The Wizards Enhanced Edition Review — Spell Flinging Combat Refined For The PSVR
The catalog of worthwhile PSVR games just keeps expanding, this time with a new and improved edition of fantasy spell-slinger The Wizards.
Somewhere between the slew of stationary bullet hell VR games and free-range combat titles, The Wizards fills an important niche for fantasy fans who have taken the plunge and invested in virtual reality equipment.
I distinctly recall loading up the warp-speed wizard arena battler Ziggurat a year or so back and thinking, "I absolutely MUST have this in VR!"And now we kind of do.
While The Wizards isn't nearly as fast paced as Ziggurat (which is probably for the best, considering how often PSVR games can still cause nausea), you get everything else. In terms of taking up the role of a spell-slinging mage while burning hordes of enemies in virtual reality dungeon environments, it's hard to beat The Wizards.
Magic Come To Life
With a first-person dungeon crawler like The Wizards, we finally get to see some of the promises of VR come to fruition, especially when using hand motions to conjure different spells, having to physically crank a turn wheel to open gates, and so on.
Each spell is conjured with a different motion from the Move controllers, which often requires holding them in a specific position (like a magic shield to block projectiles) or even pulling the string on a bow made of ice.
It's difficult to have imagined something like this just a decade ago, and the prevalence of VR games in this style can be absolutely wild for older gamers to experience. Younger gamers may not appreciate The Wizards as much as kids who grew up with parents influenced by the Satanic Panic.
From the moment the tutorial started, I was struck by how a large majority of '90s-era parents would have despised this whole setup. There absolutely would have been a daytime talk show segment about the dangers of role-playing a spellcasting mage had VR existed at the time.
I'm certain if my D&D-averse mother had seen me playing this as a teen she'd have had a heart attack on the spot while trying to ward off the demons such a game was sure to summon.
Nobody Said Spellcrafting Was Easy
While hurling fireballs at orcs and teleporting away from pit traps is as fun as you'd expect, there is one big potential hurdle to enjoyment in The Wizards: aiming.
Magical apprenticeships in fantasy settings always seem to take decades to complete, as conjuring magic and properly channeling it into destructive spells is tough work.
It's even harder if you don't have great aim.
The Enhanced Edition of The Wizards allows players to tweak the auto assist aim settings, which I heartily recommend you do immediately until you find the aim level that makes the game the least frustrating for you. Even at 100% sensitivity, I still found times where my fireballs did not even remotely go where I was flinging my hand.
It can be quite easy for the camera to lose track of your Move controllers while standing, which makes this one of those rare games that can actually be better to play seated, all so you don't move around the play area inadvertently.
While the fireball can be mastered with practice, I found I very rarely used the ice bow because of how touchy the drawstring mechanic can become. When a horde of enemies is bearing down on you, there's just no time for wonky mechanics to get in the way of survival.
That led to me relying heavily on the lightning bolt spell during the campaign, especially with the chain lightning upgrade since it fires continuously wherever you point.
There's a downside though: movement is slowed while channeling lightning bolts, and you can't teleport, so a smart wizard will have moved to a defensible position before unleashing that spell.
Learning how to use each spell effectively is a big part of the overall experience, although you may eventually feel some spells aren't worth the trouble if you can't quite master the proper motions during difficult battles.
What's New In The Wizards Enhanced Edition
Aside from the game's aim assist settings, there's plenty of new material in the Enhanced Edition to lure in old players, too.
Most notably, there's an entirely new level with the Enhanced Edition, along with several quality of life upgrades like the ability to customize your glove color scheme after defeating the second level.
One change that is relatively minor but carries a lot of weight is that your health is now displayed as a glyph on your gloves. That's much more immersive than having a health bar and scorecard float in front of you during levels like in the original version.
Other changes are bigger and more frequently requested by fans of the original version, like the option to choose between free-range movement or teleportation at any time, all without switching settings back and forth. Instead of a menu toggle, you control free movement with the left controller and teleportation with the right controller.
More VR games need to come standard with such a choice available, rather than forcing players into one mode or the other.
I found myself using free movement extensively while exploring areas to find hidden chests or fairy crystals, and then mostly using teleportation during combat.
It's an incredibly useful skill to suddenly wink out of existence and appear behind an onrushing goblin horde, although there's a mechanic wisely built in to prevent players from abusing this power.
During combat, the distance of each successive teleport is shortened if you repeatedly teleport in a short amount of time, so it can't be used indefinitely to always avoid enemies.
It really seems like I should be able to hang out on that ledge...
While giving players the option to choose is a huge leap forward in playability, unfortunately, the areas you can teleport onto in each level are fairly limited. There are several narrow ledges it seems like you should be able to reach but actually can't, which limits your tactical options.
I understand that the developers want the player engaged in frantic ground-based combat with specific obstacles, but coming off a long stretch playing Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider, I really missed the ability to teleport to elevated areas for assessing situations before raining down death from an unexpected location.
That limitation aside, one of the game's main strengths is that it gives you the freedom to tackle combat in whatever way best suits your play style.
As you collect hidden fairy crystals across the campaign, your wizard gets to upgrade spells with new abilities. This is where playstyle heavily factors into The Wizards gameplay, with options for reflecting enemy projectiles with the magic shield, charging up the fireball for extra damage, arcing lightning bolts to multiple enemies, and so on.
The Bottom Line
- First-person spellcrafting is awesome in VR
- Fun (and challenging) trap encounters
- Lots of replay with the arena mode
- Spell control can be difficult with the Move controllers
- There's not a ton of story, and what'st there is more silly than serious
- Not enough open areas with additional ledges for traversal
Although you'll be flinging lightning bolts at giants and goblins while trying to avoid flaming traps, its worth noting that The Wizards isn't a particularly serious fantasy adventure. It carries with it a much lighter, funnier tone than some other games in the fantasy genre, bringing the 2004 remake of The Bard's Tale to mind.
There also isn't a huge emphasis on story despite being a single-player game. The campaign is moved forward more by learning the spell mechanics than by getting to know specific NPCs or watching a sprawling story unfold.
The game's campaign mode will last around five to seven hours depending on how frequently you die, which is actually pretty decent for a PSVR game. While you can replay campaign levels with different fate cards to make them easier or harder in various ways, that's not really where you'll find the most replay.
Instead, arena mode is probably where you'll spend the most of your time, especially if you bought The Wizards as a VR party game to show off to your friends. The replay value skyrockets here as you choose different battlegrounds with varying challenges while you try to survive as long as possible against waves of enemies.
But whether in campaign or the arena, The Wizards provides an overall satisfying, if sometimes frustratingly limited, take on the first-person fantasy genre.
It seems clear that VR developers are still figuring out how to make everything work smoothly, and they are hampered in some ways by the single camera setup of the PSVR, which makes tracking the controller and headset more of a challenge.
That leads to the same criticism I have at the end of nearly any PSVR game these days: if this was all just a little bit smoother and more intuitive, it would absolutely explode in popularity and overcome standard gaming entirely.
While that's not the case with The Wizards, it is a fun time for fantasy RPG fans who have wanted to take up the role of a fireball-flinging wizard.
[Note: A copy of The Wizards Enhanced Edition was provided by Carbon Studio Games for the purpose of this review.]