Since developers have passed the initial ‘tech demo’ phase of VR games, we have seen proof that full-fledged large scale games are definitely possible on the platform, filled with deep mechanics, rich production values and long playtime. The Wizards is the latest full-scale adventure launching on PSVR having released previously on PCVR devices, and while spell-casting games are few and far between on Sony’s device, The Wizards is one of the first to launch on the system. Players take a magic-filled journey through different realms to clear the monstrosities that plague the lands using all the spells you can conjure. The game definitely has some great ideas and they’ve taken good advantage of the VR capabilities, but is let down by inconsistent visuals, some poor tracking, a lack of variety and a short running time. This is alleviated by some great spell-casting mechanics, beautiful environments and some interesting ideas to add more challenge and depth, which show the potential of what future titles by Carbon Studio might look like, and it’s exciting.
It doesn’t take long before you’re thrown into the meat of the game, which is something I appreciated in The Wizards. The tutorial is self-explanatory and does a good job of introducing you to the mechanics before throwing you into the actual game itself. The whole game (including the tutorial) is narrated by a Merlin-esque wizard who provides some witty lines to give the whole atmosphere some flavor. The narrator also provides the overall story, lore and backdrop to everything, providing players with a nice bit of context when exploring the different realms. The story isn’t going to knock your socks off but it’s serviceable in giving you a reason for doing what you do. In a nutshell, orcs and trolls are plaguing the different realms and it’s up to you to step in as the peacekeeper and kick their orc butts back into oblivion. It’s a little cliché and light on the details, but I honestly didn’t mind.
Two hands are better than one
The real star of the show is the spell casting. The developers did a great job in making basic but clear hand gestures using the Move controls to cleverly cast spells. Flicking the wrist will summon a fire ball you can launch at enemies, sliding your left-hand in reveals a shield that can block incoming damage, while crossing your hands over each-other brings up an ice-bow you can draw and launch at enemies. It’s really fun and you can bring up and swap between spells instantly and in some cases simultaneously, adding a nice bit of depth to the gameplay.
While in theory this is nice, it doesn’t always work. Particularly, in the later areas of the game, where multiple enemies with multiple abilities attacking you, it can get a bit tricky to multi-task, conjure up different spells and retain bearings on your position at all times. It isn’t anything too strenuous as the battles themselves are relatively easy.
Obviously, all of the great spell casting mechanics are at the mercy of your tracking and the PS Move controllers which can be finnicky and cumbersome at the best of times. There were some moments where one of my Move controllers stopped tracking or my player continuously walked forwards regardless of what I did. This created some really frustrating moments, but ultimately this comes down to individual user experience. I should also note that teleportation is stamina-based during battles so you won’t be able to cheese the AI as much as you think.
Call me Strange…. Dr Strange
One aspect I did like to the gameplay came in the form of the score system and how it plays into upgrading your spells. Each mission has a score-based system not unlike many other games out there. However, as well as placing you on a leaderboard, certain score thresholds will increase your spell potential and grant you upgrade tokens. These tokens can then be used to upgrade your spells and provide a nice depth and variety. One upgrade for example allows you to shoot your ice arrows onto the surface creating traps for unsuspecting enemies. Each spell has multiple tiers and the master tier is unlocked by performing a special type of move with said spell. It does give players something else to strive for instead of navigating to point A and defeating X amount of enemies and progress.
Another system of the game I enjoyed was the fate card mechanic. Along your journey, players will access fate cards, which places certain limitations, restrictions and other challenges for the player in each level. For example, one card will increase enemy health and so forth. Outside of battles there is some variety to objectives, puzzles and exploration but these are relatively simple and don’t provide a whole lot of difference to the whole experience.
The game does offer a welcome variety of comfort and movement settings including full locomotion. However, there will be some instances where teleporting is necessary (to cross cliffs for example or reach high ledges), but the game does support both methods at once so you can swap and switch at your convenience. I didn’t feel any indication of motion sickness either but at this point, I think I have grown my VR legs into VR stilts, so this will vary from player to player. I don’t have an issue with motion sickness and I do appreciate VR games that offer a bit of verticality to their level design, but weaker stomachs may not cope as well. I want to also add that while the game asked if I was right or left-handed, the game wouldn’t actually allow me to select ‘left-handed’ for some reason, which was preposterous and I thought must be related to some sort of bug or otherwise they wouldn’t have asked me. So just keep in mind that this option might be a work-in-progress.
The game is mission-based, taking you to different environments while you clear out the enemies and reach the end goal. The levels are mostly linear and level design is very basic. Your player will navigate through corridors or canyons until they reach an arena-like area where players must defeat the enemies to continue. It felt a bit prehistoric to restrict player’s exploration to eliminating all enemies and the arenas don’t offer a lot of variety to hone in your skills, but the game does a good job of mixing up enemies to keep you on your toes. However, a single playthrough will take you less than half a dozen hours, which will be disappointing for some. While I don’t measure a value of a game by its running time, I feel there was missed potential in not adding more environments, enemies or spells to keep players engaged. The game offers an arena mode with continuous waves of enemies, but this feels like an afterthought more than anything.
In terms of presentation, The Wizards is a mixed bag. The environments and some of the detailed textures like the gloves and spells look great. The worlds are fittingly fantasy-inspired with backdrops that are grandiose and imaginative. Other visual areas such as the enemy models look a couple of generations old and provide an overall inconsistency to the final product. It felt like the game was stuck between two worlds. It’s an even bigger shame then that there isn’t a whole lot of environmental diversity since that is the best looking thing in the game.
I feel The Wizards is a solid game with a lot of great ideas and bigger potential. It doesn’t have the scope of something like Skyrim VR, but it isn’t as short or as shallow as most of the first-wave VR content has been. The spell casting is incredibly intuitive and I had a blast mixing up my strategies in battles in some beautiful worlds. However, the game could use a little more variety and depth even if it is just a bit more. Inconsistencies in presentation can always be polished up and improved with future iterations and I feel this has been a great learning experience for the developer. There isn’t a lot of stuff coming to PSVR in the next couple of months and I feel if players are looking for something to tide them over until the next big game, The Wizards is a solid choice. It’s a fun game that I think will be even better in a sequel, if it ever comes to that. I look forward to playing what Carbon Studios summons next.
Reviewed PlayStation 4 Pro and PSVR | Review code supplied by publisher