When we first reviewed The Mage’s Tale back on Oculus Rift in the summer of 2017, the VR landscape was very different. Skyrim VR was still months away on PSVR and even further on PC, we didn’t have Fallout 4 VR yet, and many of the biggest VR games you know of now weren’t around then. Now, a year and a half later, the competition is much more fierce but The Mage’s Tale is still one of the very best VR RPGs you can find on any platform and the PSVR port does not disappoint — but be warned that it does require two PS Move controllers to play.
Not only is The Mage’s Tale created by one of the original luminaries of the first-person dungeon crawler genre, Brian Fargo’s inXile Entertainment, but it actually takes place in the same universe as The Bard’s Tale too, right between the third and (recently released) fourth installment.
One great advantage that the PSVR version of The Mage’s Tale has over its PC counterpart is that at launch The Mage’s Tale on PC didn’t have smooth locomotion at all — it was all incremental stutter steps and snap turning. This version also includes the Arena mode, improved load times, and other features not included when it first hit Rift a year and a half ago. But now at launch on PSVR you have smooth locomotion as an option, although it starts out with stutter steps from the start. To switch just hold down options once the intro is done on one of your PS Move controllers, grab and drink the Options potion, then turn on Free Movement and Free Turning.
What you’ll notice is that even though it’s called “Free Movement” it’s really just a more fluid version of the stutter stepping. In a game like Skyrim VR or Borderlands 2 VR when you point the left PS Move controller and press the Move button you move in that direction. That’s the same here, but you still move in basically square segments just like the old school games. But now if you hold it down, it feels like full free locomotion. It’s a good system that works well despite the sorely lacking analog stick that still plagues the PS Move controllers to this day.
Movement is a big part of the game as you’ll have to explore ten different dungeons that each take about an hour or more each (making the game last approximately 10+ hours depending on how thorough you are and how much time you spend backtracking or experimenting with spellcrafting.) Plus there’s an Arena mode you unlock after a few hours. In that exploring you’ll do some basic puzzle solving and a bit of trap avoiding, but combat is definitely the main focus of it all. Personally, I’d have liked a few more puzzles spaced out in it all to mix things up more consistently but the general balance is better than most games like this.
Honestly the biggest difference between The Mage’s Tale on PSVR and PC, other than comparing PS Move vs. Oculus Touch or the Vive wands, just comes down to the visuals. Playing on a regular PS4 there are some jagged lines when you get up close to characters or textures but overall it looks very slick. The high-fantasy meets dark, decrepit dungeon style is very fitting and doesn’t feel downgraded here overall. A PS4 Pro patch for extra optimization and enhancements is expected to release post-launch.
Being a mage, combat is mostly of the ranged variety in The Mage’s Tale. Things start out simply enough as you master the art of flinging fireballs and shooting lightning bolts but it doesn’t take long for the intensity and complexity to go up a few notches. Most of the attacks in the game are handled by targeting an enemy with your head-tracked targeting system (or literal crosshair if you enable it in the options) and then letting loose the spell using one of your hands. The lack of free fire such as in The Unpsoken is missed at first, but the wealth of options quickly overshadows that initial gameplay disappointment and once you start maneuvering around levels and dodging attacks you won’t be wishing for more complicated controls at all. It does take a bit of getting used to where the sweet spot for aiming is without the crosshair.
As you explore the game’s various dungeons you’ll come across different effects that can be used to augment and create brand new spells. For example, would you like to shoot a giant purple fireball that seeks out enemies once it leaves your hand? Go for it. Or how about a big sparkling pink ice spike that you can control in the air by waving your hand like a magical conductor? You can do that too. It’s not exactly a limitless system, but it feels pretty close. You’ll always have a nifty little magical shield you can summon in either hand too by pressing a PS Move button.
The biggest issue here is that when trying to select items for mixing into the spellbound cauldron the controls can be a little finicky. We all know the PS Move controllers are far from ideal to use for VR in 2019 so I found myself fumbling with ingredients from time to time.
As you explore dungeons you’ll find plenty of enemies to fight, traps to avoid, and treasure to loot, but along the way you’ll also level up your character as well. In most cases this results in being able to choose how you upgrade your wizard and progress your abilities. By the end of the game I found myself truly feeling powerful and like I had learned a great deal in terms of not only my in-game powers but also in terms of how I handled myself in combat.
One of the most satisfying areas of the game is in how it handles boss battles. Most VR games of this type have only been able to pack a couple of hours of content with maybe one or two big boss battles near the end but in the case of The Mage’s Tale each of the 10 dungeons has a satisfying climax that requires you to memorize attack patterns and deftly navigate the environment to dodge attacks and setup your own responses. It’s nothing short of exhilarating.
Just like its PC counterpart, The Mage’s Tale on PSVR is one of the best examples of how to take a tried-and-true existing gaming genre and adapt it for the new VR medium. While it retains plenty of design decisions that make it clear where its roots lie, The Mage’s Tale iterates on principles that truly move the first-person dungeon crawler RPG sub-genre forward in big ways. Despite the hardware limitations of the PSVR and PS Move controllers, the inclusion of improvements such as smooth locomotion, an Arena mode, and optimization fixes all together for launch on this new platform helps The Mage’s Tale on Sony’s headset remain a must-play for RPG fans.
The Mage’s Tale is available starting today on PSVR. The game is already available on Oculus Home and Steam for PC VR headsets (read that original review here.) Plus, you can read our Content Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.