First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
Namco Mage Knight: Apocalypse
It all sounds great until you actually get the thing home and you realise that looks can be terribly deceiving.
- Robotic ghouls
- Arbitrary skill increases that are minimally associated with your play style, linear plot, uninspired cut scenes, pathing issues
What we have in Mage Knight is a poor attempt to hop on the WoW gravy train. The developer clearly flayed all the depth and nuance out of the formula that made WoW such a huge commercial success, delivering instead a soulless husk stuffed with empty promises and features that you wouldn't want anyway. Save your money or better yet, extend that WoW sub for another month instead.
Price$ 89.95 (AUD)
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Mage Knight: Apocalypse's feature list reminds us of a late night infomercial: No level grind! Effortless customisation! Free camera system! No monthly fee! It all sounds great until you actually get the thing home and you realise that looks can be terribly deceiving.
The game starts with you entering the Mage Knight universe, which bears more than a passing similarity to World of Warcraft's Azeroth. The dwarves of Silverholt have entreated you to locate their missing brothers whom they suspect have been captured by slave traders. From there, you become embroiled in a bitter struggle to defend Silverholt from the invading hordes of Atlanteans, who betray popular mythology by posing as robotic ghouls rather than sopping wet fishmen. As if that wasn't enough, an extra-dimensional elemental named Sythvalis sends you on an adventure to uncover an age old mystery.
The Daily Grind
It's pretty standard RPG fare but we had high hopes that Mage Knight would deliver on some of its promises. But like a politician who quickly changes his tune after getting elected, Mage Knight left us disappointed. For example, the game proudly promises that there is no level grinding and at first glance, this appears to be true. Levels and experience points have been completely done away with in favour of a system where every action defines your character. If you want to be a better fighter, then get out there and swing your sword around. You want to be a better spellcaster? Then toss off spells left and right.
All this is will presumably lead to you gaining experience through practice. In reality, however, all that clicking really amounts to little more than arbitrary skill increases that are minimally associated with your play style. For instance, we once received a wisdom increase for smashing open a wine barrel, an experience that was hardly educational or thought-provoking in any way.
And as far as the plot goes, Mage Knight is linear like water is wet. The game's single player campaign follows a series of loosely connected skirmishes with the common themes of attack, rescue and invasion. In an RPG like Oblivion, one has the option of exploring a huge world complete with side quests and bonus missions. Mage Knight, however, offers only rigid quests that end with dry, uninspired cut scenes. The ability to lose yourself in the world is almost non-existent.
Looking For Group!
Also problematic is Mage Knight's attempts to replicate the multiplayer party experience in a single-player game, an experiment that's derailed by your party members' uniformly generic personalities. For example, when you meet up with Janos Freeborn, you may choose either Janos the Warrior (axe), Janos the Marksman (rifle), or Janos the Gadgeteer (bombs). The only difference between the three iterations is the weapons they carry. So anyone hoping for a little character in their characters will be disappointed by the rigid system imposed on your allies' behavior.
Even worse are the pathing issues associated with this faux-party system. Allies constantly become stuck behind walls and pillars, enemies lose track of you when you walk out of their line of sight, and glitches allow you to hurl spells at blissfully unaware boss mobs. On occasion, we were forced to complete an entire level solo when our two computerised comrades became stuck in a maze somewhere. And people thought Everquest had pathing issues.
Freedom Is Overrated
Then there's Mage Knight's innovative free camera system, which sounds great until you actually have to use it. Don't let the 3-D environs fool you: Mage Knight is a Diablo-esque 2-D scroller masquerading as a current-gen RPG. The 3-D skies and varying elevations are countered by the simple fact that characters can neither climb nor jump. There's a reason why free cameras are often decried: they often saddle with double duty as both hero and cameraman.
Usually, developers implement a bit of AI so that the camera's vantage follows a specific point of view and dislodges itself when stuck. Not so in Mage Knight. Combat is incredibly frustrating since you have to constantly adjust the camera angle while beating off throngs of orcs. So, if one gets the drop on you from behind, you'll need to swing the camera around just to stick your sword in his gut. Also absent is a true first person view. The camera can zoom in just close enough so that you are looking directly behind your character but it won't put you directly inside your character's head.
We were also amazed at Mage Knight's visuals. Not because they were particularly good but because of how much they resembled WoW's. The dwarf and human models seem like they'd be right at home in Ironforge and Stormwind. Sythvalis, your elemental guide, bears striking resemblance to the warlock summoned voidwalker, and the armour designs have the distinctive, cartoonishly oversized stylings of a WoW paladin's. Even the three tiered skill tree feels like a shameless rip-off.
One of the things that we wish they had borrowed from WoW is its crafting system. Mage Knight effectively butchers the process by incorporating recipes into the mix. It's a mind-numbingly streamlined process as herbs and vials are automatically allocated via the recipe screen and a simple click creates a batch of potions. The needed ingredients are also readily available, practically littering your path like so many weeds. And if you're feeling especially lazy, you can just pop into a store and buy them, so there's hardly a reason to harvest them. And since there is no community to sell them to, there isn't any sense of economy, which led us to ask, "What's the point?"
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