Review – The Mage’s Tale
Although The Mage’s Tale isn’t a new tale, it does find a fresh audience on PSVR. And for that, I am very thankful. The Mage’s Tale was originally developed and published by inXile Entertainment in a partnership with Oculus VR back in June of 2017. It’s an old-school role-playing dungeon crawler at its best.
I grew up playing text-based dungeon crawlers before moving on to Wizardry. My brother, keyboard in hand, crawling through the dungeons as I mapped them out on graph paper. The Mage’s Tale completely brought me back to those days. The game is much more linear in presentation, but there are nooks, crannies, and puzzles that have you going off the beaten path. Or to simply back track a time or two. Albeit, nothing so complicated that it will require you to break out that old graph paper.
The Mage’s Tale reminds me a lot of Moss. Not in its gameplay, but in its overall feel. Moss came out around this time last year and filled a need just as The Mage’s Tale is doing in 2019. Neither is a blockbuster game, but they present you with the best qualities that make their games easy to sink yourself into and are simply fun to play.
You play as an apprentice trying to track down and free your master. The apprentice learns new elemental spells along the way, making use of the Move controllers. Both controllers mirror each other, so it doesn’t matter which is your dominate hand. You play however you like. A push of a button allows you access to your available spells, while using a simple swipe of the hand to switch spells on the fly make changing mid combat a breeze. If you do find yourself having some trouble, a push of another button opens up your arcane shield to block ranged attacks.
Movement is accomplished through line-of-sight teleporting and rotating in 30-degree segments. By going to your options menu, you can turn on fluid movement and turning. The nice thing is this does not turn off the other way to play. You can easily switch between walking through a cleared room then using teleport to go up the stairs. Or, freely moving through enemies during combat then using rotation turning to line up with puzzles. Going back and forth between the two is very intuitive and becomes second nature.
In the beginning, your main combat will be using your shield against ranged attacks while using your fireball or lightening as your ranged weapons. You do eventually gain other elemental attacks and skillfully navigating arenas becomes more and more necessary as you level through the dungeons. Leveling up your character gives you access to one of two leveling options. Power up your shield, power up your health, reduce cool down for spells, things like that.
Hidden rooms or paths are a welcome part of The Mage’s Tale. Blowing a wall down with a gust of wind or solving a puzzle to access a door. These things tend to give you items that you can use for additional effects on your spells, but mostly seem to be cosmetic only. For example, having confetti explode when you hit an enemy with a fireball, or turning your lightening bolt green.
The sound in The Mage’s Tale is more than serviceable. I found myself playing with some headphones just to get the drip of the caverns, the hum of a spell, and the humorous (if not sometimes annoying) jabs of your guide. Load screens and the main menu area were accompanied with Celtic music that I found myself, more than once, stopping to listen to. Battles have a much more drastic and harsh melody putting you in the thick of things. The voice acting also fits very well with the game. Characters, illusions, and helpful instruction from unlikely places are all voiced well, ranging from competent to unexpectedly good.
The graphics are good, but it is tough for me to put them on that upper echelon because they seem muddied. I was playing on a PS4 Pro and it just constantly felt like I was viewing the game through a thin layer of water. I am certain that the graphics were better on an Oculus. To be fair, the rumor is that an update is being made to help with the anti-aliasing on the PS4 Pro. So hopefully that will resolve this particular issue in the future.
If there is another area that might not have landed as well as inExile may have hoped, it is the writing. Like the graphics, it is good. But you can see where they wanted greatness. You are joined by a floating blue servant that helps you along the way. He is pretty much the tutorial and the narrator of your entire journey, so the story telling begins and ends with him. He is also meant to be the comic relief. It helps with keeping the game light and the humor does, in fact, land at times. But more often than not, I simply tuned him out.
All in all, The Mage’s Tale runs for over ten hours. The game absolutely has some meat to it and the gameplay is consistent. It is a dungeon crawler. By definition; you crawl through dungeons, solve the occasional puzzle, loot chests, and fight random enemies. But it is also constantly engaging and enjoyable. I never felt there was any lull in pacing nor were there any sections so difficult that it brought the game to a halt.
The Mage’s Tale takes a genre that has been around for as long as there has been PC gaming and reinvents it for VR. It is easy to grasp and jump right into without feeling like Baby’s First Dungeon Crawler VR. While not every swing was a homerun, inExile did enough things right to make The Mage’s Tale a stand out title on PSVR.
Good looking game, but it does have a constant blurriness to everything. Word is that this will be patched.
Swapping between movement controls allows for easy adaption to situations. Switching spells on the fly is simple.
Voice and character work is great, although listening to your guide explain everything can get annoying
Very easy to pick up and never stops being engaging. Good balance of dungeon crawling, combat, and puzzle solving.
Final Verdict: 8.0
The Mage’s Tale is available now on PlayStation and PC.
Reviewed on PlayStation VR.
A copy of The Mage’s Tale was provided by the publisher.