Video games have always been a tool to allow us to become something beyond the realm of possibility. We can become a gallant knight, part of a seedy shadow organization, or a superhero. Virtual reality took that one step further by allowing us to step into those shoes, to truly become stranded on an alien planet or caught in the middle of a huge shootout. Who, then, wouldn’t want to become a battle mage, shooting an array of spells from their hands as they defend the lands from an invasion of evil forces? It’s that very fantasy that The Wizards seeks to fulfill.
The PSVR version of the game, known as The Wizards Enhanced Edition, comes with added features different from the PC VR release early last year (PC users are getting this new content in an update). Notably this includes an additional level, cutscenes that help deepen the lore of the world, checkpoints throughout the levels, aim assist using visual tracking, and the ability to customize the color of your gloves. It’s appreciated that a studio would be so dedicated to not only building, but also expanding and improving their experience as they bring it to additional platforms.
What The Wizards does well, it does very well. VR should wholly immerse you in the role you are playing, and I’ve never felt more like a battle mage than when I was twisting my hands and making gestures to conjure up magic shields, icy arrows, and enormous fireballs. It’s engrossing to see arcane missiles appear in the air in front of you, not because of a button you pressed, but because of how you moved your hands. Feeling the Move controllers rumble as a blast of lightning shoots from your fingertips is invigorating. The Wizards gives players the fantasy of feeling like they have magic right at their fingertips.
Want to cast a shield to block incoming attacks? Swipe your left arm to the right. A fireball comes from the flick of your wrist in the right hand. An ice bow can be conjured up by bringing both of your hands together in a forward arc. Every gesture feels natural and almost cinematic to the effects of the spell that it casts. In the early stages as I was learning them, I was a bit more timid and reserved, but it wasn’t long until I felt like Dr. Strange, channeling the arcane lessons of the Ancient One as I felled creature after creature. I waved my hands in a circle like I’d been conjuring arcane missiles for decades. I thrust my fists forward like the power of lightning was coming right from my core. A lot of VR games strive to make you feel this cool, but The Wizards sets a bar for immersion.
The Wizards PSVR Review – Where the Magic Fizzles Out
And yet, while I lived this fantasy, it didn’t mean much. The Wizards is a wave-based shooter with magic instead of guns. You move from place to place, kill the enemies that spawn, and then move on. There’s a smattering of puzzles that block your way, some of which I found intriguing and engaging, and others that just seemed like roadblocks for the sake of varied gameplay. They rarely make use of the various spells at your disposal, which created a huge disconnect from my library of powers and how I engaged with the world.
The enemies you’ll face in The Wizards have the same problem. Once you’ve fought one wave, you’ve fought them all. There are small goblins, medium-sized ogres, and the towering trolls, but just about the only real difference between them is the amount of hits they can take before they die. Sometimes ogres will throw fireballs at you from a distance (along with “trap” statues that fire blasts at you), but otherwise it’s a series of greenish monsters rushing you from a few directions. Later on there are some additional “surprises,” but not in enough of a way to really make the combat feel varied. Without any variety in enemy types, it was easiest to simply use both of my one-handed spells (shield in the left hand to block attacks, hurling fireballs with the right) to take out enemies. As I upgraded those two, I didn’t ever feel a need to use the rest of my arcane powers. I occasionally did, mostly to get some variety, but in terms of efficiency, the two base spells were all I really needed.
There were a lot of opportunities for the various spells to hold some purpose. Maybe fire beasts that are immune to the fireballs, but weak to ice arrows? Or puzzles that implement the various elements in a deeper way. I desperately wanted my powers to go from simply “that’s cool” to “that’s useful.” Boss battles manage to provide some variety to the standard enemy encounters, and I had a lot of fun with them, but still most often resorted to the shield/fireball combo to overcome the challenge.
Movement is handled either strictly by teleportation or through a combination of locomotion and teleportation. It makes great use of the Move controllers to handle moving around the world, even without an analog stick to accomplish a more true locomotion. PSVR games have been dealing with that limitation for a long time now, so I would have been more surprised if they hadn’t figure out how to make it work. I never felt hamstrung by the movement system at all, even if it was most often a vehicle through the empty world to get me from one battle to the next.
The Wizards PSVR Review – What Are We Fighting For?
A disembodied voice, that of a previous wizard, guides you through your journey, but the worlds simply feel empty otherwise. The Wizards does its best to cover this up through use of clever audio. At one point, you can hear the din of a town just over the hill, but there’s nothing of visual interest to evoke life into these worlds beyond the smattering of enemies you’ll fight. For some of the areas, this makes sense. You aren’t going to find a bunch of townsfolk in a cave or ancient catacombs, after all. But it makes it hard to feel a connection to the world as anything more than a “wizard simulator” when I can’t really see what I’m fighting for. (Moss, for example, did this very well by making the world feel alive in the early portions of the game, which made the stakes feel heavier for the longer journey.)
There’s a lot of replayability if the game hasn’t worn out its welcome by the time you hit the credits. After the initial five or six hours, you can revisit stages to try to find collectibles and increase your points, which can be done with modifiers that apply a multiplier to your score. There’s also an arena that cuts out the traversal, focusing entirely on the wave-based combat as it throws countless enemies at you. It’s all a nice gesture, but where the normal campaign had a hard time holding my interest much beyond that initial badass feeling of being a mage, it was hard for me to justify going back to repeat the already repetitive. There’s only so many times you can set an ogre on fire before you just want to take off the wizard robes.
The Wizards is the kind of thing that PSVR was made for. It embodies the fantasy of being a wizard with brilliant gesture-based spells that really make you feel like a mage casting magic. It doesn’t step out much beyond that though. Fights get repetitive against the same few enemies, puzzles feel obligatory, and there’s not much reason to use one spell over another. The gameplay simply never necessitates the fantasy, which makes living the fantasy get dull more quickly than I would have liked. The Wizards nails the dream of having magic at your fingertips, but never goes as far as to make the magic feel all that useful.
The Wizards Enhanced Edition PSVR review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.