Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements – A charming homage to 90s classics – Review

Gare – Wednesday, January 30, 2019 11:30 AM
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If you were big into adventure games in the early-to-mid-90s, chances are you’ve come across the Quest for Glory series, a franchise spanning five games that deviated a little bit from the established formula of its peers by blending traditional point & click elements with features you’d normally find in an RPG. You’d explore your surroundings, click on things and converse with people like you would in a point & click title, but at the same time, you’d do battle with monsters, level up, collect loot or buy items and such at nearby shops. That’s essentially the formula Himalaya Studios is bringing back with Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements, a game unmistakably designed to be a love letter to the QFG series and the RPG/adventure game hybrid it represented in the early 1990s, created by a team that very much understands what makes this genre tick.

Quest for Wizardry

Mage’s Initiation begins with fledgling initiate D’arc being assigned a series of three tasks, the completion of which would finalize his training and award him with the title of Mage. You also get to pick your desired element from the expected selection of fire, water, earth and wind, which is more or less this game’s version of the “choose your class” screen from QFG, as each element will grant you different spells that aren’t just used in combat, but need to be relied on to solve some of the game’s puzzles as well. I opted to become a Water Mage myself, so more often than not, my puzzle solutions revolved around freezing and drenching things, but had I chosen the path of fire, earth or wind, I would’ve had a considerably different arsenal to work with. Overall, I have to say I was quite happy with the puzzles on offer in Mage’s Initiation. For me, they more or less managed to hit a sweet spot where they were neither too difficult or nonsensical, nor so easy that it would feel like the game was actively guiding me along a linear path. Mage’s Initiation is not gruelingly difficult and I doubt point & click veterans will find themselves stuck too often, but the game does not offer up its solutions on a silver platter, either; D’arc does occasionally drop a hint or two to guide you in the right direction, but the fact remains that exploring the game’s many locations, inspecting everything and occasionally asking NPCs for tips is very much your key to progress. I will readily admit that I did occasionally get stumped here and there, but ended up greatly enjoying each and every “a-ha” moment whenever the solution finally clicked in my head and I realized what I was supposed to be doing. The puzzles and tasks laid out before D’arc are fairly rich in variety: some require you to find and combine the right items, others necessitate a creative use of spells, and there are even a few that simply rely on you paying close attention to your surroundings and to what the NPCs you encounter say. Similarly, the overarching storyline, while certainly not lacking in fantasy clichés, throws D’arc into a number of varied situations that make the overall journey feel like a legitimate adventure, with all its ups and downs and twists and turns: from invisible castles through griffin nests to a village of hostile, demon-worshipping goblins, there’s plenty to see and interact with. The various side characters you encounter along the way are a colorful enough bunch as well, although the overall presentation is slightly marred by the protagonist’s voice acting feeling somewhat jarring at times, and the overly cartoony (and in my opinion, entirely unnecessary) animated cutscenes also clash heavily with the otherwise pleasantly nostalgic visual style of the rest of the game.

Play your role

Being a game in the vein of Quest for Glory, Mage’s Initiation comes with its share of RPG-esque elements as well. Right off the bat, protagonist D’arc has four different attributes he can develop: Strength (spell damage), Magic (maximum mana) Intelligence (accuracy, spell duration), and Constitution (maximum HP). If you’ve played an RPG before, you already know the drill: you level up to gain attribute points, which you then distribute between the above-mentioned four attributes as you see fit. Personally, a relatively balanced build worked out for me throughout the course of the adventure; nonetheless, if I were to give first-timers one piece of advice, it would be to invest their first few points into Intelligence, as D’arc’s base accuracy with his magical projectiles is, let’s be frank, quite abysmal without at least a bit of training in said attribute. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can actually undertake simple side quests for the local town’s various NPCs in case you’re ever in need of a bit of extra coin. Generally speaking, money is tight in the beginning, but once you actually start completing errands for the townsfolk and sell a few pieces of valuable loot, it ceases to become much of a problem – provided, of course, that you’re not too reckless with your spending. With that said, the most important things you’ll ever need to buy are probably your basic health and mana potions, so make sure you always have a bit of money left over for those. The QFG influences continue with the inclusion of various “dungeons”, that is, combat-focused areas made up of several connected screens and occasional points of interest. Let’s just say that exploring the seemingly labyrinthine forests of Mage’s Initiation definitely brought back “fond” memories of getting lost in the Mordavian wilderness of Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness, so don’t make my mistake, folks: get a pen and some paper and draw yourselves a map.

Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the ElementsPlatform: PCGenre: Action-adventure, RPGDeveloper: Himalaya StudiosPublisher: Himalaya StudiosRelease: 01/30/2019Mage’s Initiation comes with a handful of RPG-like moral choices as well: one notable example I can recall was the decision to either imprison or set free a potentially dangerous individual. After trying both options out of curiosity – and hoping it would affect the ending in a significant manner – I sadly saw no immediate consequences of my actions other than one of the higher-ranking mages making a brief comment about it during the epilogue. Seeing how the game, upon completion, immediately offers to create an export file to be used in later installments, I can only assume that whatever lasting impact your choices may have will be revealed in a potential sequel that might get made in the future.

Swish and flick

Where I also need to detract some points from an otherwise competently designed game is the combat system. The way it works is fairly straightforward: whenever you’re exploring an area deemed dangerous, there’s a chance you’ll run into a random group of enemies. You select your desired spell with the number keys, then aim and shoot with the mouse cursor as you move around the field, trying to avoid your attacker. The problem is that while this all sounds fine on paper, actually controlling D’arc during a battle sequence will often feel slightly clunky at best and outright frustrating at worst: his movements feel dreadfully sluggish and awkward, the controls aren’t particularly responsive, and if you’re not careful, your enemies are likely to stunlock you, sending D’arc to an early grave. You can, of course, run away from your opponents – even off-screen, if you’re desperate to shake them – and your spell arsenal does contain some defensive options, yet more often than not, a combat encounter sadly turns into a struggle not just against the vile goblins, skeletons and other such nasties, but the game’s cumbersome controls as well. Thankfully, other than a handful of obligatory boss fights, Mage’s Initiation doesn’t force its combat on you too much: fleeing, as mentioned before, is always an option (though keep in mind that enemies can and will follow you across screens for a while), and since gaining XP is tied to solving puzzles/advancing the plot and not to defeating monsters, you’ll never have to actively grind. You might still want to slay the occasional monster for a bit of sellable loot, though, but it’s not mandatory.

Final words

In the end, Mage’s Initiation manages to decently recapture the spirit of classic point & click adventures, although in its determination to be as accurate to its forefathers as possible, the game also brings along with it a decent bit of baggage, primarily in the form of a clumsy and occasionally exasperating combat system. But that alone isn’t enough of a detractor from its inherent charm and the fact that it genuinely feels like a game you would have found on store shelves in the early 90s. If you’ve already played all the classics and need something roughly in the same vein, Mage’s Initiation should more or less fill that Quest for Glory-shaped hole in your heart.

Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements is available on Steam, GOG, and the Humble Store.

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