Review: The Mage’s Tale 

The Mage's Tale

The Mage’s Tale (PC)
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: inXile Entertainment
Released: June 20, 2017
MSRP: $39.99

I don’t really need to buy into a big pitch when it comes to established studios entering the VR space. Given that VR content isn’t exactly flowing like a spring right now you kind of take what you can get, and The Mage’s Tale immediately caught my eye because of inXile Entertainment’s involvement. That, and the promise of a sprawling dungeon crawler in virtual reality, of course.

One of the things that I noticed right away is that Mage’s Tale is damn impressive visually — so impressive that it pushed the limits of my rig. The art direction is very inspired, and even though that’s par for the course for inXile, I’m glad it translated into VR. There’s some incredible details like a seal that sort of pops out on a spell book and the like that really hit it home that this team gave it their all. The way it plays is a little more of a compromise.

Using two Touch controllers, you’ll be able to wield weapons and spells at will, adding to the allure of the whole “real VR dungeon crawler” angle. In other games you’re often relying on shortcuts or other tricks, but with Mage’s Tale you can use full-on movement sans training wheels (though there is a teleport concession if you get sick) and actually “crawl” along said labyrinths. With so many VR RPGs using a chain of arena style setups, it’s refreshing. That said it is kind of a middle-ground, as Mage’s Tale does have a hint of linearity to it.

There’s also a penchant to go overboard with the whole VR angle. Drinking potions to access menus is very cute (as is holding up a crystal ball to your actual eye to view another plane), but there should be a more practical option to swap to a good old fashioned UI. Another big thing that holds it back is the narrative and the characters that fill it. While going from level to level is enough of an excuse to keep going, I never once felt connected with the world of Mage’s Tale. The whole “abusive companion” thing can be done right, but the writing doesn’t help, nor do the vocal performances.

The crafting system is also at odds with itself. Early on you’ll start to gather the elemental properties needed to forge lightning and ice spells, which are paramount to solving some of the easier “freeze this running water so you can light a torch” puzzles before you work up to those of the more complex seek and find variation. But it’s not the world that’s the problem, it’s little things. While the idea of throwing reagents into a cauldron and stirring it with your own hands is cool, it quickly overstays its welcome and causes pacing issues. Having to initiate a lengthy loading screen to return to the hub, mix the ingredients, then return back after another load isn’t fun.

The Mage’s Tale represents an early experiment for VR RPGs — a minor milestone. There’s still a long way to go until people are “jacked-in” for hours at a time a la Sword Art Online, but with projects like this leading the way we’ll get there sooner than later.

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