Companies like Blizzard have set the mark when it comes to real time strategy games with their WarCraft and StarCraft series, so it's no surprise that one might think Mage Craft is along those lines. However, as much to my surprise as to anybody's, Mage Craft is more of a traditional RPG with some real-time elements thrown in. And -- what can I say? The formula worked; the game has achieved its own internet fame.
That isn't to say the game is flawless, however. It's one of DarthLupi's earlier games, so it has its fair share of minor glitches and -- most annoying of all -- diagonal walking buildup (more on that later). The pacing of the game is really out of whack too, as it starts out excruciatingly slow and builds up into a fast-paced race to the finish.
You play as an unnamed mage; a magically-gifted orphan that was taken in for training after his parents were killed in a war. He is in love with a female mage two levels higher than he, but the love is cut short when the object of his affection graduates and is set an assignment. She doesn't return when she's supposed to, so the mage sneaks out of school before graduating to find her. Your mage finds a cave to stay in, and that's where your game starts.
For such a supposedly powerful mage, however, he certainly doesn't seem to have very many spells. In fact, he only has one spell: Magic Missile. Clearly you're not required to go through the whole game with one spell though; there are ingredients to pick up during your quest that you can combine to make more spells. To find out how to combine them, you need to find telling stones, of which there are plenty. Although you start with only one spell, there are many spells to discover throughout the game, each of them useful in some way.
Spells aren't the only thing a mage has, however. There are also other statistics like power, mana regeneration, health, speed, and so on. All these traits can be improved with essences dropped by defeated enemies -- so if you kill an enemy and then get killed yourself without picking up its essence, your sacrifice is for nothing. (Exemplified by the fact that enemies respawn when you die.) This game mechanic has worked in commercial games before, and it works here.
It quickly becomes apparent that the war was no joke -- there are forts to break down, alliances to be forged, and undead corpses rising from the earth left, right, and centre. The inconsistency stems from the realism of the game: enemies do not get noticeably harder as the game progresses. In real life, this would make perfect sense, but in a video game, less so. The game starts out ridiculously difficult and gets easier as you go on, to the point where you can basically just breeze through every level past the first few. You won't mind, though, as you'll have played the first few levels over fifty times by that point. It seriously takes that long to accumulate your power to a point where you can take a step without dying. The difficulty curve in this game nearly ruins it, which is a shame considering how great it is once you get into it.
And boy, is it ever great once you get into it. I couldn't stop playing for the longest time because I was enthralled in the sense of exploration and discovery. Every level brings a new atmosphere, new enemies, new spells, and a whole new point in the plot; whether you are raiding an enemy's fortress, crossing a haunted graveyard, or helping an ally win a battle, every level is amazingly well put together. There were a few points where the number of enemies onscreen became a bit ludicrous, but there was no lag and these times were few and far between. In fact, the only glitch that effected gameplay at all was the diagonal walking buildup, which is a common problem in indie games. This is when your character moves more quickly diagonally than any other direction because the game is combining the speeds of vertical and horizontal movement. As long as you walk diagonally most of the time, like I did, you won't even notice.
The graphical style of the game is a kind of minimalistic realism, which suits it really well. The snow and ice in the first few levels were a bit hard on the eyes, but overall the look fit the game. The perspective didn't make much sense, though, since the viewpoint was slanted slightly, but the mage you control and the enemies you fight were straight overhead. It wasn't distracting in the least, so no harm done.
The music, while along the right lines, isn't very good. DarthLupi was clearly trying to create an atmosphere with these very ambient-style beats, but none of them looped and many got annoying after a few minutes. Music is pretty easy to tune out, and what's there is better than nothing, but it was definitely a detraction from the quality of the game. The sound effects were all great, though; I barely even noticed them because they sounded so natural.
Mage Craft is truly an epic adventure. It has its low points here and there, but the sheer effort put into the game, especially from a creator that, at the point, was completely unknown, is admirable. When you take into consideration how large this game is, the faults seem negligable, but from the viewpoint of somebody just thinking about trying it out, it has some fatal flaws. The difficulty curve, especially, has probably already scared off a lot of people that would have enjoyed the game otherwise. Although I'd love to give this game a ten, I'm forced to admit that the game is not for the impatient. If you can't stand to play the same few levels over and over to get to the beef of the game, then don't even bother trying this game out. But, if you think you can stand to wait it out, you're in for one of the most addictive and fun indie gaming periods of your life.