Double, Double, Spoils And Fumbles
HIGH Freezing a flock of sheep and launching them into the abyss.
LOW Having all of my progress eliminated by glitches.
WTF Walls are people, too!
On paper, The Mage’s Tale is exactly what VR gamers have been wanting—a relatively lengthy, highly interactive RPG with good production values and attractive gameplay. As a spin-off of The Bard’s Tale, it takes dungeon crawling action, combines it with hand-tracked sorcery, and throws in a dash of the irreverent fantasy gags for which the franchise is known. In execution, however, The Mage’s Tale left me wanting more.
As a mage’s apprentice, I was tasked with finding the whereabouts of my master in order to rescue him from the clutches of a rival wizard. However, being a weakling apprentice (a status I was constantly reminded of by my comically-condescending sidekick) I needed to build my strength in a handful of dungeons while tracking down my master’s peers in order to gain their help.
Mage’s is a first-person dungeon crawler, so I cut my teeth on fairly linear levels filled with traps, puzzles, and combat arenas that gave me the opportunity to flex my magical muscles. A bevy of comfort options were available to me, allowing me to smoothly walk or teleport freely around the levels and during combat.
It came as no surprise that a title about mages relies on spellcasting as its primary form of combat. Using the two Move controllers, I could intuitively cast one of four spells equipped in my arsenal, each with their own elemental effect.
Throwing a fireball felt as normal to me as lobbing a baseball, and the ability to lock on to enemies by fixing my gaze on them helped mitigate the inaccuracies inherent with PSVR’s notoriously lacking tracking mechanism. However, the most useful weapon was also its most unreliable: the ice-javelin.
When it worked, I felt like Iceman and Zeus’s lovechild as I hurled quick-traveling spears at groups of enemies, freezing them in their tracks. But when it didn’t work, I was frustrated and oddly humiliated. It was frustrating to dodge enemy fire while waiting for my spell to recharge, only for it to twirl about like a broken baton at my feet. Other times, I’d find myself rearing back to launch a spear and notice that I’d sent a health potion soaring through the sky, leaving me with no hope of finding it until the current battle was finished. Throughout the 12 hours I spent with Mage’s, I never quite figured out what specific recipe of button presses, throws, and releases it expected of me.
The spellcrafting portion was an entertaining-yet-mixed bag. The actual mechanics of crafting a spell never got tiresome — a cauldron in my headquarters was surrounded by ingredients I found during my adventure. I could create my own spells, to a degree, by pouring in a specific elemental attack, dropping in a color potion to alter the visuals, and then adding in modifiers and bonuses to enhance particular parameters. Once all of the ingredients were added in, I stirred up the cauldron and equipped the result.
Some modifiers were simple effects, adding tracking to my attacks or decreasing their recharge time. But some were more powerful and/or humorous. My favorite combination was a fireball that simultaneously turned enemies into a sheep and also exploded with confetti and kazoo fanfare.
With the spellcasting and spellcrafting being (mostly) well-designed, this good work was made somewhat moot by the overall feel of the combat.
I’m not sure if it was due to a lack of variety in enemy encounters, or if it was a result of the stilted, glitchy and unresponsive animation of the enemies, but every fight in the game lacked impact — they lacked any strategy beyond running right at me or standing still and shooting arrows, and they barely reacted when I sent them careening over the edges of cliffs. While they made for decent fodder for my spells, there wasn’t much excitement.
The biggest letdown was a miniboss encounter where I expected a challenge, or even some puzzle-solving in order to overcome the enemy. However, the giant lumbering demon was too slow to catch even my most basic movements, and the reliable method of victory was simply spamming a barrage of seemingly-ineffective attacks until the enemy abruptly died.
Aside from the mundane enemy encounters, the dungeons also included puzzles that ranged from half-to-fully baked. Some toyed with my perspective as I moved from room to room, which is always welcome in a VR title. However, many puzzles devolved into (literally) turning cranks. Also, a majority of puzzles felt glitchy or under-developed, making it hard to determine if my solution was wrong or if the game was having a hard time understanding what was happening.
The glitches came to a head when after solving a puzzle, I had to re-enter the main chamber of a dungeon and fight a handful of enemies. With all exits blocked by a magical barrier, there was no way to escape without defeating the enemies first. Unfortunately, I died and respawned outside the main chamber. The game also respawned the enemies within the chamber, and the barrier as well — I was locked out of the room, and no amount of level-resetting or reloading would save me. I had to start over from the beginning and burn through half of the campaign to regain lost progress.
It’s unfortunate that The Mage’s Tale feels so unfinished. The developers have all the requisite ingredients — experimental combat, entertaining writing, impressive visuals, and interesting environments. They just weren’t able to do the most important part of spellcrafting and mix it all together.
— Alex Pegram
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by inXile Entertainment. It is currently available on PCVR and PSVR.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PSVR. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Suggestive Themes and Violence. Most of the violence is a result of magical fighting, with no real gore or reaction taking place. Some environments are a bit unsettling with bones and tissue present, in addition to the overall demonic settings.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitles for all voiced situations. The game does not rely on audio cues except for when indicating combat — most of the time, the only way I knew enemies were going to be around was because of audible combat music or enemies’ distant noises,and there are no visual cues for these.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. However, there are ample comfort settings, and adjustments available for things such as turning and movement speed options. The game also allows for smooth locomotion or teleportation.