Nothing, and I mean nothing, is as nerdy as tabletop miniature gaming. Face the facts, people. And nothing makes more money than collectible card games. So it was pure financial genius to combine them, print the stats right on the rotating, clicky base of the model, and reap the profits. Thus… Mage Knight was born.
A very successful tactical strategy game on its own, Mage Knight has now spun off its own video game. Up next will probably be a Uwe Boll movie, because that’s about the only way things could get much worse than Mage Knight Apocalypse.
Rather than play to the obvious strengths of the license (an already fully developed, fun, popular game) Namco Bandai decided to throw that all out the window and make a dungeon-crawling RPG instead. It’s Mage Knight themed
, but that’s all it has to do with the strategy game that spawned it.
Things start badly right out of the box. Annoyingly, the installation is on six CD’s. I want to know who it is out there that has a computer with a 6800 or better card (which the game recommends in its system requirements), and no DVD drive? Next up, games on floppy discs.
After eons of inserting, ejecting and throwing away discs, you launch Mage Knight
to learn that the Land is in trouble (how does this keep happening?), but what’s unusual is that it’s not the Land of Anything, it’s just the Land. So I say plant your flag and call it whatever you want; welcome to Dukeville
. The “gunpowder rebellion” has finally thrown off the cruel harness of the Atlantean Technomancers. The previously enslaved Dwarves seek to rebuild their underground cities, but a new evil stalks the Land of Dukeville.
You can choose one of five characters: Janos is your stereotypical hugely bearded dwarf, Tal is the burly elf Paladin, Sarus is a half-dragon mage, Chela is an Amazon in a fur bikini who manages to look fully clothed next to Kithana the vampire in her leather bondage thong. You people need to get some girlfriends. Seriously.
All five have recently become part of the Oathsworn – secret agents of the even more mysterious Solonavi spirit masters. And no matter who you choose, the remaining others will join your party along the way, so off you go to fight the evil.
You’ll confront your first opponent early on – the evil interface. With a third person camera, along with point and click action much like Dungeon Siege
, the controls should be simple because you only control the one character. No such luck. The inventory is irritatingly small, and you can drag-and-drop between some windows but not others. Plus you can only load up four attacks or other skills for each of your mouse buttons. If you want to use any of your non-selected powers, you need to open the skill tree, flip to the right page, drag and drop it to the action menu, select it, and finally use it. Going back to your defaults? Do it all again.
Try it in the middle of combat, and you end up dead, probably killed by an opponent you can’t even see because you were messing around in menus instead of pointing the lousy camera. To see what you’re fighting, or even where you are going requires almost constant camera manipulation using the middle mouse button. So now how are you supposed to click on your enemies?
You get the hang of it eventually, and so once again you’re off to fight the evil… and die. A lot. A whole lot. Instead of balancing the difficulty, Mage Knight just removes any penalty for death. You simply respawn nearby, rush back into the fray, die again, and repeat until you’ve finally killed your enemy. That is, unless you’re playing the nearly naked vampiress, whose red vampire beam-o-death kills enemies while healing you, and makes her pretty much unstoppable.
Mage Knight’s one redeeming quality lies in the RPG depth. Each character can level up along one of three main paths with unique abilities, so as the Amazon, you can choose between brute force, speed and skill, or long range archery; or the mage who focuses on fire, ice or wind magic. We didn’t say this was original, or even good, though compared to everything else in the game it’s sheer genius.
Also, there are a ton of items in Mage Knight
. With lots different enhancements, a magic gem system, and bonuses for putting together matched item sets, there’s a lot to do. Like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
, there’re also a lot of herbs to collect and potion recipes to learn. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to make use of all this stuff because of your tiny inventory, unless you want to constantly go back to town every five minutes to unload.
If only the minimum system requirements were as small. They call for a GeForce 6800, which is what I had, but the game still ran poorly. And because our gaming machine is currently under the thrall of Battlefield 2142
, it was upgrade-time for my rig. One expensive video card later, and the characters and some of the monsters look good, especially the gigantic ones, but they don’t look that
good, and the environments are fairly simple. Your henchmen are constantly standing inside of each other, that is when they’re not randomly getting stuck. Plenty of other games that look better than Mage Knight
ran just fine on my computer. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll take any excuse to make the company buy me a new video card.
The sound isn’t any better with lackluster music, some clangs and clatters of battle, and all the grunts and groans of low budget porn. And who the heck chose Harvey Fierstein
to do the narration?
Just to add insult to injury, the game has some real bugs. Magic gems will sometimes become random objects when you’re using the item upgrade system, dead bodies will follow you around, sliding across the ground eerily, and the multiplayer game, which theoretically lets you play through the whole campaign cooperatively with your friends, is just plain broken.
So if you need some Mage Knight, take the money you would have spent on Mage Knight Apocalypse, go to the store, and buy some miniatures. Then team up with the other dorks, clear off the tabletop, pull out your measuring tapes, and have some actual fun. This virtual version of the Land just isn’t worth saving.