The Wizards review: an entertaining VR spellcaster game in Early Access

I’ve had the pleasure to review the early access version of The Wizards, an adventure spellcaster game by Carbon Studio. Developed with Unreal Engine, the game has a cool ambition: make us become wizards and kill monsters using magic. As Pawel Gajda from Carbon Studio says

The Wizards is a VR spellcaster that fulfills players’ childhood dreams of becoming powerful wizards. In the game, players cast spells with hand gestures using motion controllers of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. During the single story campaign, players will travel in time to explore various fantasy sceneries, fight deadly monsters, and master their wizardry.

Sounds cool, isn’t it? Well, after having tried the game for some time I can say that in fact it is pretty cool.

The game sounds awesome since the beginning when there is the menu that lets you select your language (basically English or Chinese). In this moment you can see that your virtual hands wear awesome magician gloves and cast a magic ray to make you perform the selection. This is a great way to make the player interested to the game: show awesomeness since the first screen. The menu is not as immersive as I’ve seen in games like The Price of Freedom, but it’s a simple collection of UI elements (labels and button). But that’s ok… since there are many options, this is the most practical way to design it. (even if… selecting menu voices by casting spells towards crystal objects would have been damn cool…)

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
The game starts and you see this magical ray twisting around your hand and you think: wooooowowowowow!!

At the end of the first menu, the tutorial auto starts. There’s a master magician that guides you and that tells you who you are, what is your mission and then teaches you how to cast spells. You are inside a training area and here you can start appreciating the graphics, that are well crafted. There are ruins around you and these ruins are floating in the air, in an oniric fashion. Red crystals are present in the scene and these are your training targets. But… how can you destroy them? Well, casting spells. You have no weapons, not even a dagger for melèe fight, you can only cast spells. The first spell that you learn is the fireball: you put your hand with the palm down, press the index trigger of your Touch controller (I’ve reviewed the game using Oculus+Touch) and then you turn your hand so that palm now points up: BAM! Your hand now contains a ball covered in flames and you can throw it releasing your trigger. If the magic ray at the beginning of the game was great… well, this is incredible! Throwing a fireball is so damn cool… I could have ended the review at this point.

Then the tutorial teaches you the locomotion mechanic, that is teleporting. You perform it pointing your controller towards one of the various teleporting stations and then pushing the right thumbstick: you can’t teleport everywhere, just in some points defined by the developers. Using left thumbstick, instead, you can perform a snap rotation around yourself (very useful if you have an Oculus frontal setup, like me) and with the middle finger trigger you can use telekinesis to open portals or grab objects (you grab objects by making them fly towards you and then taking them inside your hands).

During the tutorial, you learn the two basic spells: the fireball and the frozen arrow (you have a frozen bow and arrow and you shoot with the classical arrow gesture, like in The Lab). Fire and ice, two fundamental elements of nature. During the training stage, I noticed one of the greatest problems of this game: gestures detection. The tutorial teaches you how to do gestures, but they don’t always get detected correctly by the system: sometimes it just misses the gesture of a spell you want to cast… and while this is harmless during the training stage, it is a huge problem during a fight. I know that this kind of detection is quite hard to be performed, but since this is the main mechanic of the game, I think that during this Early Access stage it has to be improved. Summoning the icy bow has always been hard for me. One advice that I can give to you if you want to try this game is to perform each gesture in a very decisive and quick way: if you do it like that, it gets detected far better.

When the tutorial finishes, you enter your house, that is a castle inside which the wizard lives. Here too you can move only using teleportation and this is a pity because it would be far better to let the player explore this wonderful environment. The developers are already addressing this topic and have announced that they’re thinking about implementing standard locomotion too. In this magic place, you can select the level you want to play, upgrade your current spells and also have a look around and throw books (but the magician will get a bit angry if you make a mess of his house!)

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
Spells update menu: you are in front of this magical book and you put the symbol of the spell you want to upgrade inside a hole and then you upgrade it

I started my first mission and after a little intro, I found myself inside a fantasy place, with the order of going to a certain village.

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
The place where the first mission starts. Notice that the graphics are very good

I started teleporting along the road to reach that village and I started noticing that the game is not optimized for an Oculus frontal setup. Sometimes you teleport in a place and the other teleporting station is behind you, so you have to snap rotate to return to an orientation that lets you see the next station in front of you (maybe some teleporting mechanics with orientation setting as in Robo Recall would help).

UPDATE: the dev has contacted me and told that teleporting already works as in Robo Recall: feature is not clear if someone doesn’t tell you, but if you rotate the right stick while pointing at the teleportation platform, you’ll see orange arrows showing the direction you’ll face after the teleporting.

At a certain point, suddenly, some big monsters started attacking me. I tried defending with fireballs, but due to bad gesture recognition and low fireball power, I got killed immediately.

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
When you die, everything becomes black and white and the summertime sadness pervades your life

After I died, I had to restart the mission FROM SCRATCH. Whaaaaat?? Quite annoyed by this, I stopped a bit at the beginning of the mission and trained myself to learn how to perform the gestures in a way that makes the program detect them better: my advice to you is to do that in the training session of the game. Don’t exit the tutorial until you’ve mastered the basic gestures! This is the moment when I discovered that gestures have to be performed fast to increase detection rate… and that for instance the fireball gets summoned better if you perform a fake little fireball throw to generate it.

