Advanced Spellcraft

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I’ve talked about quite a few things that I experienced at Pax South, and this mornings post is going to do some more of the same.  I feel like this year more than others I walked away with a treasure trove of things I wanted to talk about.  I guess in theory it is because I approached the convention significantly differently than I have in past years.  In the past I largely only stood in line to play the games that immediately seemed to be in my wheelhouse, and as a result I am sure I robbed myself of a whole slew of interesting things.  The game I want to talk about this morning is a prime example of not being able to rely on our instincts and tastes.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I do not handle “finger wigglers” that well… or to clarify my own personal slang…  spell casters.  So when I walked past a booth demonstrating a game where the main character is slinging spells left and right, my first instinct is to keep moving.  However as a group we stopped and listened to the intricate tale that CEO Louis-Félix Cauchon had to weave.  Admittedly what make this game so interesting is just how detailed the spell system is.  We got to watch a twenty minute demo covering nothing but how the spell system works, before even getting into the awesome pedigree of the storytelling.

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Functionally your character has four spells, which in itself doesn’t seem like a lot.  However each spell can be modified with what I have been generically calling “mutators” to change the way it responds.  So you might have a spell that at face value is a small point blank spark, however by equipping a a behavior you can make it fire out like a fireball…  or by equipping an augment you can make it veer to the right after firing it.  If you suddenly decide that you don’t want to throw fireballs… but instead iceballs, you can simply go in and change the base element of the attack.  Over the course of this demo of the system we got to see personal shields turn into charge attacks, and glorious cascades of rock from the ceiling in place of a traditional blizzard spell.  Now you might ask yourself why on each you would need this level of detail for a spell system apart from the simple “wouldn’t it be cool” aspect.  Functionally the magic not only serves as a weapon, but also as a complex puzzle system.  So there might be switches that you cannot reach unless you modify your fireball to arc in a certain way in order to hit the trigger.  The spellbook also allows you to save off several different configurations of a spell, and in the final version you will be able to give them unique names allowing you to quickly recognize which version of a given spell is your avalanche and which is your frost barrier.  The only immediate limit to building insane combination spells is your imagination, and of course your mana bar.  Each trait that you give a spell increases its cost, and while it was described that this matters less and less as you go through the game… it does limit your early tinkering.  Additionally as you play through the game you find modifiers along the way, meaning your palette of abilities starts small and grows as you progress.

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Up to this point we have literally just talked about the technical spell casting system, which in itself is a pretty amazing game.  On top of this however they have added what is sure to be a pretty great story.  Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame has penned the story for this game about epic spellcasters, which only makes sense given that he gave us the character of Elminster.  Functionally I heard the game described as Harry Potter meets Zelda and that seems fitting, with a huge alteration in that there seems to be a lot more physical puzzle solving with your spells.  I find it so bizarre though that I am looking forward to the release of a game about magic users, and that includes absolutely zero armor clad characters for me to bash baddies in the head with.  At face value this game is traditionally far out of my wheelhouse, but it was also quite possibly the freshest feeling game concept I saw on the Pax floor.  We’ve done so much for martial combat and making it feel interesting and nuanced, but have done so little to bring that same level of nuance to weaving complex spells.  Most games give us the option of push button throw fireball, or push button create bubble…  but this is the first that I have seen that lets you take that bubble and then project it outwards or trigger another spell after the bubble casts.  I have this feeling that in many ways it will have an almost metroidvania feel in that each time you unlock a new ability to give you spells it is also going to open up new ways to solve puzzles and allow you to move deeper into the content.

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The game right now is targetted for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One and does not have a firm launch date… but we heard March or April mentioned which I largely translated into a “Spring” launch window that might be plus or minus a month.  They are doing something extremely interesting to get us into the world ahead of the launch by releasing a comic that updates Tuesdays and  Thursdays and explains the world and setting.  I love it when I experience a game like this, not necessarily because “woo spellcasters” or anything of the sort, but because this is clearly the love child of a bunch of folks who care deeply about it.  Talking to Louis-Félix Cauchon within second it was clear to see just how passionate he was about this game, and the work and imagination that went into creating it.  That in truth is what makes the convention experience special.  You get to meet the creators face to face and see just how much they love what they are doing.  In many ways it feels like Pax South recharges the spark inside of me each year, and gives me fuel to keep going throughout the year.  We spend so much time on the negatives, the little details that bother us about this game or that.  However seeing a game like Mages of Mystralia shows me instantly that there very much still is magic out there…  pun only slightly intended.  I would definitely add this to your watch list and check it out when it ultimately releases.  I find it so bizarre that of all of the games I have experienced, this one ranks insanely high on the list of “wish I had early access” titles, if for no reason other than to play with the spell crafting system.  This is the first release from Borealys Games, but if they can pour this much passion into every project they are going to be a studio we see lots of amazing things from in the future.

Empty Island

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This is one of those days where Bel is struggling to exist in the world.  As a result I am not exactly sure how cogent of a post you are going to get out of me.  In theory I went to bed early last night, but in practice that does not seem to have actually helped.  In fact this morning I feel more sluggish than I have in a long time.  So I wobbled through the house, fixed a cup of coffee… and then immediately fell into an internet hole as my brain tried to do literally anything it could do to keep from writing a post this morning.  As a result it is like 30 minutes past the normal time I sit down and begin writing, and I am still finding I don’t have a whole hell of a lot to talk about.  Last night I did two things… Invasion and Witness.  I feel like I have talked about the Invasion to an extremely length, and there isn’t really much there to discuss… especially since it goes away in a very few days.  There are issues right now with players leaving after phase 2, in order to reset the event back to phase 1.  This is making phase 3 a little hellish, but all in all it still provides a silly amount of experience, and I am still attempting to get the Horde Warlock up as far as I can make it before the event runs out.  I also have the AggroChat show devoted to The Witness this week, so I am playing it in spurts as well.  I am not really sure what exactly I can say about it other than that.

The game is extremely beautiful, and I like the world it is set in.  Much like Overwatch however I just wish it was a different game.  Ultimately I went into this game expecting Myst, and it is definitely not that.  I am realizing that the reason why I enjoyed those games is that the puzzles felt like I was uncovering a story.  In Myst you were essentially chasing Atrus and unraveling what happened to the different ages and what exactly was happening with Sirrus and Achenar.  In 7th Guest and 11th Hour you were solving mysteries and the puzzles lead to giving you clues about what was going on in both of those games.  Witness on the other hand seems to just be puzzles for the sake of being puzzles, and the truth is after solving thirty five or so last night… I am already bored with it.  The biggest problem is…  what I thought would be some story payoff for the puzzle solving just turned out to reward me with a super pretentious video of James Burke from 1978.  I guess that is the problem I am having with this game… it exists to be itself.  There just doesn’t seem to be a point, or at least any glimmer of a point has yet to reveal itself.  Which is I guess a bit sad given how generally good the game is at teaching you how it wants you to solve the puzzles.  There is just enough friction there to make the moment it all clicks to be enjoyable…  but it also doesn’t feel like it is leading to anything.

The other problem I am having is that the game seems to want me to visit locations in a certain order, but does nothing to actually restrict my movement.  As a result I wound up at a puzzle long before I was supposed to be there.  There were a series of screens designed to teach me the lessons I needed to know to unlock said puzzle, but I didn’t find them until I had already completed the puzzle that used those elements.  So I feel like this is a game where my general desire to get off of the main path… is going to cause me a significant amount of trouble.  Right now I am not a huge fan, but I am going to continue playing to see if that changes.