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Mirage: Arcane Warfare Devs On Magic - "We Want It To Feel Like You're Throwing Bricks At People's Heads"

Oh my God, it's a mirage

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While over at GDC a preview opportunity for Mirage: Arcane Warfare [official site] gave me a chance to check out Chivalry’s spiritual successor while ALSO enjoying respite from the Californian warmth (I’m ginger and pale and British – we wilt). The game offers up a very different colour palette and setting than Chivalry’s keep-n-countryside but once Torn Banner’s president, Steven Piggott, and senior brand manager, Alex Hayter, start showing me what’s happening in a pre-recorded match, Mirage’s Chivalric roots are obvious.

I didn’t get a hands-on with the game so I can’t tell you how it *feels* and whether the thunk and the heft of Chiv are maintained BUT I can tell you how it looks, how the modes work and where the team are aiming with the project:

Okay, so. Mirage: Arcane Warfare is a competitive multiplayer first-person stabber (although you can switch to third-person if you need) which adds magic and ranged combat options to melee weaponry and defence. It’s set in this richly coloured desert world where you play as either the rebel outcasts faction or the empire. The main mode is objective-based – what I see in the session are a couple of the multi-stage maps with some point capture, payload delivery and capture the flag scenarios – and you get to pick your character from a selection of six classes. The modes I see are 6v6 with the scaled-down player count being attributed to the fact that each player can now do a lot more than in Chiv.

“We had what we thought was great melee combat,” says Piggott when I ask what led them to make Mirage. “People really enjoyed that aspect of Chivalry, and what we wanted to do was something equally new, unique and exciting. We thought the intersection between melee combat and ranged combat was something we could uniquely approach.”

Hayter adds, “Chivalry was a game where you could control the direction and speed of your swing by turning your body as you’re completing it, and all these exchanges between you and the other players – having a high skill ceiling and requiring players to have to learn the game and develop skills. Similarly, in Mirage that’s what we’re going for but trying to add magic to the mix.

“That expands from these close-quarters encounters where we’ve still got that close-quarters melee but having the magic casting feel like an extension of that melee. You’re basically doing a swordfight from 20 feet away. You can still block any magic spell and parry and riposte against it – all that kind of stuff – so it still has that interplay that people enjoyed most about Chivalry but expanding to a much bigger range of possibilities.”

Knowing that I won’t be able to play the game myself in this session I ask whether that heft I remember from Chivalry persists in Mirage.

“Heft is a great word because when we approached swordfighting we wanted to really feel like you were swinging 10 or 20 pounds of steel through the air into somebody else,” says Piggott. “This time around we don’t want magic to feel like pixie dust. We want it to feel like you’re throwing bricks at people’s heads. So we’ve put a lot of work into making it feel like there’s a lot of weight and force behind the magic.”

Good.

Right, so the first character class I’m introduced to is the Vigilist. She has a spear and shield so she has that poke-y long reach and defence style of play. Her magic seems to be more about buffeting people around on the battlefield so she’s slightly more of a support character, I’d say, although still with the stabbing and the killing.

“She’s very protective so she can throw down a defensive bubble that will surround her,” says Hayter. “Right here she’s throwing a shield spell which can damage enemies and protect friends.”

A certain level of customisation of how a character actually plays will be available through loadout options. Each character has three ability slots and you can swap in various magic abilities as you prefer. Abilities are specific to each character class so I’m assuming this is more about wiggle room and preferences within a class rather than making big changes. You then trigger the abilities in-game by pressing the associated key.

There’s also an Alchemancer. He’s at the far end of the ranged/melee spectrum as he’s ranged only. He’d got no melee weaponry at all and can’t block attacks but does a lot of damage from a distance. You can think of him as more of a glass cannon – fragile but capable of great burst damage.

At this point we pause on a spell exchange. The Alchemancer has thrown a powerful attack spell at the Vigilist but she (or rather, the member of Torn Banner who was playing her) sees the movement which telegraphs the fact that the Alchemancer is using an attack and throws out a shield spell. The two collide in mid-air and the Vigilist avoids the damage.

“Spells are like a physical thing so you just have to hit it with anything [to block]” says Piggott. There’s no mana bar or anything, instead you are only limited in the use of magic in the same way as you are with swordplay – via animations and wind-up actions and so forth. “There’s the wind-up part of the attack when you’re building it, telegraphing it, then the release part where you’re firing it. If you’re hit in the wind-up phase you’re going to be interrupted and that’s true of melee and it’s true of magic.”

The next character is the Vypress who fits more of a rogue-y, assassin-y archetype. She’s got speed, mobility, and two swords. “She uses her dexterity to get around and attack people from the side or the back instead of head-on,” says Hayter. “She can’t lock. She’s about dodging and phasing. She can actually phase her body outside the physical realm.”

