Magus Review (PS3)
A player’s first glimpse into the world of Magus comes from the looping cinematic before the start menu. After a scenic pan to a cathedral of some sort, Magus – looking like a generic FPS protagonist – magically guns down some offscreen monsters after Matrix-dodging an arrow. Soft piano music plays throughout the whole ordeal. The idea of the cutscene seems to be to give the player a sense of the combat in the game. And it’s spot on – players will be magically gunning down monsters. There’s just no cool dodging.
In fact, combat is set up between Magus, a long-range spell caster and Kinna, the game’s tank. Tanking is the practice of attracting the aggression of enemies while party members do damage, and the entire combat system is built around this structure. Kinna attracts as much attention as possible while Magus shoots magic projectiles and uses spells. Enemies are numerous – many of the game’s trophies involve killing 100 of each type of enemy and are very easy to get – so Kinna will constantly be surrounded by monsters. Kinna cannot be killed, but she can be stunned and the enemies will attack Magus. At this point the game turns into one long circle strafe to avoid and combat enemies. Due to this repetitive pattern, combat is very boring and gets old real quick.
Magus can learn spells through a skill tree as he levels up and clears dungeons, but these new spells are somewhat pointless and mostly cosmetic. A couple spells involve summoning a minion to fight for you, however the AI is so terrible and the game is so frighteningly easy even on its hardest difficulty setting, that the players will be able to run circles around everything. I went through the game with two first-tier spells and needed little else. Often, creatures would simply stand around as bolts of magic energy killed them in combat. Players can abuse this by targeting enemies too far away to react to Magus or Kinna and just blast away while the enemies stand idle and die.
Speaking of abuse, one of the best systems in the game is arguably the ability to take the loot enemies drop and convert it into scrolls which permanently boost stats. On paper, this is a great idea for getting rid of junk items that players do not need any more. In practice, the system allows players to easily overpower enemies. This is on top of the stat point allocations Magus gets as he levels up and the stat boosts from equipment. Enemies level up with Magus as a way to present a challenge, but this leveling does not take into account Magus’ actual stats. Becoming a powerhouse god is very easy to do in Magus. In context of the game’s themes, it makes sense. It terms of gameplay, it completely unbalances the game and removes any joy or challenge.
The plot of the game is ultimately to rule the known world, but there are people along the way trying to prevent Magus from doing so. Every time Magus runs into one of these people they will talk to him. Most of the dialogue is verbally beating down or overpowering the other person. How many times can the protagonist threaten to kill someone before doing so? Around five times in one scene. At least some of the threats are slightly enjoyable.
The dialogue is set up to resemble the choices given in games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, but all choices lead to the same path. It’s as if a ten-year-old tried to replicate the speech choices in those games and then gave up. The exchanges are mostly worthless, yet happen all too frequently.
The game is not pretty to look at. Superior graphics are not an integral need for games, but damn, is the world of Magus ugly. Magus himself wears armor, which can be swapped out with new pieces. New armors will have their own skin, but ultimately all of the armor looks the same. There is no such option with Kinna, whose armor covers most everything except her midriff, which I guess is protected by the deflective ability of her navel or something equally pointless. Other characters and enemies look exactly the same as each other with the occasional palette-swap used. At least the dragon men stand out by virtue of looking like dudes in rubber suits. Backgrounds are bland and lifeless. What’s worse, the third-person perspective and its focus on Magus make it look like he is constantly creeping through levels trying to peep into whatever girl’s locker room he can find.
Outside of the opening cinematic piano score, the music in the game is instantly forgettable and poorly implemented. Pressing the Home button on the PS3 controller is a sure way to get the tracks to skip. Magus will shout spell names completely at random when he casts magic. Most of the spell names are hilarious, as if the world of Harry Potter were fused with Tourette’s Syndrome. I think one of the spells wanted me to invest infernally. Voice work is also terrible across the board. Enemies will scream when they die; more than a few orgasms were had judging by the quality of the screams. And while the talk is on happy things, the game is one of the easiest Platinum trophies available on the PS3.
All of the above could be considered a parody, or perhaps at some point the game might be so bad it appeared to be good; but by the end of the game the protagonist is just a white guy who stumbles into being a powerful god. The woman who unlocks his power – by making him recite a phrase, no less – becomes his indentured servant. The remainder of the game has the protagonist running around the country either killing or conquering its few races. One of the most telling scenes of how powerful Magus has become features the Titan Runemaster, a cobalt-skinned, tribally-adorned giant, submitting before Magus in indentured servitude even if the player had chosen to free him. At the end of the game, you assert your superiority over one of the only two females with speaking roles and discard the other. This is not an interpretation of events; this is what actually happens in the game.
No one needs this shit. The game may have been salvageable if the above had not happened, but this is how the game plays out. Using an excuse like “but he’s a god and has the right to do those things!” can be dashed by one simple question: Why did the main character have to be a white male? Magus is a cypher – he has no personality until the player steps in and directs his responses; even then the term ‘personality’ is stretching it. Why was there no option to change skin color? Why was there no option to choose Rinna as the protagonist? These things would have been easy to implement in a game with so few resources, and could have potentially provided a small sliver of emotional investment from the player. The Titan Runemaster scene stands out the most as one of two scenes where NPCs acknowledge Magus as their god, and the other scene involves the NPCs giving Magus a military salute. While I’m certain the creators were just trying to tell a story, the ultimate result is a hideous mess no one needs to witness.
In closing, skip this game. It should not have happened, and hopefully the world will not see it happen again.
Review copy provided by publisher.