Stepping into The Mage’s Tale, a first-person dungeon crawler RPG that puts you in the enchanted boots of an apprentice mage, is a bit like jumping into your own personal ’80s sword and sorcery flick. With elemental magic at the ready, you get to experience classic dungeon crawler stuff like exploration, spell crafting, puzzles, and battle against a number of monster types—and all of it in the immersive realm of VR. While at times a little rough around the edges, The Mage’s Tale is a charming throwback that vaults you head-first into a dank and mysterious universe of inXile’s other series, The Bard’s Tale.


The Mage’s Tale Details:

Official Site

Developer: inXile Entertainment
Available On: Oculus Rift (Touch required)
Reviewed On: Oculus Rift
Release Date: June 20, 2017


Gameplay

The evil wizard Gaufroi has kidnapped your master, Mage Alguin. As his apprentice, it’s your job to get him back by finding his powerful fellow mages, a quest that takes you through ten dungeons where you’re confronted with various puzzles, traps, and monsters—where there’s always a chest that needs looting at the end.

Walking into a puzzle room usually elicits a hint from your Alguin’s familiar, a magical goblin whose name I can’t remember. For the purposes of this review, he shall henceforth be known as ‘smarmy turd’ (ST for short).

image captured by Road to VR

ST is a constant thorn in your side, and tends to tutorialize puzzles and generally point out the obvious. He does however make the dank dungeons placed before you a little less lonely, so I guess he’s got that going for him. When not tutorialized by ST, puzzles are explained by a changing cast of ever-present talking wall monsters, who offer riddles to help you along the way. Puzzles tend to be fairly simple, but because The Mage’s Tale offers so many varied types, you’ll always be on your toes figuring out the next one (if ST hasn’t spoiled it already, that is). You’ll find yourself fetching missing parts to puzzles, looking through magical orbs to locate important runes, cranking machines, freezing water in pipes so you can light a torch that’s being dowsed; the variations are so rich, that even the smarmiest of turds can’t ruin it for you.

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When you’re not cranking weird machines and blowing out walls to reach hidden chests though, you’re probably blasting away at the world’s many monsters. Enemy types tend to be mostly ranged, like archers and mages, so they usually keep their distance allowing you to block with your arcane shield or plink away with your magical abilities. There are however a number of melee fighters to watch out for later in the game including shielded goblins and hammer-wielding giants. Enemies don’t have health bars, so you usually end up blasting away with whatever appears to work best on each enemy type.

image courtesy inXile Entertainment

To my utter dismay, dual-wielding is not a thing in The Mage’s Tale. Oh well.

A big personal attraction for me to the game is spell crafting. I would have loved to find ancient books filled with spells, but unfortunately crafting is done entirely through trial and error, as your cauldron will unhappily vomit out bad combinations, forcing you to start over again until you find something that works. Because there are more than 2 dozen ingredients and over a 100 combinations, you’ll spend plenty of time mixing and matching until you get that perfect lighting spell that has both impressive range, rips health from your enemies when they die and tosses out confetti on the monster’s dead body.

image courtesy inXile Entertainment

Chests usually offer some sort of magical ingredient you can use in crafting, be it base elemental spells like lighting/fire/wind/ice, or a modifier like poison, extra recharge, or triple shot. My absolute favorite part of opening chests isn’t receiving points for upgrades, or new magical reagents, but tossing them into the awaiting mouth of my teleporting frog-buddy, whose name was mentioned once and forgotten forever.

Without revealing too much, the story line isn’t anything you wouldn’t find ripped from a Dungeon Master’s Guide, so don’t expect any great innovations in story telling here. But then again, that’s exactly you’re in for with The Mage’s Tale, a faithful classic that lets you fire lighting at wise-cracking goblins.

For those of you mashing ctrl+f and searching the article for ‘gameplay length’, you’ll see I finished in a little over 7.5 hours, a slight tick under the advertised 10+. I’m far from a completionist, so I don’t mind leaving the game’s many collectibles behind in the dark dungeons where they belong, so you may well spend 10+ hours collecting everything, not to mention trying your hand at mixing together ingredients to get better spells.

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Combat can feel a little repetitive at times. This is dampened somewhat once you get a good number of reagents to add to your base spells and start to naturally rotate through different attacks instead of just picking the strongest one. Just like classic games of yore, combat can be a process of trial and error, so expect to get smashed a few times by a giant before you know his weak spot. To get a good idea of what combat looks like in The Mage’s Tale, check out the video below. And no, you can’t get a sword or any other melee weapon.

