I have fond memories of King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. Collecting the flower of stench from the beach on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain; using this to overcome one of the Sense Gnomes on the Isle of Wonder; and being thrown into the Catacombs to face the Minotaur. But the memory I remember most strongly is the fact I never finished.
So when Emily Morganti got in touch to offer the chance to play a preview build of Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements, I jumped at it. This upcoming adventure-RPG-hybrid is being created by Himalaya Studios – who previously released remakes of King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown, Kings Quest II: Romancing the Throne and King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human under the moniker of Anonymous Game Developers Interactive (AGDI). Perhaps now will be the time I’ll redeem myself for that past failing and make Prince Alexander proud.
You may be surprised to hear that Mage’s Initiation has been in development for almost a decade. The project began 2009 after a community poll identified an adventure / RPG as the type of game AGDI’s fans most wanted, then in 2013 the team went on to run a Kickstarter campaign in order to supplement work on the title. It did incredibly well: they managed to raise almost double their $65,000 target and reach six out of nine stretch goals. We’ll now have the opportunity to see the fruits of their labour at the end of next month.
Players take on the role of D’arc, a sixteen-year old who has spent most of his life so far confined to the Mage’s Tower in the realm of Ignior. The past ten years have been devoted to studying the magic of the Elements under the instruction of the most accomplished scholars and it’s now time for him to venture beyond the tower. He’ll have to brave a goblin-infested forest, navigate a vast lake to encounter a pure evil and ascend the peaks of a valley of winged warriors if he wants to make it through his initiation. Whoever said being a teenager was easy?
I feel I should say a few words about D’arc himself before we jump into the meat of the preview build… because we’ve only known each other for a third of the game and he’s already starting to get on my nerves a little. He’s very theatrical, particularly when it comes to his internal monologues, and there are plenty of grand pauses and witticisms when it comes to observations about objects in the environment. I can’t deny this is somewhat befitting of a teenage character though – especially one brought up in a fantasy medieval world by mages.
Speaking of the environment, visually this game is lovely. I could immediately tell it had been worked on by Sierra fans who’d been influenced by King’s Quest as the pixelated background art is beautiful and brings to mind a warm sense of nostalgia. I didn’t necessarily need the higher-resolution portraits which appear when a character is taking, as the text on the screen alone would have been enough; but they’re very well done and I understand that a lot of players prefer to see speakers close-up.
The game is controlled by mouse alone and you have a choice of three different adventure interfaces that can be switched between at any point. There’s the traditional Sierra-style icon bar, along with the LucasArts-inspired verb coin which sadly didn’t work for me in the preview build; but this wasn’t a problem as I felt comfortable with the more streamlined compact option. With this scheme selected, right-clicking brings up a small rectangle holding icons for actions such as touch or pick up, look and talk.
At the start of Mage’s Initiation, D’arc is summoned to the Tower’s Hallowed Hall by the Masters to see which of the four elements he is aligned with. This happens through a short series of multiple-choice questions. Usually when I play any kind of RPG I opt for fire spells (must be my inner pyromaniac) or lightning if I fancy a change; however, this time my overseers felt I was better suited to water. There does seem to be an option to change if you’re not happy with the automatic section but I decided to go with their wisdom in this instance and continue.
Next it was time to head to the Training Hall to receive my gifts from the Sphere of Knowledge. These turned out to be the ability to talk to underwater creatures and spray a jet of water from my hands, as well as being able to shoot bolts of ice and surround myself in liquid armour. Those last two came in handy when going up against another hopeful initiate and I’m pleased to say I kicked his butt – but I was given several stern warnings from my scholar to never use my magic on the Giftless humans.
There are several locations outside of the Mage’s Tower like BloodBark Forest, where you’ll encounter combat situations with enemies including Redcap Goblins and poisonous spiders. You can kill these foes by selecting a spell and then clicking on them but they’re able to fight back: casting magic reduces your mana and taking hits results in losing health, so there’s the possibility for D’arc to die. Potions created, found or bought can be used during battle however to recover your resources and continue.
If you’re more point-and-click-minded, you can also run into the next screen to escape so there’s an option to avoid combat for those who prefer an adventure experience. However you choose to play the game, actions like defeating enemies, finding out information and discovering useful objects will grant you skill points which can then be allocated to strength, magic, intelligence or constitution once you have enough. You can also equip various jewels which enhance these stats in the way you wish.
The puzzles I’ve encountered so far have been quite straightforward; for example, at one point it’s necessary to locate four different tile pieces from within a labyrinth to complete a mural and open a locked door. I remember there being different ways to overcome a challenge when playing King’s Quest VI and the same is true here. When trying to find out a door combination, another character told me he’d trade the answer for a health potion – but in his words were a clue to the code, which I then managed to figure out for myself.
This feature, along with the ability to choose your element and customise your character somewhat as described above, give the potential for a lot of replay value. The branching storyline and optional sidequests also make for a story which doesn’t feel completely linear. It’s obvious the Himalaya Studios team have really focused on giving their fans what they asked for – and adventure / RPG hybrid – and with other titles like Unavowed being positively received this year, I can see this mash-up genre becoming popular.
Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements is due for release on 30 January 2019 so there isn’t long to wait to get your hands on the full game. For more information, take a look at the official website or give the developer a follow on Twitter.
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