Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Magi Review

Magi, developed and published by Thomas Grochowiak.
The Good: Good strategic gameplay, short and intense battles, no severe penalty for losing, high replay value from character creation liberties
The Not So Good: New spells unlock slowly, no multiplayer, user interface needs work
What say you? An enjoyable strategic role-playing game: 6/8

The large number of fantasy role-playing games available on the PC seems to indicate that a lot of people dream of being wizards, elves, and other magically inclined beings. Since this is something you can’t replicate in real life (at least not yet), computer games have filled the void left by the distinct lack of magic schools. Magi falls into the strategic category of role-playing games, exchanging the action of Diablo and exploration of Oblivion with tactical magical combat. Will this title bridge the gap between the two genres?

For an independently developed game, Magi has some decent graphics. The game isn’t the most exciting title to look at: the game is rendered entirely in 2-D and the action takes place on a static grid. You won’t be exploring new lands and discovering untold riches, just fighting in the same arena over and over again. The character models are also very basic and small. But, Magi does have some nice spell effects, and the game makes it easy to determine which class of spell your opponent is casting. Really, the presentation is similar to a lot of wargames I have played: sparse on the detail, but more focus on the gameplay. This is fine as long as you’re not expecting a visual feast while playing Magi. The sound is much better: the background music fits the theme very well and doesn’t become annoying or terribly repetitive, and each spell is accompanied with appropriate sound effects. In this sense, Magi delivers a believable gaming environment, but the graphics do not impress.

Magi is a single player game where you’ll guide a magic person on their journey towards immortality by defeating a lot of other magic people along the way. It’s too bad that there is no multiplayer component of Magi, because this game would be awesome over the Internet. The game style fits multiplayer very well, and I’m surprised that this option isn’t available. Luckily, the AI does a competent job, but nothing matches the visceral thrill of beating real human beings and drinking their blood in celebration. Figuratively, of course. The first thing you’ll do in Magi is create a character; this goes a long way in determining the strategies you’ll employ during gameplay. Points can be assigned in five attributes: force (for better destructive and protective spells, and more damage), incantation (faster spell casting), resistance (better defense), communion (better curses and summoned creatures), and intellect (more experience gained from battles). Right out of the box, there are a bunch of important decisions that must be made. Are you going to make a well-rounded individual, or specialize in a specific area? Once you assign your points, you are able to “unlock” some spells in each class: destructive (offensive), protective (defensive), summoning (creatures), and cursing (usually a penalty against the opponent). Obviously, you’d want to focus your spells on your strong areas, but the freedom granted to the player in Magi is very nice. Finally, you get to choose a class: this grants a bonus into one of the attributes and gives you three unique one-use spells to employ during battle.

The battles themselves, although repetitive, are pretty fun, especially when you have a bunch of spells unlocked and you can use more diverse strategies. The first thing you’ll do in a battle is summon points in each class; this unlocks better spells and make spells more effective. Playing the game is easy: you click on the spell you want to use, and that’s it. However, casting and switching spells should be a lot more streamlined. Sometimes, queuing up another spell will switch to it once the current spell is done, but sometimes it won’t (common after defensive spells). This gets annoying during the heat of battle when timing is important. Your only strategic decision to make during a battle involves which spells to cast, so in the beginning, when you only have a handful of spells unlocked, things can get monotonous. However, once you level up (through experience) and unlock more spells, battles can get very chaotic and fun. Unfortunately, it takes quite a long time to unlock new spells (or, at least, longer than I want), and your opponents will generally have unlocked the same spells, so there isn’t the great variety you’d like to see. The single player campaign takes a while to complete (upwards of 70 battles); this may be good or bad depending on how long you like to play the same character, as you can only have one game going on at a time. Still, battles in Magi can be very fun, as the AI opponents are good and the options available to you and the split-second decisions that must be made are varied. During combat, you can’t see the stats of your opponent, but you can see the spell they are about to cast and which classes they enabled to get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Landing a couple of good spells in a row is a common occurrence in Magi and makes the game quite fun. As I stated earlier, Magi would be a great multiplayer game, and the lack of any Internet or LAN play is a bit curious. Still, most people who like strategy or role-playing games will have some fun with this title.

Magi is a good strategy game surrounded by role-playing elements. The character creation options are powerful, and they can drastically alter your approach to the game. The strategic gameplay is solid, and once you unlock some of the more advanced spells, Magi becomes great: trying to outwit your opponent and take advantage of their shortcomings is what strategy gaming is all about. I do wish that Magi had multiplayer: even though the AI is very capable, matching wits with human opponents is always more desirable. Even though the graphics are outdated, the quality sound and entertaining gameplay more than make up for this shortcoming. Although the game can get repetitive, the battles are short enough where you won’t grow tired of Magi, especially once you start unlocking more varied spells. Magi is a fairly unique combination of role-playing and strategy and it’s recommended for fans of either genre.