After this auto-tutorial, I returned to fight the trolls and I defeated them. If you want an advice: use the bow and arrow, they’re more powerful than the fireball. After that I continued moving and killing trolls until I reached a point where I had to destroy a crystal inside a huge courtyard. But while I tried to destroy it, continuous hordes of monsters attacked and killed me. Enemies arrived from everywhere and with frontal setup I start forgetting about my actual orientation, so sometimes the game lost the tracking of my controllers and I got killed while I was snapping like hell and trying to evocate spells. Damn, I died and I had to begin from scratch again. What a nuisance. I restarted, I arrived again at the same point and died again. Again like this various times. I got to a point where I was about to take my PC and throw it out of the window. I was so fucking angry that if I had met a troll in real life I would have killed it with my bare hands. In the end I managed to complete this mission changing my strategy: if you want an advice for this point, don’t focus on the enemies but on destroying the crystal and kill enemies only to defend yourself. I was so satisfied with this win. I’ve been so damn awesome.

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
The moment when I destroyed the red crystal while the trolls were surrounding me to kill me. I felt like a character in the movies that scores a goal at the last second

After having won this level, I got rewarded by a new spell: the shield. So, back to training stage to learn shield gesture to defend me from fireballs of other enemies. Cool!

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
I’ve won the shield spell! The left hand can hold a shield while the right one launches fireballs!

Next two missions are pure monster waves shooting where you have to defend yourself and the village you’ve just arrived. You stay fixed in a point and you have to kill all monsters that come towards you. If you miss some, your health gets reduced and in the end, you die. After the second mission a new spell gets taught to you, so you can start casting lightnings against the enemies.

the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
Lightning strike is the most awesome spell ever

With four spells and various enemies, things start becoming a little trickier, because for every type of enemy you have to decide which is the best weapon to kill him, evocate it hoping that the system will get it, kill him, then change weapon to kill the other monsters in front of you… and so on. Sometimes I got mad in deciding the right spell, sometimes the system takes a gesture for another, other times I tried to do the gesture so fast that I made the two Touch controllers collide and almost destroyed them. In one of the last matches, I was so frustrated that I told the monsters “go, destroy this damn city… I don’t even know these people, so kill them with my approval!” 😀

After this little experience with the Wizards, I can say that its flaws are:

  • Gesture detection not optimal: sometimes gestures don’t get recognized and this during a fight is terrible
  • Gestures have a learning curve: you can’t start this game and think to master them in minutes
  • Some gestures are bad designed: I mean, the gesture the evocate the bow made collide my Touch controllers a thousand times!
  • There’s no option to switch hands: the game seems suited for right-handed people only
  • It is not optimal for Oculus frontal setup
  • Sometimes UI elements stay in a place where they occlude your visuals (whaat? They were supposed to help me!)

    the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
    UI of the game: it shows score and health points. Sometimes remembers you what you have to do
  • It’s tiresome: after one hour of play I was really tired of moving my arms (I think that I can skip gym this week)
  • Teleporting is not the ideal locomotion mechanic for this game and sometimes doesn’t work well (but developers are already working on this)
  • Difficulty in some battles have to be calibrated better: the diamond scene was like the third duel of the game and was really hard for me
  • Some automatic save checkpoints during missions would be better: restarting each mission from scratch is really boring (especially the first one is terrible to be done again and again)

While its strengths are:

  • Casting spells is really cool: fireballs are so damn epic and the lightning is the gatling gun of spells!!

    the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
    Fireballs, I love fireballs!
  • Have I already said that spells are cool? Really, they’re epic!
  • I liked the graphical quality of the game… to be an indie game it is very well crafted
  • Initial tutorial is very well made, it really shows you how to do the gestures with your hands. And the voice of the wizards plus some visual cues guide you during all the game
  • The house with the level select and the spells upgrade station are very well crafted and have a natural interface. For instance, to select the level to play, you take an object from the map and you put it into a special hole (I’ve just realized that this sentence can have a dirty meaning, but maybe it is just because of my wicked mind). Very appreciated it.

    the wizard spellcasting game virtual reality review
    The interface to select the level to play. You grab one of those disks and put them in a hole and then you start playing. Cool!
  • The game is very variated and offers a campaign and arcade mode. In campaign mode, there are missions of different kinds (some are more like an adventure game, others are more like a wave shooter game). It also has Fate Cards, gameplay modifiers that can change game difficulty and rules to the player’s liking!

My final opinion is that this is a really good game. Some things have to be refined, but let’s not forget that it is an Early Access title, so developers will surely fix them before the official release. I found it frustrating in some moments, but I really enjoyed the possibility to cast spells against trolls and make epic battles with them. And VR makes it super awesome thanks to hands interaction and immersion that make the game more realistic. If you’re interested in it, you can find for $19.999999 on SteamVR! My advice is to give it a try…

(Header image by Carbon Studio)

 

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…