Immersion & Comfort

Relying on classic dungeon level design and an appropriate mix of irreverent campiness (a goblin told me to “kiss his ass”), it’s easy to like The Mage’s Tale, especially as it follows some well-established practices in RPGs that date back to the pencil and paper era of Dungeons and Dragons. Bringing those places to life, and in a grand way, is ultimately one of the coolest things about The Mage’s Tale. It’s truly a breathtaking adventure into the known unknown.

Despite this, one thing that I can’t quite get around is the game’s character animations. An otherwise good-looking game with a varied palette, awesome magical effects, and impressive architecture, The Mage’s Tale is blighted by its clunky and wooden characters, that when confronted in VR look just terrible. A competent swath of Scottish and English voice actors do their best to bring the characters to life, but I can’t shake the feeling that every NPC is actually chewing on a magically invisible potato.

Another gripe is the game’s ‘force grab’. Striving to make your life easier by giving you a telekinetic powers and saving you from constantly bending over and letting you get to items just out of reach, actually activating the force grab it is somewhat of a pain. Instead of using the omnipresent gaze-based cursor to highlight objects, you actually select the item by pointing your finger at it, which is extremely fiddly. It doesn’t sound difficult to grasp at first, but I can’t count the number of times I waved my hands to no effect at a nearby bottle or mushroom. Also, force grab seems to take precedent over natural object interaction, and trying to lift open a chest or grab one of the many collectible monster cages without critically highlighting it first, usually means your hand will pass right through it without the slightest bit of recognition of intent. Because force grab is usually used during downtime from battles, its more of a constant annoyance than a game-breaking feature.

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wall monster riddles, image captured by Road to VR

During battle however, the game’s UI is remarkably intuitive, giving you access to either a spell menu with 4 selectable elemental spells, or an arcane shield that lets you reflect incoming arrows and enemy magic. You can access these on the fly, and mix and match your attacks/defense to the best effect. Popping the menu open and quickly shooting out a flurry of different spells is just so gratifying.

To the dismay of some players, locomotion is teleportation only, and is done by one of two ways; you can select the teleport spot and potentially move farther (and quicker) using your right thumbstick, or use your left thumbstick for a shorter blink teleportation. Even in close, quick combat, I felt ultimately very comfortable using either method. A snap-turn (aka ‘VR comfort mode’) exists so people using a two-sensor setup can adjust themselves for optimal hand controller tracking. As someone who owns a two-sensor stock Rift/Touch setup, I would highly recommend getting a third for better coverage, because it seems I was constantly facing the wrong direction at crucial moments.

Comfort-wise, I was very happy with The Mage’s Tale, but once battles really popped off and multiple enemies force you to go mobile, you really start to buck up against the limits of the locomotion style. Snap-turning and teleporting at high-speed can start to feel like a bit of a slide show, and while it’s ultimately comfortable, it certainly dampens the immersion. I hate to think how much I missed in the dark corners of the game by spamming the far-teleport button.


inXile developer Brian Fargo says in a recent tweet that The Mage’s Tale will be available on other VR platforms in 12 months.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
7

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  • Mane Vr

    “To the dismay of some players, locomotion is teleportation only” o man I was looking forward to having a rpg in vr going to have to pass on this one

    • KUKWES

      Aug 15th man..we have The Soulkeeper VR

      • How do you know?
        Edit: I see NVM

    • SomeGuyorAnother

      A rep from InXile has stated on that Oculus reddit that they will look into free locomotion as an option, though they can’t really promise it. However, most of the time I’ve heard that from devs after a release of a teleport game, it usually happens.

      Edit: With that said, the secondary “step” teleport option with the left thumbstick isn’t that bad, and changes things up a bit from just standard teleport. This functions as if you’re just taking a step at a time, short burst teleports.

      All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty damn good game so far. About 4 hours in, now.

      • CMcD

        That’s good because at this point every single vr game should offer both teleport and free locomotion for every game and let the user decide. Those that get sick NEED teleport, those that don’t get sick LOVE free locomotion. Serious Sam offered both options out of the gate and was a day one buy for many of us as a result.

        • SomeGuyorAnother

          Keep in mind that many of these games coming out now have been in development for awhile, with their locomotion method established early on. While some may be able to sneak in free locomotion before release, it’s not always a priority until the reviews come. While any game that starts their development -now- should include free locomotion, as the nausea paranoia has finally died down, don’t expect it of new releases, yet.

