Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Rogue Wizards

Rogue Wizards.
Developer: Spellbind Studios

Rogue Wizards is a Rogue-lite, what that means is that you have a procedural generated dungeon with random loot, enemies, and other elements. Depending on which mode you choose, the Rogue standard of Perma-death is present, where if you fall in combat once, it's start over from go. There is turn based combat on a grid and a small amount of tactical decisions to be made based off elemental magic. Despite all of those features I wanna be up front and honest, the game to me feels more like a Roguelite-lite. I know that sounds silly and makes no sense but it would if you played the game. It hits most marks to be considered a Roguelike but I found there to be something missing. I enjoyed the game don't get me wrong, I beat it even which is something I wouldn't do if I didn't enjoy it. Despite that either due to difficulty or perhaps design choices, Rogue Wizards is missing a certain je ne sais quoi.

Moving on to the aforementioned games modes. The first is story mode where you have a decent little narrative about a suppressed people being told they could never use magic, suddenly discovering in fact they can and that the powers that be, are corrupt. The second is a Gauntlet mode where you don't have any of the story bits and its just pure dungeon-go-go. Each has a hard mode to unlock once beaten that features Perma-death. The difference between the two modes is minimal, so much so that I would say if you have zero interest in the story, then Gauntlet felt like a hollow experience. I preferred the story mode as it gives you a break between the dungeons and lets you sort yourself out far as loot and upgrading the city of Antarit.

Antarit is where the story progresses, and you begin to collect your army to fight the evil wizards. Additionally you begin to unlock buildings in Antarit that allow you to purchase supplies, armor, weapons, enchantments, pets and other nifty things. Its very crucial because, without that break, non-stop dungeoning might of driven me mad. Certain stores/locations in Antarit can be upgraded by collecting gold from your sold loot or fallen foes. The UI/Interactions are just like the rest of the game its all based off your mouse. Nothing too complicated. Take out Antarit and you've got Gauntlet mode, that's basically it.

So you make your little wizard, name him, no customization sadly, and then you're off!
You kill stuff, collect shiny loot and level. When you level, you upgrade three stats of your choosing. I mention this solely based off the fact its just there, because this was never a factor at any point in my playthrough. I just kept all my stats around the same number and I was fine. Aside from stats you can upgrade your spell tree which consists of six elements, life, cosmic, fire, ice, earth, lightning. Each has an opposing and damaging element to each other. This never affects you the player but it mostly effects the monsters you face. Each spell element has three spells attached to it in your spellbook.

There are six equipment slots not including weapon slots. Equipment can range from common all the way to Epic with varying degrees of enchantment and abilities. The UI is fairly simple and minimalistic, the reason being, the game is also ported to the mobile market. So while neatly designed, you can clearly see where the mobile factor kicks in.

Getting into the nitty gritty of things you are tasked with bringing balance to the elements by unlocking their perspective realms. You do this by leveling up in randomly generated dungeons. Obviously Rogue Wizards is a game that has high replay ability and little shout outs are thrown in there like, "The Darkest-est Dungeon" It's things like this that do give the game charm. I would've loved more of these little Easter eggs in between randomized dungeons.

Upon reaching a certain level, an elemental plane is unlocked and you go fight an evil wizard, get some story bits/loot and repeat until the end of the game. This formula is sadly never deviated from all the way to the end of the game. The final battle is a bit more epic but essentially plays out like all the other wizard battles.

The art style is one that I personally found enjoyable but it does have issues. Despite the cute characters, pets, and spell animations all looking fantastic. the dungeons themselves are going to be a hit and miss. Dungeons have either an illustrated background or are just pure black. Floors rise in or drop out while your characters view distance shifts. The view distance being the primary problem as your character can see up to about five blocks away, which isn't very far. This can become disorienting and even strange looking sometimes as you move about dungeons quickly. Enemy variants are a bit lacking as well. After about the first four to six dungeons you probably have seen most enemy types. No palette swapping and bosses are just giant versions of their normal counter parts.

Combat is by far the most appealing aspect in the game to me. It's actually quite fun to wade into a group of enemies and use a bunch of different weapons to slaughter them all. Chakrams are very OP and Axes can win the game for you. Combat is turned based and most monsters have a myriad of different strategies and abilities so that battles don't become dull.

Sadly, things do become easy, too easy. Bosses are laughable in most cases and I only died if I wasn't paying attention to my health bar. Which would happen on occasion, because I forgot I had health. Movement in combat itself can be brutally slow as you and the enemy move in one space, one turn, sometimes you are granted more depending on enchantments and which enemy you face.  Keep in mind this is purely difficulty based on story mode and not hard mode which could be different. It is still worth mentioning, as it took me sixteen hours to unlock hard mode.

One gripe I do have is the way in which you equip weaponry. You have a quick bar on the bottom of your screen that works as a place to put weapons, spells, and potions. The eight slots are more then enough for you to have whatever you need but the problem lies in the way spells are used in the game. Most attack spells are treated like weapons instead of spells. This wouldn't be a problem if switching weapons in combat didn't cost you a whole round. It felt very counter intuitive going from my Axe/Shield combo to glowing red fireball fist/shield. There are spells that activate instantly without the need to switch. This lead me to just use those spells predominantly and only use attack spells on elemental bosses. This silliness is also heightened by the fact spells cost reagents and have a limited number of use as you are only allowed to carry a hundred of each reagent. It just felt like using magic was more punishing and very situation based, instead of being cool and fun to use.

It should be noted that while I do have some gripes with the game it mostly comes from a place of love. I had a great time playing this game, I just wished there were less kinks in the armor.

Speaking of armor, armor enchantments are random to the point of being silly. When you hit level fifty and find an epic ring, you expect it to have far better enchantments than a ring you found at level ten right? That isn't the case here, as enchantments seemingly don't scale with your level. The example I gave was a real thing, I had a ring with plus ten for two of the stats and seven for the last. I never found anything better even when I found higher quality rings. This occurred several times for all the equipment pieces during my time with the game.

The game does however scale with your level. Monsters are always your exact level so the challenge never changes. The only time it does, is when you meet "Strong" version of monsters that have more health and hit harder. Another rare exception to this is when you run into an Elite that is almost like a boss but not quite. These moments were again, very rare. It creates an environment where combat at the beginning feels like the combat you experience at the end of the game. It's not a bad thing but just missed that epic feeling and gravitas. Like I said Rogue Wizard has all the right ideas and framework, it just is missing something.

If I had to paraphrase the game it would be, "Addicting but mindless." 

As to the minor things I may not have mentioned, the game does have Steam achievements/no cards(yet?) There are rebindable keys, not much in the way of changing graphics, although I did just notice now as of writing, this you can change the way your sight affects things. It can fall/rise, shrink/grow, fade in/out. While I can't be sure if that was added recently or not it doesn't really change much.

Sound wise the game is par, the music has a jaunty RPG tone to it and never grated on my ears. The sound effects could've been a bit more sharp as certain spells just lack that hard hitting sound to back up the cool visuals.

Good news is that there is a huge feedback button, developer Spellbind Studios is constantly updating the game and seems active on their forums. With just a couple of content patches all the issues mentioned are easily fixed.

So if you are looking for a Roguelite-lite that will eat up possibly thirty hours of your life, then take a look at Rogue Wizard and see if ya like it. I know I did.

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