We watch as the player on the screen attempts to avoid a sword slash by phasing out. They’re so close but the timing is off by a fraction of a second and the Vypress’s body comes back into being with the sword still slashing through. I can imagine this happening to me a lot. She ends up injured and the character holds its side. It’s animations like this which let the enemy know who might be vulnerable to a quick kill and lets teammates know who needs protecting.

We go back to following the Alchemancer. He is now throwing magical bird projectiles at people. You can kind of hone it a bit once you’ve thrown it out. Hayter tells me a little more about how it works: “It’s an attack shot that you can drag in mid-air. A lot of magic attacks can be dragged and then directed.”

The Alchemancer’s target is a Taurant. That’s the bruiser class. He wears a helmet with bull horns coming out of it and his magic is all flames and rocks. Actually, all of the characters have a very recognisable silhouette, and the team tell me that their magic styles also differ. The preview session mentions legibility of combat a lot and from what I saw I understood the broad thrust of events even if I didn’t know the specifics of a spell or weapon. It’s one of those things where I’d need to play to deliver an actual verdict though – maybe I’d be flustered and find it harder to parse?

The Taurant is not bothered by the Alchemancer’s birds and just jumps out of the way.

At this point we switch to another encounter between Alchemancer and Vigilist. The Vigilist backs her opponent into a corner. He gets injured but uses an ability – a kind of magic flapping wings thing – to knock himself backwards and avoid further attack. He then teleports to the upper level of the building to escape. I mean, he ends up being slaughtered by a Vypress who’s up there but he demonstrates the theory of escaping and a demonstration of how to use the map’s verticality was there.

This is a two stage map, so after the attacking team captures a point a new part of the map opens up and play switches to a capture-the-flag scenario where the attackers must now steal a magic artefact. We don’t watch the whole thing play out but the idea is that you get a sense of making progress. That said, there will also be maps that are faster to play, with setups other than attacker vs defender, and with single objectives.

Progress – or at least the relation of different bits of the game to one another is something the team also hope to do with landmarks. By that I mean that the game isn’t story-heavy but there is lore and Torn Banner want to highlight that this world is a world by making bits of other maps visible from from the one you’re actually playing. It’s a little touch, but one which reminds me a bit of Ocarina of Time – how you could see Death Mountain off in the distance when you were pratting about in Hyrule Field.

“You can see this mountain in the background which acts as a genesis point for the lore. There’s this giant magic cataclysm a thousand years ago where magic from a spiritual realm entered the mortal realm of this world and collided with it.”

I’m going to tell you a bit more about the two factions you play, but from what I’ve seen of the game there’s more of Counter-Strike’s Terrorist/Counter-Terrorist setup where you don’t really need to get into the nitty gritty. Like, one side is an empire and the other is a rebel force. Once you name them that then the game’s probably either going to be about fighting or about a protracted political peace process.

Anyway. So the purple side is the Bashrahni Emirate – city-dwelling imperial army folk – and the orange side is the Azar Cabal – outcasts exiled to the desert and mountains.

“They differ philosophically in their use of magic,” says Hayter. “So magic, as I mentioned was from a spiritual realm, so it’s actually spirits. The Bashrahni Emirate – this purple team – are in the city and they believe these spirits should be enslaved and used as a tool for production, for militia, and for making the city grander and better.

“They use magic but they just tattoo it to themselves, which keeps it external to themselves. They view magic as being dirty if you use too much of it. Players will be able to customise the way the tattoos look and that kind of fun stuff. Whereas the Azar Cabal are the rebels who are outcast. They were cast into the deserts and the mountains and that kind of thing, so they’ve physically communed with these magical spirits and they think, we’re not going to treat them like slave tools. They’ve scarred themselves physically with that magic spirit.”

Essentially, this magic philosophy ties physical customisation options to the game lore. Armour and your primary weapon are fixed in terms of gameplay but you’ll be able to customise them is you fancy a new look or style.

We have enough time to take a brief look at another map. I see that the orange side is trying to access a purple side building. Once they do so they will then need to deliver a payload in the form of a magical explosive device to the location it needs to be in to blow up an enormous tower.

We didn’t get to look at the last two classes – Entropist and Tinker – in detail but they’re a defense/offense hybrid character with a staff and a magic carpet, and a supporty defensive trap specialist respectively.

Out of curiosity I ask where the name Mirage came from.

“The art style we’ve chosen is bold colours but it almost feels calm and serene,” says Piggott. “Very soon that will be shattered with violence and so the mirage is that there’s this peaceful, wonderful world.”

Hayter agrees:

“You’re going to be painting all these beautiful palaces with blood and gore.”

The Mirage: Arcane Warfare beta will be “soon”.

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