          • CMcD

            That’s an excellent point I agree completely. Arizona sunshine added it in after release and I’m pretty sure Bethesda has already said free roam and warping are including at launch for fallout vr

      • Mane Vr

        I will look into the game once they add that option

  • Buddydudeguy

    Teleport only. Real bunch of geniuses these devs are. PASS. Most definitely not paying $45 CAD too.

  • Nosfar

    Devs need to really consider the impact of not including a form of locomotion for people that dont get sick. It really does affect thier already diminished chance at sales. I was ligitamatly looking forward to this and now it’s a pass.

    • CMcD

      Arizona sunshine added fluid locomotion at this point, if you haven’t you should play that while you wait for this game to add fluid locomotion as well.

      • Mrflappywilly

        Did they? I didn’t even notice. gonna go try.

    • Jeff Patrick Pellegrin

      Why pass? We support both fuild locomotion and comfort levels of movements. We have several movement schemes and dials to speed up walking, turning movements, etc.

      • Nosfar

        I’ve owned it since smooth locomotion.

  • Get Schwifty!

    I am sure the devs really love you calling their in-game “assistant” a “smarmy turd” in a review ;)

    Shows a bit how things are changing, people would have killed for this experience just a year ago play anything but another round of Longbow.

    • benz145

      This is a good point. A lot of people don’t realize how “bad” old games are compared to what we have today, game design has improved greatly. VR is no different and is moving even faster than traditional gaming. Some of the stuff that looks great at announce is perhaps good when it launches, but if it takes too much time can be left behind in terms of design. That’s part of what’s so challenging about committing to long-term AAA projects in VR right now. By the end of a two year production, people may not even want to go back to the mechanics the game is foundationally built around.

      • Get Schwifty!

        It is exactly the problem of production and is inevitable, but it’s really unfair to me to not look at a game with t-port out of hand, you may miss an awful lot of other things in the game worth experiencing. I for one plan on giving this a shot, I suspect it will be pretty cool. The boycotting of games with the t-port mechanic is certainly people’s right, but not supporting development at this stage is just going to create drag ultimately as devs get burned once a number will drop out.

        • felixcox

          I see it the other way around- at this point, it’s very well established that people prefer very different ways of locomotion. If a dev wants to ignore all this and force teleportation, they are correctly going to get negative feedback. If devs want more sales and fewer complaints, it’s worth the dev-time to implement smooth motion. Obviously Bethesda gets it. And I’ve noticed that more and more vive games do too. Oculus is a little behind the vive in terms of 360/roomscale games, so their teleport-only games resemble vive games one year ago. They’ll eventually add options, but right now are being too conservative.

          • Get Schwifty!

            As I said, you’re right to boycott, but it does provide a disincentive for some developers if a game doesn’t sell and a lot of games were conceived according to earlier standards. Just saying, if you want a robust VR development be vocal about wanting more than t-port but also don’t just ignore games out of hand on that one point which will reduce down the number of developers at this stage.

            No question the earlier standards Oculus pushed that didn’t include room scale are still being felt in the pipeline. I suspect this game as many do will revise to include full-on motion. OTOH, all Vive games to date are effectively Rift games (albeit with some tweaking). I have no doubt Bethesda which originally planned t-port for FO4 responded to community discussion. To me all games should support both to reach the largest number of players.

  • Tommel

    I am really looking forward to playing this game tonight. I hope they will add some more content over the next few months/ years though. And I have learned at least two new words today: smarmy and turd. Thanks for that. :D

    • Tommel

      I did only finish the first chapter, but it was already great fun. The game looks very polished and the graphics are fantastic.

  • Andrew McEvoy

    Hmm..why skimp on hiring decent animators? Rubbish character anim always lets the side down badly.

    • benz145

      I think I’ve become far more sensitive to bad animations due to VR. Same with scale.

    • Daemonocracy

      Art direction is so important when it comes to a games visuals. Nintendo had some amazing looking games on the Wii U despite it being much more limited in the hardware department compared to PS3 and 360.

    • Tommel

      I agree, the animations could be better in this game. But, to be honest, if I hadn’t read this article before, I maybe wouldn’t even have recognized it. :-p

  • Daemonocracy

    I want a Kings Field VR.

  • Ted Joseph

    Not sure what the “beef” is about teleporting. It works awesome in Arizona Sunshine. I pre-ordered this game, and I am going to download it now. I am excited for a GOOD RPG on the RIft!!!

    • xxTheGoDxx

      Teleportation feels like shit in AS, makes that game look like a shooting gallery game IMO.

      • Mrflappywilly

        Pretty much what I thought it was at first.

