Magic is a complicated system. Sure, a fireball is fairly straightforward, but what about the modifiers? Do you want it to curve in flight? Cast several at once? Lower the casting time for a rapid-fire blast of magical incineration? And if you want multiple effects at once, how do they stack? There are a lot of variables to take into account, both in terms of effects and the results on the final outcome depending on the order of execution of commands, and that’s just for one spell. Mages of Mystralia may primarily be an adventure/RPG starring a young woman on a quest to master her untrained arcane skills, but it’s also a game about programming spells in a visual editing interface. Which, by the way, is pretty awesome to play with.
Zia is a young mage who’s just woken up to her magical abilities, with the unfortunate side-effect that it got her exiled from home. With her plans for the next several years shot by her new talents she comes up with a new plan, which is to learn and strengthen her abilities from other mages hiding throughout the lands. It’s your basic setup for adventure, but with the story being written by Ed Greenwood, creator of Forgotten Realms, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to think it might grow beyond the basic “journey of discovery” starting point.
The game itself is a Zelda-ish adventure in a vibrant world filled with magic, monsters, traps and puzzles, and a hefty number of runes to enhance Zia’s magic abilities. She starts off with a few basic spells useful for picking off monsters and solving puzzles, but as she finds more and more runes the spells change in significant ways. The spell-creation UI is still a work in progress but even with placeholder fonts and the most basic sorting tools it’s obvious that creating magic is going to be where you’ll be spending a huge chunk of time. It’s not that the world and its characters are secondary considerations, but rather that doing mad scientist experiments with magic is too much fun to resist.
The spell creation tool is a hexagonal grid a radius of two lengths from the center, with the main component sitting in the middle of the grid and runes able to be placed on any junction. The center spell has six arrows at its points and the effect runes have anywhere between one to five arrows radiating from their corners. In order for the rune to work on the primary spell or any subsequent effects the arrows need to be aimed at each other, causing a link between the two components. Creating a spell becomes not just a matter of plopping down runes but also puzzling out the best way to chain them together, and that includes plotting multiple paths between effects for the strongest reaction.
Take the fire orb, for example. Casting it alone means it just sits there, which is great if an enemy walks into it and handy for lighting a torch if it’s within arm’s reach, but not much good otherwise. The Move rune is highly versatile, having five arrows on the six points of its hexagon (one point is left blank) so it can be placed on the grid just about anywhere. Now when you cast the fire orb it’s going to fly forward, but you can also add a curve, either clockwise or counterclockwise, right after the Move rune to make a nice arc in its path. Toss in a divider and all of a sudden you’ve got three fireballs coming off of one spell that circle around to create a wide area of potential destruction, and even moreso if they’re set up to explode on impact.
The demo I got to play was generous with its runes and unlimited magic power, and I got to create some ridiculously overpowered spells and fire them off with no concern for how much mana I was draining per shot. The actual game, however, will see runes given out at a respectable pace and with the super-powerful spells having appropriate magic costs. Tinkering with magic allows you not just to find the most convenient way to tear through the monstrous horde but also solve the puzzles and side-quests on the journey, which are given out by villagers who don’t hit you on the head with their needs but rather mention what they want as part of conversation. Usually no more subtly than “I left/lost/want my/that (Thing) in that (Place)”, but at least they aren’t glowing or treated as a distracting collectible, so that works out nicely.
While Mages of Mystralia was undeniably early it was also a very pretty Zelda-like with a likeable heroine and a magic system that’s a giant programming toy of cause and effect. The world is rendered in a fantastic art style that’s intentionally reminiscent of Wind Waker and exploring its paths and secret areas is very easy on the eyes. Mages of Mystralia promises a quest filled with monsters, puzzles, traps, quests and plenty of magic to deal with all of it, in an adventure that promises to be as lively as its magic system is deep.