When the current crop of VR hardware first appeared, you could barely shake your controller without hitting a wave-based shooter or a proof-of-concept demo about spellcasting. We’ve since seen a number of proper virtual reality shooters, but – beyond the VR ports of Skyrim – there’s been very little in the way of meaty, narrative-driven adventures that let you feel what it’s like to be a wizard. The Mage’s Tale, a spin-off of inXile Entertainment’s The Bard’s Tale, is a first person dungeon crawler that focus on a single class: the mage. It was released last year on PC VR formats, and is now headed to PlayStation VR.
Set in the same world as The Bard’s Tale, it has a similar, humorous spin on fantasy role-playing. In it, you play the role of a Mage’s apprentice, who – along with a smarmy, annoying mentor – must save everything when an evil wizard captures the spellcaster whose tutelage you’re under. Guided by his obnoxious goblin familiar, you must explore undergrounds dungeons. In them, you’ll fight an array of imps, armed with bows and arrows, magic spells and even tougher, shield-bearing buggers.
Thankfully, you’re not helpless, and you’ve got a spell or two up your sleeve. For starters, you’ve got a magic shield, that you can put up in front of you at the touch of a button. Using the PlayStation Move wands, you’re able to hurl one of four core spells at them. There’s a gleeful, visceral thrill in throwing fireballs, chucking shards of ice, spewing forth lightning and commanding the wind to dispatch foes. There’s even a little bit of crafting that lets you tinker with your spells.
When you return to your wizarding workshop (which can be done at any time by holding your hand over your head), you can mix together ingredients to change your spells, adding elements like seeking abilities, or letting you guide arcane missiles with your eyeballs. There’s quite a lot of that tinkering, which means that it’s worth experimenting with different abilities, especially when it comes to the game’s troublesome bosses. I do, however, wish that enemy targeting was a little more precise. The game requires that you look at an enemy, who then becomes encircled by a magical sigil. You then throw a spell there, and it should hit the enemy – but often it doesn’t, making combat sometimes frustrating.
Curiously, there’s no way to dual-wield spells – and it takes a little of the magic of being a spellcaster away. You can pick up weapons and swing them to your heart’s content while keeping a fireball at the ready in another, but you can’t have a lightning bolt in one, and a fireball in the other. It’s a great pity, especially when some spells have such a long cooldown that it’s sometimes better to just keep a faster spell in hand, than switch between them.
When you’re not fighting things, you’re generally solving light puzzles using your spells. You might be required, for example, to freeze a bit of water to fashion a makeshift path or use your fireballs to light specific torches. They’re engaging and intuitive, and only occasionally taxing. It’s a bit of fun, very light roleplaying – but it does start to become a bit repetitive as it wears on. That’s not really helped much by the overwrought VR gestures in the name of immersion.
While it’s fun to physically throw a few potions and reagents into a cauldron and stir them to mix up a new spell, it becomes tiresome when you’re doing it for the hundredth time. The same goes for drinking health potions, which require you to pour the virtual liquid down your virtual throat for the health benefit. I understand that it’s for the presence, but some things are better left to buttons, even within virtual worlds. Even menu options require that you glug potions, and that’s just not fun.
As for movement and comfort, The Mage’s Tale offers both teleportation with simple, single step movements in any of the four primary directions and full, free movement. Thanks to the platform and the Move Wands’ design, free movement is less than ideal, and I’d imagine it’s far better on a controller with an actual analogue stick. Still, the option is there for those who’re able to wrangle the wands. With teleportation and the grid movement there’s no nausea at attl, and I was happy to blast goblins for hours. I just couldn’t get used to the free movement though, but as said, I think that has more to do with the Wand’s deficiencies.
Last Updated: February 5, 2019