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The Mage’s Tale PSVR Review

VR gaming continues to be a slowly-growing medium, especially when it comes to consoles as Sony still remains the sole publisher to attempt it (let’s all pretend the Virtual Boy didn’t exist, something Nintendo themselves would prefer). The time will eventually come when both the technology and games will become more commonplace, but for now the sparse release of games continue to test the virtual waters before confidently swimming laps around it.

The Mage’s Tale is unique in that it brings VR to one of the most untested genres in gaming: RPGs. With the exception of last year’s critically acclaimed VR port of Skyrim, there have been no other attempts at combining the groundbreaking perspective with one of the oldest and most recognizable genres in gaming. The Mage’s Tale, which is a spin-off of The Bard’s Tale from inXile Entertainment, is a first-person dungeon crawler featuring traditional RPG elements including a fantasy backdrop, levels gained with experience points, elemental spells, goblin enemies to slay, secret treasures to loot and various weight-based puzzles to solve. The most innovative feature, of course, is experiencing all of this in VR.

The story is every bit as familiar as the gameplay; players assume the role of an unnamed apprentice, who must rescue their master after having failed to defeat a powerful wizard. Aided by a floating guide who is one-part tutorial and all-parts sarcastic, it is up to the apprentice to traverse the deep and deadly dungeon to rescue their master while collecting all sorts of valuable trinkets along the way, many of which gain access to deadly new spells (which are also used to solve several of the puzzles found along the way).

The Mage’s Tale is one of those VR games that utilizes the Move controllers to immerse players, meaning all sorts of physical movements and gestures that are both creative by concept but frustrating by design. The good news is that the game allows for both kinds of movement at once: “teleporting” to a spot highlighted with an icon as well as free movement. There are also several other options to allow players to pick whatever movement is most comfortable for them, a must for any first-person VR game.

With the two Move controllers serving as the player’s hands inside the game, The Mage’s Tale requires players to “grab” several objects with their hands, from levers on doors to torches and crystal balls, to name a few examples. These gestures all work well enough, but it’s when the game chooses to take its immersion aspects even further that things start to fall apart. Using healing potions, for instance, requires that players simulate drinking the potion by placing it close to their lips. Typically, this means rubbing the Move controller around one’s own face until the game recognizes your forehead for your mouth.

While such less-than-accurate gestures are more amusing than cumbersome, the combat is a whole other story. During scripted sequences, the room may fill up with a horde of enemies that must be taken out in order to progress in the dungeon. As an apprentice wizards, your main arsenal consists of spells, starting off with a fireball. The game requires its players to lob the spells at enemies like softballs, which is where the most frustrating moments occur; not only is it difficult to get a precise hit no matter how carefully you aim the projectiles, some enemies will be standing at higher platforms or frequently run around the room, to say nothing of the various cooldown meters that stronger spells possess. And as novel as the idea of physically moving one’s head to dodge arrows may seem, the combination of all these physical gestures and the imprecise targeting will undoubtedly lead to moments of both frustration and exhaustion.

On the plus side, the game also includes an alchemy mechanic where players can craft their own spells by combining various unlocked buffs. This includes spells with homing properties, which helps slightly against the bad targeting system but doesn’t absolve it entirely. Creating spells by chucking specific potions into a cauldron and stirring the mixture leads to some of the game’s most charming VR controls. Solving puzzles and defeating enemies also yield experience points, and with every level gained players can choose how to buff up the apprentice, from extra HP to extra spell slots. Despite the increased repertoire of spells and stats, combat still remains a physical chore due to the frequency of enemies and the literal flaying of arms to hit them properly.

All in all, The Mage’s Tale is an ambitious title that incorporates a lot of neat features that would prove charming in a perfect VR environment, but instead demonstrates the infancy of the technology when so much of it fails to register properly. There are still fun moments to be had during the instances where everything works, but an uneven control scheme results in an uneven experience regardless of intentions.

5 out of 10