and stable.
Once you have got over the controls, which you may not have an issue with like I did. The game is a blast to play. There are many options for the control scheme and various comfort options to play with. You will be able to find something that suits you. The battle system and dungeon crawling are rewarding and enjoyable. Secret rooms and loot can be found by exploring and its pleasant to do so. Some rooms include puzzles which are well designed and sometimes require a bit of brain work. The spell creation system is tactile, fun and encourages experimentation. I always enjoyed going back to my cauldron and cooking up some mayhem. The fast travel system is amazing and unique. If you like a good dungeon crawl and light RPG elements, you will like this game. As long as you don’t mind putting in some effort to acclimatize to the controls you will really enjoy what’s on offer here. It’s rewarding, fun and immersive.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*