The Wizards Enhanced Edition Review

Who doesn’t want to be a wizard? Show me one person who thinks calling forth spells from the ethereal plane is silly and I’ll show you a liar. From Morgan le Fay and Merlin to Harry Dresden and Doctor Stephen Strange, these masters of the magical arts do cool stuff we can only dream of, like shoot lightning from fingertips or, in the case of Gandalf the Grey, disappear whenever its narratively convenient. Wizards are commonplace in games and it’s a high time that we get to play one in virtual reality. The Wizards: Enhanced Edition (enhanced from its earlier PC version) uses the PSVR headset and Move wands to turn you into a living, breathing Sorcerer Supreme in no time. The Wizards is a really neat idea that makes novel use of the PSVR hardware but it’s hamstrung by unreliable controls and an overall sense of hamminess mostly exhibited by second-rate fun houses.

I’ll get right to the coolest thing about The Wizards: the gesture-based magic spells. The land of Meliora is dangerous and full of monsters and imposing boss creatures that can only be brought down by the gesticulating hands of goodly wizards. As a fan of the Doctor Strange Marvel film, this mechanic really sat well with me. The game starts you off with three meager but useful abilities: a fireball, a shield to deflect projectiles, and an ice-based bow and arrow that lets you attack targets across great distances. Summoning these abilities involves holding down the Move triggers while moving your hands in specific swiping patterns. Throwing fireballs and deflecting projectiles with a magical energy shield is cool, but I really loved the complexity of late game spellcasting. Pulling my fists back and then forward to unleash a torrent of lightning bolts like Emperor Palpatine and turning my hands in a clockwise/counterclockwise fashion to fire off arcane missiles never gets old. All spells can be upgraded with passive bonuses by spending gemstones earned after reaching pre-determined score thresholds in each stage, thereby increasing shield durability, create chain lightning that attacks nearby enemies, set monsters on fire, and even leave behind an area of effect.

The practice of using the Move wands to create and throw spells functions well enough. That is, when it works. As I battled by way across three levels and the stages contained within, it seemed to me that the technology works perfectly fine because most of the encounters are limited to a few manageable monsters separated by generous downtime. Later stages barely give you a moment to breath during fairly intense arena battles that require crowd control. It was during the latter two-thirds of the game that I experienced odd tracking behaviors, the most prevalent being range attacks flying off in wild, unintended directions. For every offensive spell, an animated gyroscope pops up and acts more or less like a targeting reticule that moves as you move your head around, showing you the general direction the attack will hit. I say “general” because more than half the time, I’d watch the fireball land several feet to the right, left, top and bottom of where I was aiming at. There’d also be instances where the attack will veer completely off target, veering almost immediately to the left. This is a real, significant problem in the late game as you must battle goblins, orcs, and sandworms coming at you from all directions. On top of that, creepy demons float menacingly toward you and can only be destroyed with magical javelins that can only be acquired by interacting with magical columns peppered throughout the battleground. But please, don’t get me started on those. The javelins encapsulated all of my frustrations with the controls because they constantly failed to launch from my hands despite making the seemingly correct gestures, allowing the demons to make contact and get a free, unfair hit. It makes me annoyed and angry just thinking about it again. Ugh!

As an up-and-coming wizard, your adventures and experiences in Meliora are done in service towards helping Aurelius, a master wizard who accidentally trapped himself in a different dimension. Together, you’ll track down and subdue an evil warlock, halting plans to take over the world. The stages are diverse, taking you to a ruined castle, an abandoned mine, and a hidden sanctuary in the desert where those creepy demons dwell. Locations make pretty good first impressions, the castle and the desert temple are certainly evocative, but the more I explored, I found them to be lacking. The stages themselves are relatively lifeless and empty. Beyond hunting down crystals to boost health, there’s no real incentive to explore levels because there’s nothing to see. Many of the combat encounters play out the same way as you enter large arenas, fight a steady stream of the same orcs, goblins, and trolls until they stop respawning, then move deeper into the level to do it again. Some levels introduce obstacles to these battles, like fireball spewing statues and fire traps, which breaks up the monotony well enough.  I would have like more of those, to be honest. The boss fights are probably the best moments in the game because they are more involved and make better use of their environments than any level before it.

The Wizards offers an adventure set against a barely there story and empowers the player with a cool gameplay mechanic that can be more trouble than it’s worth. Depending on the difficulty setting, it could easily take a day or two to finish the game, with systems built in to encourage replay, like unlockable cards that affect certain game behaviors (such as making enemies stronger and faster) and an online arena to duel friends. Given how frequently my spells would miss their mark, I didn’t feel confident enough to engage other players. Neither of these made me feel I had to go back and play through the game again. The Wizards sounds awesome on paper and is a great idea but the unpredictable controls were more distracting and frustrating than I liked.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.