Being able to cast spells is one of the many experiences that virtual reality is able to make real, and developers have been taking full advantage of that fact. We’ve seen quite a few magic-based games with spellcasting mechanics up until now, including games like Wands, The Unspoken, and Waltz of the Wizard, and quite a number of them offer hours of magical delight. The most recent to join their ranks is Carbon Studio’s The Wizards, which just released in full after spending about 8 months in early access.
The Wizards is a lore-rich spellcasting adventure that takes place in the realm of Meliora and pitches you against orcs, goblins, ogres, and other creatures in a bid to rid the world from their evil machinations. We did do a The Wizards review back when it first released for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in EA and loved the overall sense of scale and awe that the game could inspire, as well as the simple but effective spellcasting mechanics. However, there were some elements of the game that stuck like a thorn in one’s shoe – things that were undeniably avoidable like the very limiting movement system and the game’s repetitive wave-based nature, despite its potential to be so much more than that.
It is clear now, however, that Carbon Studio did sit up and take copious notes on what people were saying throughout their EA run and what we’re left with at the end of it is a polished adventure game with fun spellcasting mechanics, simple but effective puzzle elements, strategy-based fighting, and lots of action in beautifully detailed settings. That’s a mouthful to be sure, but the game has grown from its beginnings as a simple wave-based shooter into something that offers an immersive experience full of magical moments and enchanting gameplay.
Check out my gameplay video of The Wizards for a quick overview:
If you’re not familiar with The Wizards then you’re welcome to take a look at my EA review because it introduces the game and its features, as well as the world of Meliora. But if you’re too lazy to read through that (and who could blame you really) then I’ll start with a short introduction here. Luckily, the developers did add some variation with spell upgrades that add, for instance, frost shard, icy mist, and ice volley abilities to the basic ice bow spell.
In The Wizards you’re thrown into the midst of a chaotic force of nature (the orcs and such) trying to take over the world of Meliora. You’re not from this dimension but as a wizard you have the means to help stop this blight and so an older wizard called Aurelius, who is voiced by actor Jason Marnocha. Aurelius is stuck in a limbo dimension, and recruits you to help in the fight. The Wizards does a good job of introducing the player to its world and spellcasting mechanics via Aurelius who is there every step of the way with a witty quip, info on world lore, and solid advice.
Battle Spells And Strategic Movements
In total, you’ll learn six spells throughout the first few levels of the game. Sure, that isn’t exactly a lot, and the spells are solely combat-based, but they are very well crafted and I prefer having a few core spells that are easy to use and remember than an arsenal of rarely used ones. That being said, I know some people would prefer something with a little more meat on its bones in that department, especially since most of the gameplay in The Wizards rides on its spellcasting mechanism.
Each spell is activated with a different hand gesture. Simpler spells like the fireball and shield require a simple swipe or twist with one hand, while the stronger ones like the ice bow and arcane missiles require both hands and generally require you to stand still while using them in combat. This wasn’t a problem when the game still had a simple teleport from one set spot to another setup, but the developers have changed the encounters a lot since the early days and added smooth locomotion and free teleportation.
Meaning that now The Wizards is a lot more immersive, and it’s also advantageous to move around during battle, but it’s also more complicated. At least there’s little chance anymore to get ganged up on by huge monsters while desperately throwing blinding fireball after another in the hopes that you’ll get enough of them before they kill you. I once again tried the game using a VIve setup and the movement is uncomplicated and easy to switch between since the left trackpad is used for smooth movement and the right for teleportation. The game still does force you to use its old style of fixed teleportation every now and then to get between different structure levels but it never felt too restrictive.
Wonderfully Enchanting Environments
When thinking back I can recall how deeply impacted I was by the sense of awe that The Wizards was able to instill in me the first time I tried it. Now, playing through it again, I had thought that sense of wonder would be diminished since I already knew what to expect. But Carbon Studio did such a great job of elevating the sense of scale and charm of the environments that I got goosebumps all over again at times. Coupled with some new ways to interact with these environments and a better sense of pace than simply facing one wave after another in different locations, and I felt like I truly was on an adventure of my own.
Sure, they could have implemented some of the encounters a little better – since doors would simply shut at certain points and enemies would swarm out of seemingly nowhere. I was then stuck in there until I defeated the swarm and could move on. It did interrupt the overall flow of the game but I believe that most people won’t mind this stop and go mechanic too much, since it’s prevalent in many other games out there.
Lighting It Up For Some Spell Points
Now we get to the nitty-gritty – I thought I’d leave these to last and just quickly mention all of the smaller details of the game together.
The Wizards makes use of a score-based points system that actually motivates you to score higher, not because you want to reach the top of the leaderboards, but because you want to upgrade your spells. Players have these quartered circles in their field of view at all times that are called ‘synchronization circles’ but are basically your lifeforce for that time in the level. However much of it you have left, along with some other scoring mechanics, go towards your overall score for each level. This score then gets translated into ‘spell potential points’ which, after a certain amount awards you a token to spend on upgrading your spells. Each spell can be upgraded three times but the third ‘Master Enchantment’ can’t be upgraded using points and have to be unlocked via achievements, like killing two enemies with one arrow.
Playing With Fate
Then I also have to mention the fate cards system implemented in the game. We’ve mentioned it before and it hasn’t really changed but for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll mention it here as well.
The Wizards doesn’t have a normal difficulty settings system. Instead, it has fate cards. These can be collected throughout the game by opening chests and such, and depending on which you choose to implement, you can alter certain aspects of the game to make it easier or harder. For instance, one card gives enemies 50% more HP while another does the opposite. These cards certainly become useful later in the game when you might be struggling to get through a particularly hard level or feel that the game simply isn’t challenging enough.
It’s a unique take on the old ‘easy; medium; hard’ model and I definitely prefer this customization model over a blanket option that simply alters your health and the number of enemies you encounter in the game.
In the end, The Wizards offers an experience that feels like it should be the quintessential VR take on a spellcasting wizard game. It makes spellcasting the main focal point of the gameplay, but adds a lot of other mechanics and exploration features, not to mention the amazing visuals, into the mix.
The Wizards is available for HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, and Oculus Rift now on Steam and the Oculus Store. The team at Carbon Studio are now also hard at work to get the game ready for a PSVR release, though no release date has been announced yet. We’ll keep you posted.