Deep down inside we've always wanted to be a Wizard, but were never really able to pull off the long majestic beard and robe look. Being far too old to dress up as Harry Potter, we have instead achieved our wizard spell-casting dreams by leaping into the virtual reality world of The Wizards.
The idea of blasting spells out of your fingertips in VR is a refreshing change from the typically gun-heavy titles of today. Is The Wizards equally as refreshing to play, or just a disappointing fizzle of frustration?
The virtual realm of misery
The premise of The Wizards is simple enough: you take on the role of a new wizard in a realm where orcs and goblins are running riot and upsetting the local townsfolk. It's your job to blast these baddies back into oblivion and free the oppressed people from their misery.
As you progress through the game, completing various objectives, you'll unlock a handful of spells that can be used to fight off these angry hordes. There are currently six spells to learn, each of which can be upgraded to become more powerful.
Each of the spells is learned in a small tutorial area where you get a chance to practise casting. Spellcasting is carried out through a variety of different hand movements, some of which are simple and others slightly more complex.
Twisting and thrusting your right hand forward results in a small fireball in your palm that you can toss at oncoming enemies. Curl your left hand in front of you and a magic shield materialises out of thin air that be used to deflect incoming projectiles. Thrust both hands down and a giant fireball appears between them that can be thrown with devastating effect. An ice bow, lightning bolts and self-aiming diamond missiles are also available for casting.
These movements felt tricky at first, but repetition makes them easier to memorise. The tougher spells are worth learning as successfully casting them in the heat of battle is incredibly satisfying.
We did, however, find that there were issues with hand tracking during our play sessions that meant that casting was difficult and frustrating at times, leading to unnecessary deaths or a flustered panic as we had to dash out of harm's way in order to try again.
We learned to favour certain spells over others because they were easier to cast or did more damage to enemies when they were upgraded. There's certainly something pretty thrilling about casting lightning out of your fingertips and watching as orcs, goblins and other angry monsters fall prey to your destructive power.
In terms of the virtual realm itself, we find The Wizards' visuals relatively pleasing. Although the graphics aren't the best we've seen, they're certainly fitting for the game's environment.
That said, we did find some issues with level design. There were dark, broken areas of the maps that looked unfinished and out of place, but perhaps that's to be expected for a game that's currently still in early access.
Movement and locomotion
One of the highlights of The Wizards is the mix modes for controlling movement. Like many VR games, you can move about in the virtual world by moving in the real world, but The Wizards is both standing room and room-scale compatible - so it needs more options too.
When playing using HTC Vive, you can control movement in the world with the left trackpad and turning of your head (i.e. direction you are facing) with the right trackpad. This isn't a perfect system, as sometimes we found our head was turning in the virtual world when we didn't want - which was a bit disorienting and not terribly helpful in the middle of a battle.
The other alternative is to beam around the map by pointing and clicking the controller in the direction you wish to go. There are various landing pads to highlight where you can beam to, which is useful when you're moving between platforms that lead down into, say, a mineshaft. We've seen this beaming in other games, such as Fallout VR, and it works well enough to not detract from the immersion of the virtual world.
A guiding hand throughout
The main campaign of The Wizards is played out through a series of levels where you're thrust into various realms. Completing simple tasks will get you to the source of the troubles and banish the unrelenting hordes once and for all.
Although we're told there are townsfolk in peril, however, we never actually got to see them - only hear their pained screams in the distance. The substance of the story is also mostly provided by regular voice-over narration that talks you through what you're doing and why.
We found the narration to be amusing and entertaining for the most part, but it was a tad overly hand-holding throughout. We often felt like we were being treated like an idiot, and any puzzles or mystery in the levels were revealed all too soon.
Each level does still contain a number of hidden gems scattered around that you need to find to upgrade your spells, which is one element of the game that's not spelled out at every step. Upgrades aren't essential to completing the game though.
There are also discoverable game-modifying fate cards located throughout the campaign, which can be applied to alter the game's mechanics. We thought this was a pretty clever way of introducing a difficulty system without actually choosing a typical "easy, medium, hard" difficulty setting.
Two cards can be used at a time and they do things like reducing or increasing enemy health, damage or movement speed. Though why anyone would choose to make the enemies more difficult when the spells are already tough enough to cast is beyond us. It does, however, offer some replayability value if you're having a great time blasting enemies away with giant fireballs.
All told, The Wizards took us around two hours to complete, so it's a relatively short game. That's without finding all the hidden gems and upgrade spells, so we could see a couple more hours of play if you're a must-complete-it-all kind of person.
We'd really like to see some co-op modes, as this would elevate the action and add yet more replay value. Here's hoping that arrives in the future.
All told, the Wizards is a refreshing change from the usual VR shooters. We enjoyed casting a variety of spells and feeling like a powerful warlock. For the money, it's certainly worth a look if you're after something new and different.
But it's not without its flaws. Issues with hand tracking and locomotion can be a bit frustrating at times, but it's hard to say how much of that is down to kinks in the hardware and how much is down to the game design. The narration could be dumbed down to not treat your like a clueluess player, too.
With just a little over two hours worth of content, you're not going to get dozens of hours of fun out of this one. But at the current price point and with the promise of more potential content in future it's certainly got legs.
If you're seeking a fantasy VR game with a variety of magic at your fingertips, then The Wizards conjures up a good argument to buy it.