It took a little longer than initially promised, but InXile has finally brought their PC VR dungeon crawler to Sony’s scrappy little VR rig. If you don’t know, this is the same team that brought us The Bard’s Tale, and if you don’t know what that is, ask your dad or big brother. Additionally, The Mage’s Tale is from the same universe as it’s more famous sibling and for fans of The Bard’s Tale, that’s pretty cool. Obviously, that is a lot of hype to live up to, and I hate to get my hopes up. Does this little VR dungeon crawler rise to the occasion? Or does it wilt and fall limp. And maybe, more importantly, will this review overcome these weird and inappropriate innuendo’s? Keep reading to find out.
This is a VR game, so before I get to the story, I’ll need to take care of some business. You’ll need the PSVR headset and a set of Move controllers. DualShock 4 controllers are not supported on this adventure. It uses teleportation and click turning as default settings. For those with wobbly stomachs, try that setting first. But for everyone else, do as any VR veteran will tell you and click on the options tab. From there, select Free movement and Free turn. The free movement is handled very much like Skyrim VR. You point the left Move controller in the direction you want to move and hold down the Move button. If you press the circle button instead of the Move button, that will also move your character but in a more controlled and slower “walking” pace. Similarly, pressing the X button will move you backward at this slightly slower speed. You can play the whole game only using the larger Move button in the center, but this slower option is a nice touch, that I ended using a lot. You can also teleport with the right Move controller from this mode as well. I love when they give me the option to do this without switching the control scheme because I inevitably get stuck behind a rock and need to teleport to safety. That may all sound confusing, but it really isn’t. With the system we have in place, this is as good as it gets, and for me, it works great. The much-maligned PSVR tracking works great as far as moving around and casting most spells, but I did have some trouble throwing my Ice Spear spell. It worked most of the time, but occasionally the spear would just fall out of my hand and crash at my feet.
With that out of the way, the story goes a little something like this: you play as an apprentice to your master, Mage Alguin. As far wizards go, you suck pretty hard. But that’s the idea, you’re only an apprentice, after all. The opening cutscene introduces yourself, your master Mage Alguin (who looks like a cross between Doc Brown and Gandalf), and some flying creature called Crux. This strange guy doesn’t like you very much, and he makes that clear from the first scene. So, of course, that means he’ll be your guide through the eight to ten hours it will take you to finish the game. Sure enough, evil wizard Gaufroi comes flying in and tries to kill all three of you. The good wizard fights him off admirably, but he eventually decides to use his shield to save you and the flying elf thing, which leaves him vulnerable. Badly wounded, the good wizard does his best Gandalf and breathlessly tells you to “run, child” just before the bad wizard flies off with your master over his shoulder.
This is where your real journey begins: you and the snarky flying elf are left to fight your way through the cave in search for your wizard mentor.
Crux still doesn’t like you, but he does give you some helpful tips to get started. He’ll show you how to pull up your spell tree and how to use them. In the beginning, you’ll only have the fire spell, but it’s a pretty good place to start. It’s not very powerful, but it’s fun and intuitive to throw around. Plus it regenerates very fast, so you can wreak as much fiery havoc as your throwing shoulder will allow.
The spell casting and spell crafting here is the real star of the game, which is good considering the game is called The Mage’s Tale, and you never get melee weapons. At any point in the game, holding your left hand (Move controller) over your head, you’ll be transported to your spell crafting cauldron where you can experiment with different potions. It’s simple but addictive. In addition to the fire spell, you’ll eventually find a lightning spell, ice spell, and a wind spell. Throughout your dungeon crawling adventure, you’ll find various spell upgrades and fun little additions. When you take these back to your cauldron, you can mix and match them and see what you can create. Some of these additions are merely cosmetic, like a color change, adding confetti, or a silly sound, but most will make significant changes. You can add a bounce effect, which will cause the spell you select to bounce around the room gaining power as it bounces. Or you can add a guide to the spell, which means you literally control it while it flies. One of my favorites was the seeker, which basically makes the spell a heat-seeking missile. This allowed me time to focus on other things, like using my shield or running away. There are many other upgrades, and you can even combine them to create something unique. there are literally over a hundred different combinations of spells, to satisfy even the pickiest mage. To craft the spell, you simply dump the jars into the cauldron and stir it up. If it doesn’t work, it’ll belch it all up and you can start over.
There are ten different caves you’ll need to search and each one is packed to the stalagmites with enemies. The monsters early on are mostly of the troll variety, and they love to shoot arrows at you. The enemies using swords and shields are more formidable, but if you keep moving and have decent aim, these enemies never get too tough. Things get a little more serious when you get to the bosses and the mini-bosses, but with your energy shield and fleet feet, you should be able to handle them. As you get deeper into the game, the enemies become less cute and cartoony and become more serious. Gone are the laughing, mocking trolls, replaced by sword-wielding skeletons and bulbous cave beasts. In addition to the difficulty spike, these offer a welcome change of pace. As I said, the spellcasting is fun and intuitive, which makes the combat a lot of fun.
The only thing more abundant than the cave trolls are cave puzzles, apparently. Thankfully, the puzzles in The Mage’s Tale are fun and satisfying to solve. You’ll find that most of the puzzles will require a mix of your spells and manipulating the environment to solve. For instance, using your ice spell will allow you to momentarily freeze some water, which will finally give you access to that pile of wood that was blocking a bridge. Now you can use your fireball spell to burn the pile of wood. As always, some will find the puzzles too easy, and some will find them too difficult, but for me, they were just right.
A PS4 Pro enhancement is coming, but the graphics look damn good on my base PS4. I’m grading on a scale of course, but in comparison to other PSVR titles, The Mage’s Tale ranks among the best for me. The caves look convincing and crisp, even when the tight corridors open up to the larger rooms. Sometimes the character models weren’t quite as sharp, but I thought the enemies all looked pretty cool.
The voice acting is all very British and well done. It may not be as funny as The Bard’s Tale, but the writing and delivery are very good. Crux may get a little annoying along the way, but I think he was supposed to be.
The Mage’s Tale is a really fun dungeon crawl and a great addition to this new and improved second wave of PSVR games. I was expecting it to be good, but it’s even better than I hoped. If you like VR games, The Bard’s Tale, puzzle games, dungeon crawlers with RPG elements, or any combination of those, then The Mage’s Tale is not only worth your thirty bucks, it’s a must play PSVR game.
The Mage's Tale PSVR Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8.7/10
The Mage’s Tale is a fun and much deeper experience than I was expecting. It’s a real reminder of what an experienced and talented team can create when they are dedicated to the VR medium. An absolute must-play for fans of the PSVR.
Addictive and fun spell crafting
RPG elements are light but fun
Smooth controls and fun spellcasting
Fun and engaging puzzles
Puzzles are almost too easy
Enemy AI not the greatest
Reviewed using base PS4.
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When Jeremy isn’t writing books or playing video games, he’s living his life one random movie references at a time.