Xbox One, ,
August 22, 2017
“Charm and curiosity” were the two words on my mind when first seeing Mages of Mystralia’s trailer. These two words carried with me throughout my journey in the colourful world of Mystralia, and remain with me now at the end of my playthrough. Written by Ed Greenwood, creator of Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms campaign, and developed by indie outfit Borealys Games, the game is a whimsical adventure through a gorgeous fantasy world. It is not a perfect game, but it’s that charm and curiosity that drove me ever onward to building my spell load-out, completing side-quests, and compulsively smashing every object on screen wherever possible.
In Mages of Mystralia you play as Zia, a young villager whose arcane abilities awaken with her nearly burning down her village. Banished from her home, she befriends a secret enclave of mages and develops her abilities as a mage. As her powers grow, she embarks on a journey that will see her attempt to win back the trust of her people and prevent a war between the kingdom on Mystralia and the army of trolls. I won’t go further into spoiler territory, but things may not be as they seem in Mystralia, and the forces of evil do not always come in the form of monsters.
Alongside the main quest is a range of side-quests that vary from your basic fetch-quest to helping a blossoming romance, a welcome addition to the game as it provided many opportunities to further explore the vibrant world. Herein lies one of my frustrations with the game: no logbook or journal, making tracking quests a bit of a headache.
“The enemies in each zone reflect their environments, with elemental strengths and weaknesses forcing you to adapt your playstyle within each area…”
Visually, Mages of Mystralia has a fairy tale story book vibe to it, sprinkled with an old-school sheen that feels familiar and nostalgic; simple character models, bright colours, and lush environments. The areas of the world map hit all the usual beats; there is an ancient ice temple ruin, a dangerous lava zone, crypts filled with skeletal warriors, and deep forests with lakes and mountain rises. Some may say this is derivative and bland for a fantasy game, but I say it sticks to the classics and does it well. The enemies in each zone reflect their environments, with elemental strengths and weaknesses forcing you to adapt your playstyle within each area, which certainly helped keep things feeling fresh. Thankfully so, because the game will have you criss-crossing and backtracking across some areas multiple times throughout the 6 -7 hour quest.
The spellcraft of Mages of Mystralia is by and large the game’s strongest feature, and one I hope to see implemented in larger, bigger-budget games in the future. Using runes found throughout the world, you can turn your basic fireball or lighting strike spell into a homing missile of explosive destruction, or a stealthy curveball used to strike enemies around corners. One of my favourite combinations had Zia rush forward, leaving a stone clone behind that detonated upon an enemies touch, chaining lightning bolts and explosions through the trolls that surrounded me.
Using her spellbook, you can freeze lakes to find new areas, curve fireballs around obstacles to hit switches and open locked doors, or send a gust of wind into a windmill that will spin to life and activate elevators and floating platforms. This spellcrafting system really sets Mages of Mystralia apart from other indie-fantasy titles I have experienced, and has definitely hooked me in to trying to uncover the best and most destructive combinations possible!
Whilst initially I was craving a simple, element-free melee attack to conserve my Mana, it was not long before the addictive nature of crafting spell variations gripped me. The game allows for multiple variations of the four key spell types, allowing for a plethora of spells for a multitude of different combat and puzzle situations. Facing off against a horde of ice monsters? Craft a fireball that splits into three and scatters around the battlefield! Pesky water enemy shooting you from a far? Equip a lightning bolt and zap that sucker out of his hiding place! The possibilities feel almost endless, and each time I acquired a new rune, I spent time experimenting its use across the different spell types and in tandem with other runes.
The other major gameplay feature is puzzle solving, where Mages of Mystralia uses both the spellcrafting and rich environments to throw a variety of challenges at the player. Some puzzles require little to no magic use, while others require using specific modifiers to hit otherwise-impossible markers to unlock doors and find keys. While most of the puzzles were little more than run-of-the-mill padding, some had me genuinely scratching my head and trying 5 or 6 different modifiers before figuring out the (usually simple) solution. For those, like me, who’s strength does NOT lie in puzzle solving, most are accompanied by a glowing pedestal that offers hints in exchange for a small amount of in-game currency.
- Addictive spellcrafting system
- Great variety of elemental environments
- Cute and colourful characters and monsters
- Compelling, but ultimately bland narrative
- Some frequent backtracking
- No logbook or journal to track side quests
Overall, Mages of Mystralia is an engaging, visually beautiful indie effort that exceeded my expectations. The addictive nature of the spellcrafting system got its hooks in me early, and kept the game enjoyable throughout. While the plot could have delivered more punch, taking Zia on her journey to become a mage and win back the love of her people was satisfying and well executed.