It's been just over a year since I became an early adopter of consumer grade virtual reality. Considering its challenges, it's been an impressive year. Though, I would argue that the greatest hindrances of its success right now is that many of the best experiences are very similar to one another. These include ported survival games, basic arcade-style shooters, and, well, Elite: Dangerous.
What the technology has needed more than anything is a proper RPG, a game where you interact with realistic NPCs, build up a character, and enjoy the beauty of a large world. While The Mage's Tale isn't the full-blown RPG I have been waiting for, it's a great dungeon crawler, and certainly one that will entertain Oculus Rift owners more than most titles they find on the Oculus Store.
So how good is it? Let's dive right in.
At the beginning of your adventure, your magical mentor by the name of Alguin is seen being kidnapped by none other than the evil Mage Gaufroi. As with the rest of the narrative pieces you will be presented, this interaction is a visual spectacle. In-fact, The Mage's Tale is undoubtedly one of VR's best presented story-driven titles, delivering well-told voice acting, high quality character models, and smooth animations in a visually stunning package.
Narrative delivery is A Mage's Tale core competency, rising well beyond what many other games have demonstrated during the past year. What's here is most similar to the brief yet impressive demos offered by The Lab (Valve), with an incredible level of detail that makes characters believable and entertaining.
"The Mage's Tale is undoubtedly one of VR's best presented story-driven titles"
Playing against this is how few in number the narrative pieces are. When you encounter them, they significantly amplify entertainment value, but you will spend most of your time alone in dungeons, so you could argue that the game doesn't make full use of its greatest strength.
Nonetheless, the adventure runs at around 12 hours in length, which is well above the average VR title. At $39.99, inXile Entertainment has presented a compelling product in the realm of VR.
The interactions throughout the game are simple yet varied, consisting of gathering keys to unlock doors, taking out enemies with a combination of magic and fantasy weaponry, and collecting items. As with other VR games, some of these gameplay elements are made far more enjoyable thanks to VR and motion controls. For example, picking up a new sword and stashing it in your inventory isn't just two or three button presses, but rather you stretching your arm out to grab the weapon before sheathing it. As such, The Mage's Tale is yet another example of how VR can make games much better if you're in the mood.
In terms of gameplay, the star of the show is magic. There's a great variety of magical types, each feeling powerful in the hands. The feeling of casting fireballs at foes and destroying them from afar is great, especially in tougher scenarios where your will to survive is challenged.
Made better, you can craft magic of your own. This is performed by gathering ingredients, and then mixing them into a cocktail of sorts. Things like green homing fireballs and blue chaining lightning are possible if you desire. Though mixing ingredients in the cauldron is neat, having to teleport out of the game world and into the main hub, each presenting lengthy loading screens, does undermine the immersion that The Mage's Tale works so hard to develop.
As well conceived as it is, The Mage's Tale does grow repetitive over the hours, retreading a lot of the same core gamplay elements that have been done countless times in similar non-VR games over the years. Thus, its respectable length will probably pose a challenge to the interest of the common player. Those who do find it enjoyable enough to pursue the ending will get their money's worth.
Story-driven VR titles are uncommon in the current realm of VR, and that needs to change sooner rather than later. The Mage's Tale has stepped in to offer a taste of what's to come with reasonable success.
Jonathan Leack is the Executive Editor of GameRevolution. You can follow him on Twitter @JonnyBeoulve.
A PC copy of The Mage's Tale was provided by its publisher. This game is exclusive to PC.