The Mage's Tale Released, Reviews

If you own an Oculus Touch headset, you'll be delighted to know that InXile's VR RPG, The Mage's Tale, has been released on schedule. Featuring exploration, puzzles, and combat, The Mage's Tale offers roughly 10 hours of dungeon crawling gameplay. It's available on the Oculus store for $39.99, with support for the other VR formats promised in the future. Here's the launch trailer:

And a short description:

Welcome, apprentice of the mystic arts! The corrupt wizard Gaufroi has kidnapped your master, Mage Alguin, and only you have any hope of saving him. You may be an apprentice now, but to save your master, you will need to explore ten deadly dungeons, decipher mind-bending puzzles, avoid terrifying traps, and vanquish hordes of vicious monsters. Until you are able to wield every elemental power in the palm of your hand, evil remains ascendant! It is your turn now to sling gouts of flame, javelins of ice, arcs of lightning, and swirling tempests! Don your wizard’s robe and begin your Mage’s Tale!
  • Collect mystic ingredients, which you can use to craft hundreds of custom spells in your very own Mage's Workshop.
  • Explore the ancient crypts, sewers, and dungeons to discover devious traps and secret rooms hidden around every corner.
  • The Mage's Tale is an adventure designed from the ground up to capture the magic of the Oculus gaming experience.

I'll be honest, I was quite surprised when I found out that a number of reviews for the title are up already. The impressions seem to be mostly positive. Check them out:

Tom's Hardware - Scoreless:

If you’ve been looking for a properly polished VR game that offers hours of story-driven gameplay, you should put inXile Entertainment’s Mage’s Tale on your shortlist. The developer masterfully merged the best parts of dungeon crawlers into a challenging first-person VR game that transports you into the Bard’s Tale universe.

Destructoid - 6/10:

There's also a penchant to go overboard with the whole VR angle. Drinking potions to access menus is very cute (as is holding up a crystal ball to your actual eye to view another plane), but there should be a more practical option to swap to a good old fashioned UI. Another big thing that holds it back is the narrative and the characters that fill it. While going from level to level is enough of an excuse to keep going, I never once felt connected with the world of Mage's Tale. The whole "abusive companion" thing can be done right, but the writing doesn't help, nor do the vocal performances.

The crafting system is also at odds with itself. Early on you'll start to gather the elemental properties needed to forge lightning and ice spells, which are paramount to solving some of the easier "freeze this running water so you can light a torch" puzzles. While the idea of throwing reagents into a cauldron and stirring it with your own hands is cool, it quickly overstays its welcome and causes pacing issues. Having to initiate a lengthy loading screen to return to the hub, mix the ingredients, then return back after another load isn't fun.

The Mage's Tale represents an early experiment for VR RPGs -- a minor milestone. There's still a long way to go until people are "jacked-in" for hours at a time a la Sword Art Online, but with projects like this leading the way we'll get there sooner than later.

Road to VR - 7/10:

'The Mage's Tale' delivers exactly what you'd expect from a classic dungeon crawler, promising real moments of magic and exploration while not challenging the formula too much. Creating and casting magical spells in VR is an awesome experience that I didn't ever get tired of, but if a sequel is in the works, finer character animation and more locomotion options should be on the docket to turn up the immersion factor. As it stands, NPCs look ripped from the PS2-era, and anyone looking for smooth-turning or smooth forward movement will be sorely disappointed.

Upload VR - 8/10:

The Mage’s Tale is one of the best examples of how to take a tried-and-true existing gaming genre and adapt it for the new VR medium. While it retains plenty of design decisions that make it clear where its roots lie, The Mage’s Tale iterates on principles that truly move the first-person dungeon crawler RPG subgenre forward in big ways. This is easily one of the longest and most involved adventures to grace the VR market thus far and is a must-play for RPG fans.

And finally, Brian Fargo and Matt Findley sat down with the Oculus people to talk about spellcasting, locomotion, and the future of immersive media and InXile in particular. An excerpt:

Having developed titles for PC, console, and mobile devices, what was it like to make the transition to VR?

Brian Fargo: Developing for VR was probably the biggest creative leap I’ve made into a new format. In VR, you need to consider the physical movements of the player. Where is the player looking? Where are their hands? What shape are the hands in? How do we use scale? What does it mean to put things behind the player? How do we handle not knowing where they’re looking? It was a wonderful new palette to draw from.

The things we spent the most time on were movement, hand controls, and throwing mechanics. It’s imperative that those elements feel natural. The presence aspect of VR is critical—and it’s half the fun. Getting these things right brings about true immersion and lets the player get lost in another world.

Matthew Findley: Working in VR also gives us a unique platform to experiment with binaural audio and 3d spatial audio. Unlike most game development, when developing for Rift we know exactly how the player is going to experience the audio. Knowing this gives us the freedom to push the envelope with audio techniques and drastically increase the level of audio immersion in the game.


What’s your favorite part of the game?

MF: My favorite part of the game is just that—it is a game. When new tech like VR shows up, the first wave of titles are often just toys or brief experiences. We wanted to create a full game that’s designed for and takes advantage of all that VR has to offer. You can’t be an RPG without having a long enough play experience to see your character change over time. By exploring the dungeon and finding mystic ingredients to take back to the lab and craft into new spells, you constantly change the strategies you have available to use in combat. Like any good RPG, the character you’re playing with at the end of the game is so much more powerful than the character you start with.

BF: My favorite part is how powerful the level of immersion is. Watching people stand on the narrow bridge and teeter over the edge trying to keep their balance never gets old. Then, just as people are getting comfortable moving around through these elaborate dungeons, a goblin comes running around a corner and starts shooting arrows at them. That’s where the screaming begins.

When we’ve taken the game out to trade shows and conventions, I’m often surprised to find our demo is the first VR experience for most people. We’re so focused on crafting this real game experience that we sometimes forget how new this tech is to the average consumer. VR has a way of making some of the tried and true game mechanics we’ve used for years feel fresh again. It makes your brain believe that what it’s seeing is real and lets us impact players emotionally on a level that’s just hard to recreate in traditional gaming.


It’s been reported that Brian wants to retire after Wasteland 3 ships. Any plans for Matt to step up and take the helm?

BF: I think Matt’s enjoying his New Orleans experience too much, plus we have a few years before that happens.

MF: I don’t think any of us at inXile have ever spent any time dreaming of being CEO. We’re here because we like the products we make and the culture we’ve created to make them in. I’m sure it would be a more interesting story if I described it as being more like Game of Thrones, but it’s safe to say that nobody is lining up to take Brian’s job. Besides, I’ll believe it when I see it. They’ll pull his smartphone out of his cold, dead hand, and when they do he’ll be in the middle of an email that’s most likely about some sort of game or technology that he saw.