by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Are they delusions of grandeur? Or is he truly that mighty? It’s up to you.
Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements takes me back to my youth for the classic (and oft-frustrating) Adventure games. Quest for Glory, Discworld, Myst. These games are challenging and frustrating in equal measures. They were a staple of the 80s and 90s PC environment and really showed off exactly what PC gaming could be. A lot of these worlds were open and wide, with little to no instruction or help to guide you. Mage’s Initiation replicates this, for better or for worse. There’s a part of me that absolutely loves these point-and-click Adventures, but they also leave me feeling angry and frustrated. No game makes me feel quite as stupid as a well-made Adventure Game. And in this one, Mage’s Ascension, we’ll be taking on the role of the plucky young would-be Mage, D’arc. He’s a little snarky, a little clever, and his ascension to becoming a Mage is fraught with dark peril. D’arc will wield what is known as a “Conductor” to cast his spells through, and it can even be affixed with gems to augment it. Those ought to be rare and hard to come by, but they are most definitely not. But it’s still a nice touch.
The game begins with the initiate D’arc undergoing a test to see what style of mage he will become: What manner of element will he command? Mine wound up being earth, but it can also be fire, water, or air. Ultimately I don’t think which you become matters, because all of the elements will start you with at least a ranged attack spell (a rock in my case), which you will need to overcome the battles ahead. This test is in the form of a Morality Test, such as you might find in another franchise from the Adventure Genre’s era, Ultima. You’ll be asked a series of questions, and based on what you answer, you’ll receive new colored clothes and a new mission. You’ll need to get your spells before you can venture off into the world. What would a mage be without spells? But in order to be a real mage, you have to pass the Initiation, and your challenges are going to be tricky, difficult, and filled with danger. This was the first major hurdle for me though, and where I learned a valuable lesson: All of the challenges in this game can be overcome by dragging the mouse everywhere.
In order to get those spells, you have to do a few things in the Tower itself, such as obtain something that shares your element. For Earth, I absolutely could not figure it out. I went into every single room, over and over, until I realized that there was a pot in the very first room of the tower, that had some dirt and seeds in it. In this, a valuable lesson is learned. When in doubt, hover over every item on the screen. Useful items won’t really stand out against the background, so you really have to check every screen you’re on, and there’s lots of backtracking that will go on. This is also not a game you can just grind out, either. Speaking of Spells, combat does not grant EXP, but a knowledge of the combat is needed to beat this game, and is also important to fund some of your adventures in this world. This means you can’t grind your way to success, but you also have to consider carefully where to put stat points. Personally, I focused on Intelligence, for more spell damage. Combat, however, is fairly simple.
It’s frustrating in that battles can appear out of nowhere (and often do), and simply leaving the screen you’re on isn’t always enough to get you out of combat. If it’s a stationary opponent (like the Goblin on top of a platform), you can just walk away. But for more mobile enemies, you might have to run two or three screens to exit combat. The actual combat is easy. You swap through the abilities (though you’ll probably mostly just use your attack spell) and cast with the RMB. You can run around, hide behind trees/rocks to avoid their attacks, but for me I just ran away and cast Rock Throw until they were dead. Since combat provides no EXP, I felt no problem with turning down the difficulty slider for combat in the options menu. If I’m not going to be rewarded for combat other than some gold and items, I’m not going to struggle and stress through each battle.
Control is fairly solid in Mage’s Initiation as well. You can walk around with WASD, or you can use your mouse to click spots on the map. You don’t get to just press a button or click on people/objects to interact with them though. Through the control scheme, you can “Talk”, Take”, “Look”, see what you are currently holding, go through your inventory, character sheet, and other options. You have three styles of interaction/control. First is “Compact Style”, where you right click, and it pulls up a small box with your options in it. Then there’s “Verb-Coin Interface”, which sounds complicated, but isn’t. You hold down the LMB on the item you want to interact with, and it pulls up a wheel of all the options you have. I personally use “Drop-down Bar”, which your menu stuff is in a hidden menu at the top of the screen. Putting your mouse there makes it appear. Your “look/talk/take” options are in your RMB. Clicking RMB cycles through your held item, looking, et cetera. It’s a little awkward if you aren’t used to these games, but it makes more sense with time and in-game application.
This not a game that’s going to hold your hand and help you figure out what you’re meant to do. People who are not familiar with the Adventure/Point-and-Click genre are probably going to wind up frustrated, but you just have to remember that this is all about exploration. Once you’ve beaten it, you can probably breeze your way through everything, but back in my day, you had to make your own maps, write everything down, and piece it together by hand. You still pretty much have to do that here, but by playing on Steam, you can at least screenshot anything you think is important, and come back to it later. That’s what I did. I appreciate that the game is very plot-focused. Most of the characters you encounter are interesting, and this is certainly a unique world. I enjoy the 80s/90s art style, and the landscapes you explore are very stylish and attractive. This game takes me back to the 90s in every conceivable way, even down to the awkward, goofy way that D’arc runs. All I need now are some Pogs and Nintendo Cereal and I’ll really be back in time. There’s plenty to do, and figuring it all out really stretches out the amount of time spent in this world.
Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt! 3/5 (Good)
Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements is a really interesting, well-thought-out Adventure game. It brings a fair bit to the Adventure style, but I honestly felt like most of what I did in the world didn’t matter. That feeling first came when I was doing the test to determine my element – when I received my element, I was given a chance to retake the test. That really took me out of the “destiny” aspect of being a mage. While I think the control was smooth, a part of me hoped to see something new, instead of the classic Adventure-style controls. There are plenty of puzzles, but ultimately, instead of thinking your way through, you can just hover over things until you find the solution. I do think it’s a fascinating idea to replicate this style of game so perfectly. I do however think it would possibly snare more players if there were some quality-of-life changes, and fumbling through the menus did not feel quite so clunky.
While it is supposed to be a tribute to the Quest for Glory series, much of the dialogue felt very forced. It was either the actual written dialogue, or the character speaking it just didn’t seem to care about it, so some of the emotion was drained out of the game. I liked the characters, I liked how they were presented, but I cared very little for what they actually said. I am wondering if this is going to turn into a series, much like the Quest for Glory franchise. This is definitely a nice showing for the revival of the Adventure genre, but I do worry that the nature of the game might be a turn-off for those who have never played an Adventure game. I recommend it anyway. It’s still a fun way to spend an afternoon, from figuring out how to make the Raft, to making money and defeating bad guys and solving puzzles, Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements has plenty to offer fans of the 90s PC games, and newcomers alike.
Note: A code was provided for review purposes.