Mage Knight – Apocalypse PC Review
Mage Knight – Apocalypse (or MKA, for the sake of brevity and my laziness, from now on) is apparently based upon a new collectable table top game gaining popularity in the States. No longer a case of picking up a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards and dealing your friend’s ‘warlock master’ a severe case of husk with a well played hand, Mage Knight gives you little painted figurines to battle with – a kind of ‘Warhammer-lite’, if you will. I’ll admit that my research into this went no further than a quick browse of their official website, but that was enough to inform me that it was far too complex for me to bother with, all dials, mathematics, pens and paper – all things that kept me well away from Dungeons & Dragons in my youth, and by proxy, steered me to video games, where all those little calculations would be performed conveniently in the background for me.
MKA is the adventures of five stereotypical Fantasy/RPG types oath sworn to save the world from the generically named ‘Forces of Chaos’ by travelling across dangerous lands to collect the five Aspects and use them to defeat the evil Apocalypse Dragon. A story so woefully unoriginal I almost bored myself to sleep typing it here. I mean, the world it is set in is called ‘The Land’ – talk about a complete lack of imagination!
So, what sort of game do we have? Instead of creating a digital version of the tabletop game, which could have proved to be interesting, Namco-Bandai again kick dust in the face of originality and have made MKA a by numbers Diablo-style dungeon crawler of the most generic kind. All the hallmarks of the genre are here, and this sort of game tends to end up in one of two categories. If done well, these games can almost be a hypnotic experience, levelling up your character from a pool of multiple classes, gaining new skills and battling bigger and badder monsters to find those elusive rare items. Done badly, however, and this sort of game can become a tiresome click fest. MKA actually does something original here and falls into a whole new category – the ‘utterly, utterly dismal’.
When beginning the game you select one of the five heroes and heroines. They all look like World of Warcraft dropouts, especially the Dwarf and the Night Elf, sorry, ‘Vampire Nightblade’, who look like they have been ripped directly from Blizzard’s megaMMO. They are a mixed bag, the Oath sworn lot. You’ve got the tall, blonde, elfling guy, a ripped Amazonian woman – all horribly clichéd and totally devoid of any charm whatsoever. There is the much touted ‘complete character customization’ spoke so highly of on the official website, but it’s almost non-existent. Changing my Dwarf’s beard and hair colour does not an in-depth character creation mode make!
And for those of you who didn’t take an instant disliking to the sad cast on display, the absolutely dreadful voice acting will do it. The delivery feels awkward and broken, completely unnatural. It’s the final nail in the coffin for any attachment you will have for the party of heroes and also makes the already poor plot incredibly difficult to care about.
Maybe I am looking at this all the wrong way. Diablo wasn’t about an epic story or deep, involving characters with their own idiosyncrasies, it was about hitting evil things, who drop weapons that let you hit bigger evil things – and it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Graphically, the game is fine. The surroundings you walk through are all forests and mountainous regions, but are quite pleasing to the eye thanks to some nice effects and volumetric lighting. The enemies, whilst being obvious foes such as Orcs and big spiders, look rather nice and have some fancy special attacks that brighten up the proceedings. Even the characters, as boring as they are, look excellent and are nicely detailed. The level up system also works very nicely, borrowing from the Fable/Oblivion book of advancement. If you want to become a stronger fighter, fight more. Want to start using more powerful spells? Use more magic! It’s surprisingly flexible and allows you to shape your character as you play through the game and adds a little bit of thought to the combat, rather than just mindless clicking. It’s far and away the finest aspect of MKA – perhaps because it is borrowed wholesale from superior titles – but this game needs some pros, so I’m going to let it have this one.
As nice as it looks, it is far from solid. Glitching through the scenery is commonplace, and it is quite possible to attack through quite a number of walls in the game at enemies, who, sometimes, will just stand there and take it like nothing is happening before they suddenly drop dead. The camera is also one of the worst I have encountered in some time. It seems to have some kind of inability to give you the best view of the action, and attempting to manually move it without coming to a complete standstill, regardless of what could be bearing down on you with a ‘rusted deathaxe’, is a very fiddly, frustrating experience.
The artificial ‘intelligence’ (and I use that term very loosely here) of your party members is laughable. The game is broken up into 6 chapters full of monsters, traps and items over terrain as diverse as a jungle, temple and obviously, dungeons – all of which are pretty linear, offering only one real way through to the end. Unfortunately, the AI still seems to struggle with this and spends most of its time either lost or stuck on the scenery. On the rare occasion the AI is in the position to do something helpful, it will just stand there and stare at you whilst you bludgeon the ‘call for help’ key like it was the developer of this game’s face. The help rarely comes, and you die. MKA then completely falls apart.
There is no need to fear the ‘big sleep’ in MKA. In a battle with a horde of monsters, you may die and be sent back to the last save point. A quick stroll back to the place of your demise will reveal that all the enemies you have already killed are still dead, with the ones that you have weakened are on the same health they had when you died. Same goes for bosses too – if you die, just go back and keep hitting them. There is no penalty for death other than having to walk back to where you came from. As long as you can be bothered to save, you are basically invincible and will eventually be able to kill any foe you come across – completely killing any challenge the game offered at all, apart from one; challenging my patience, of course.
There is a multiplayer mode, which apparently allows you to play through any of the completed chapters but with another unfortunate human taking the place of the AI characters. This probably makes it all a little bit more bearable, but when I logged on to the servers, no one was playing it. Maybe this will change upon the games general release, but unfortunately, I cannot pass comment on this aspect of the game.
Mage Knight – Apocalypse is a very poor game. Fans of the table top game, I tell you – this is nothing more than a cash-in on the name. Your money is better spent on more packets of the collectable game. For people looking for a dungeon crawler, stay well away and maybe try out Titan Quest, that does everything MKA does, only is, y’know, good.
A game that borrows ideas from all over the genre, then executes almost all of them badly. Avoid.