For all of its flashy looks, Carbon Studios’ The Wizards was essentially a dressy wave shooter. A more polished and engaging one than most, but still very much a take on an endlessly recycled genre of VR gaming.
Take heart; The Wizards: Dark Times is not a wave shooter.
This upcoming standalone expansion to the spell-casting series isn’t labeled as a straight sequel, though it might as well be. Carbon says it’s instead a game more about reacting to the criticisms of the first. That means refining the original gesture system, while sprinkling in a few new options. More importantly, though, the team has reworked the foundations into a linear set of levels you navigate with either smooth locomotion or teleportation.
It’s still a relatively simple affair; walk down corridors that occasionally branch out into wider areas and take out enemies that either charge towards you or toss projectiles from afar. But Carbon hasn’t lost its penchant for environmental design; in my Gamescom demo I tour a shrouded forest with twisting roots and glowing fungi, often stopping to marvel at what’s on display. Meanwhile, explosive sprinting mushrooms and neon-infused monsters make for fearsome (if sometimes funny) foes.
As before, though, the star of the show is the spells. Carbon smartly navigates around complicated UIs and button presses with its returning gesture system; a left swipe with one hand summons a magical shield I can deflect spears with, while thrusting both hands forwards emits a pulse blast. Returning tricks have some new additions; the ice bow now not only freezes characters on the spot, but can also be pulled apart to create two ice swords.
Flair and freedom is at the heart of combat. At one point I turn an enemy to ice and then use the pulse blast to shatter him where he stands. I start tossing shields like a cross between Captain America and Doctor Strange, and vicious fireballs are only a flick of the hand away. Remembering the specific inputs for even four or five spells was pretty tricky, and the game didn’t always register my commands, but when it works it’s eloquently stylish.
As fun as flaunting your spells can be, I’m hoping to see more tactical depth added to the combat. Most of the encounters I fought my way through could be conquered with whatever spell I saw fit. Fights were far more interesting when I had to, say, work my way up the battlefield, slicing melee opponents while shielding myself from incoming projectiles. I’d like to see a mix of enemies that require specific types of attacks going forwards to lend a little strategy to it all.
All the same, this looks to be an encouraging step forward for a franchise its creators clearly care deeply about. The Wizards might never make it to the hallowed grounds of VR classics, but as an accessible bit of wish fulfillment, it more than does the job.
The Wizards: Dark Times is set to release sometime in 2020 on PC VR headsets. PSVR and Quest versions aren’t yet confirmed but the original game did come to those platforms, so keep fingers crossed.