Over the past week, I have worked to cover the best games that were shown off at PAX South 2017. From action, adventure, to strange experiments, this was the best show floor that the San Antonio based convention had to offer in its three years of existence. Borealys Games’ Mages of Mystralia is the one assignment I saved for last, because it is my personal game of the show. This is really saying something considering the stiff competition it received from the likes of artistic elegance of Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom and the creative, high budget chops powering What Remains of Edith Finch.
The story of Mages of Mystralia is kind of a melding of Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons, which makes sense; it’s being penned by Ed Greenwood, creator of Forgotten Realms. Players take control of a young Zia, who is just learning that she has magical powers. As any sane person would do upon learning that they have the ability to control the elements, she embarks on a journey to find other mages in hopes of learning more spells and abilities. This leads the player on a lengthy action/RPG quest filled with Zelda styled puzzles and hulking beasts that don’t quite appreciate this little one encroaching on her territory.
What really makes this game stand out is found in the rune and spell crafting system. Using a spell book, the player can pretty much go nuts with a plethora of combinations to create different effects based on how the runes are stacked together. Take a basic fireball, for example. One push of the button equals one fireball. Add a splitting rune to it, and it now fires off three spheres of flame. Another rune could imbue those spheres with homing abilities. Keep in mind, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the flexibility of the system. Different spells can even be linked together, so, with ample use of the slottable (and reusable) runes, Zia can dash forward to dodge, leaving behind a decoy that spins around, filling the room with offensive spells. I even mentioned to the attendant that it seemed like the developers were encouraging their players to find a way to break the difficulty curve with creative use of this system. I was assured that the game is undergoing rigorous testing to ensure that this doesn’t happen. To me, that statement seems to just encourage people to try harder.
The best systems in the world don’t mean anything if they aren’t in a game worth playing. Fortunately, the game itself is well put together. My demo took me through a mountain area brimming with nooks and crannies to explore and monsters to defeat. Along the way there were an array of elegant puzzles that used plenty of well worn tropes, like switches, and turn them on their head using the spell system, keeping the proceedings immediately understandable while being wholly unique. The basic enemies were great fun to defeat using Zia’s spells, though I came to rely heavily on a melee attack that was imbued with explosive power after I found that rune, not because it was overly effective, but due to the fact that the feedback of the spell was so satisfying. Indeed, the entire experience was impeccably designed, so much so that I scoured as much of the landscape as I could to wring every side area and hidden puzzle out of the demo as I was able to find. This is a luxury I typically do not afford myself at a convention like this, as I often need to keep an eye on the next game to demo.
The demo culminated with a boss battle against a large lizard at the top of the mountain. This fight was obviously early in the game, as it had immediately recognizable patterns of attack to counter and avoid, which was fine my me. It was so well animated that I appreciated the latitude to take in the little animation touches that the creature had. After dodging and attacking over three progressively difficult patterns, the boss was felled and the demo ended, to my sadness.
Other articles about Mages of Mystralia tend to mention its uniqueness. That is absolutely true in regards to its spell system, but what really puts this game on the path to greatness lies in taking that original hook and tying it to finely-polished mechanics that veteran game players already know. If Borealys went too off the rails, this upcoming game would have been impenetrable. Instead, they are looking to give players an entirely new way to solve established, easily recognizable puzzles. Combining this with addictive isometric action/RPG combat and an eye appealing visual style makes this game not only the best of the show, but one of the best upcoming titles on the horizon.