    • NooYawker

      Even Arizona Sunshine added free locomotion eventually. There should be a choice in every game.

  • MrGreen72

    I hate teleportation with a passion but the left stick method isn’t bad. You walk a few feet really fast and your vision never fades away. I think this review is selling the game incredibly short. Disappointing.

  • Master Pok

    I don’t mind the movement mechanics. Those are actually quite nice.

    What I can’t take is the ever-present reticle, which comes up very early in the game and does not go away. For me it’s a game breaker, as it so totally destroys the immersion in every moment.

    For the life of me I cannot understand why someone would build such a beautiful game and then force the player to stare needlessly at an eye-turd as they attempt to enjoy said game.

    I don’t know if it’s a bug, it’s not going away, or just a horrible, horrible design decision.

    • Kris Bunch

      It only comes up if you have the fireball spell loaded. If you don’t like the reticle either walk around with no spell equipped or equip the lightning spell. When using the fireball spell the reticle is handy.

      • Master Pok

        You tell me how not to have a spell equipped and I’ll do that. However, I do not think the game allows that, else there would be no issue. The issue is once you get the fire spell and have no other spell you can’t get rid of it.

        So, how long into the game until you get the lightning spell? Because I stopped playing once the reticle would not go away, as I found it so annoying and continuously immersion breaking

        • Tommel

          5-10 Minutes?

          • Master Pok

            good to know. thanks. I can live with it that long, knowing that then I will at least have the choice to get rid of it.

        • Kris Bunch

          I hope you gave it another shot. It would be a shame to miss out because that one mechanic. When using fireballs it does come in handy to have it.

          • Master Pok

            I’m going to wait until they do something about the sensors showing up in game every time you are turned away and then turn back at them, causing them to hang in the air a couple seconds until they disappear, which seems to be happening on all or many 3 sensor setups. This is almost as bad, in terms of continuous immersion breaking, as the reticle, and there is no workaround atm other than perhaps going back to 2 sensor, which I will do if I have to. There is no way I am not going to play this game at some point. That being said, there is too little really good VR content out there, and so I am willing to wait until hopefully this stuff gets ironed out so I can experience this game, which is really good content, without having it continuously shoved in my face, through one means or another within that game, that I am playing a video game, when such a big part of the purpose of a VR game is to do just the opposite,

      • Master Pok

        You tell me how not to have a spell equipped and I’ll do that. However, I do not think the game allows that, else there would be no issue. The issue is once you get the fire spell and have no other spell you can’t get rid of it.

        So, how long into the game until you get the lightning spell? Because I stopped playing once the reticle would not go away, as I found it so annoying and continuously immersion breaking

  • Kris Bunch

    This review sells the game short. I agree, there should be a choice between free locomotion and teleportation for those of us who don’t get sick. I am one of the lucky ones who don’t. The step locomotion isn’t that bad. It is very workable and yes breaks immersion a little bit. Then you find yourself in a ranged battle with goblins and you forget all about it. You are too busy ducking arrows, hiding behind cover, popping up flinging fireballs. It is also very satisfying to block arrows with your magic shield.

    I am only one hour, and no I have not gotten out of the first dungeon yet. I am stuck. But I am having so much fun with this game. Crafting spells, drinking healing pots, all very satisfying mechanics. Also the smarmy turd… yes he is annoying, but he is supposed to be annoying. He cracks me up. There is lots of humor in this game.

  • Kris Bunch

    This review sells the game short. I agree, there should be a choice between free locomotion and teleportation for those of us who don’t get sick. I am one of the lucky ones who don’t. The step locomotion isn’t that bad. It is very workable and yes breaks immersion a little bit. Then you find yourself in a ranged battle with goblins and you forget all about it. You are too busy ducking arrows, hiding behind cover, popping up flinging fireballs. It is also very satisfying to block arrows with your magic shield.

    I am only one hour, and no I have not gotten out of the first dungeon yet. I am stuck. But I am having so much fun with this game. Crafting spells, drinking healing pots, all very satisfying mechanics. Also the smarmy turd… yes he is annoying, but he is supposed to be annoying. He cracks me up. There is lots of humor in this game.

  • That good game with VR. Thank for sharing.
    vr shinecon

  • ps4Matt

    Update 1.5 now has Free Movement and 360 degrees Roomscale Support.

    https://inxile.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115000849573-The-Mage-s-Tale-Patch-1-5-Notes

  • james20

    Were you trying to say “lightning” throughout this entire review? Or is there actually a “lighting” spell?

  • Bigstarmedia

    That good game with VR. Thank for sharing.