Preview: The Wizards – Dark Times – A Different Kind of Magic

When Cortopia Studios released The Wizards in 2018 the virtual reality (VR) title offered decent fantasy gameplay, with its main feature being gesture-based spells. The main downside was the feeling it was merely an advanced wave-shooter, locking you in locations to kill a set number of monsters before moving on. The studio has taken all this feedback on board for its next instalment in the franchise The Wizards – Dark Times.

Attending Gamescom 2019 the team said they wanted to create an experience far more freeing than before, keeping what made The Wizards great whilst dispensing with the less desired elements. This was obvious straight away as the landscape no longer features those arena-like locations. The world was twisted and dark, gnarled tree roots descended down steep rock walls while strange glowing mushrooms scatter the ground. It felt very much like being in the Dark Crystal universe.

While looking the part, this forest location kept to a linear formula so there was no real exploring as such. Paths were predefined with a puzzle here and there to mix up the gameplay design. As mentioned enemies are no longer confined to specific locations so it was very nice to find deadly mushrooms popping up and charging unexpectedly, or some sort of demonic creature staying back and launching a volley of arrows.

This all made The Wizards – Dark Times more dynamic and enjoyable to play. Just as in titles such as The Mage’s Tale or Witching Tower there’s now more to pay attention to with few lull moments where you’re wandering around simply heading to the next activation point.

As with any videogame featuring spells and incantations, The Wizards – Dark Times is all about the magic. All those gesture-based spells for attacking and defending are still there but now they’ve been improved, not only making them easier to cast but also great for combination effects. The two spells most commonly used tend to be the fireball and the shield. The fireball was always the simplest to conjure, however, now it’s now available at (the literal) flick of the wrist. While the shield is just an arm movement across the chest. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with getting the gesture exactly right, a problem which occasionally occurred in the original – meaning much arm-waving when an enemy got too close.

There’s also greater depth to the spells. The ice arrow returns where you can once again fire five before recasting. Now, two direct hits will freeze an enemy plus the bow can split into two making dual-wielding swords for close combat. As for those combination effects, freeze a monster, then defrost with a fireball. As they’re now dripping wet a nasty lightning spell is going to be even more effective (cue cackling laugh).

Only a few spells were on offer during the demo with Cortopia Studios saying 11 will be made available in the final release. Which should open up plenty of strategic opportunities. Especially as the enemies shown so far do actually seem to be fairly intelligent and offer a challenge – apart from the suicidal mushrooms.

From what’s been shown so far The Wizards – Dark Times is definitely on track to offer an even more engaging experience than before. The spell casting works well, the environments look great, and the monsters put up a fight. So hopefully things are only going to get better, just so long as there’s a hefty campaign to back it all up.

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