Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, first-person spellcasting and spellcrafting with Lichdom: Battlemage.
As a battlemage, I am imbued with arcane might: deadly firestorms, freezing ice blasts, and crackling electrical bolts. I hold my magic-infused hands up in front of me in an awkward, unnatural fashion at all times, as if I'm a giant praying mantis or a Microsoft marketing executive presenting at E3. And, I wrestle with the same ancient dilemma all great sorcerers have faced, from Merlin to Dumbledore: do I want to use a Charging Smart Trap AOE Pattern with +17% chance of critical damage or stick with the Charging Targeted Pattern of Persistence with +14% status effect duration? As Gandalf said: "YOU SHALL NOT PASS NOW THAT I'VE GOT +28% BURN DAMAGE ON KILL FOR 9 SECONDS!"
Playing the FPS (first-person spellcaster) game In Verbis Vertis recently left me a little disappointed that I only got to use my spells for puzzle-solving instead of, say, flash-frying a bunch of charging goblins with magical fireballs. That's why I decided to try Lichdom: Battlemage. It appeared that it would let me explore the mysterious and mystical traditions of sorcery while also allowing me to commit extreme acts of violence on a bunch of stupid monsters.
After the intro, which features a deep-voiced, ridiculously evil antagonist and a deep-voiced incredibly serious mentor, I'm happy to hear my character begin talking because she's a bit more wry and playful. She's also -- I'm incredibly pleased to discover -- Jennifer Flippin' Hale. Unfortunately, her acting talent, while great, is not quite enough to save the clunky writing, though it does make it easier to bear. In one exchange, my mentor tells me "You will no longer fear death," and my character's response is "Wow. I mean... damn!"
Granted, I'm not sure what my own response would be upon being told I would no longer fear death. It might not be any better. Probably something like "Huh?" or "Mmkay." Possibly, "Look, I've feared death since I first heard about death, so no disrespect, sir, but I think you're fulla shit." Point is, Jennifer Hale is great and I'm glad to hear her voice coming out of my virtual mouth. (And fear not, if you choose to play the dude battlemage, Hale's character will still appear in the game regularly.)
After a brief tutorial, I'm in combat, facing skeletal and human enemies and discovering that fighting with spells alone can be satisfying as hell. Fireballs foosh appropriately when thrown and smack nicely when they hit, and can be charged up for an even bigger sha-boosh for more damage. There's an area of effect version as well, which can also be charged, raining down an explosive firestorm on clusters of enemies, even from a good distance away. There's also a fire-shield, to limit incoming damage, and if timed perfectly with an enemy swing, reflects back on them. On the downside, timing the defensive spell perfectly is next to impossible, and I eventually stop trying and just back off when I'm within arm's reach.
Helping enormously with the backpedaling is my dodge ability. It's a bit like Blink from Dishonored, but it only works on the horizontal plane. You don't get to leap up to catwalks or anything, you just zip around on the ground a few feet at a time. You can dodge sideways and backwards as well as forwards, so if you're pinned in a corner you can still blip away. I spend a lot of time blipping away.
Ice magic, my next sigil, is also satisfying to use: magical snowballs leap from my hand, impacting with a lovely crack, and it's especially fun nailing dudes in the mug from clear across the map. There's no crosshair, but I feel way more accurate than I do in most games, so I think there may be some sort of targeting help. If so, it's subtle enough that I feel like I'm a crack shot and not that I'm just being auto-pointed at bad guys.
Then there's crafting, which is both easy to accomplish -- drag-and-drop, mix-and-match -- and yet quite complex. As you smite fools you collect their essence (floating coins, basically) which have various attributes and act as components for new spells. You choose if you want your spell to be a projectile, an area of effect attack, or a defensive spell, then you augment it with your ghost coins, giving your spell unique attributes. If you have a damage coin, it'll increase your spell's damage. A speed coin means you can cast it more quickly. If it's a Paired Control of Persistence coin... then you have to start reading a lot of very small text and numbers.
For my tiny brain and short attention span, it gets to be a bit much. In just a few hours of playtime I've collected dozens of different ghost coins like my Reinforcing Ace Pattern of Charging and my Charging Targeting Pattern of Persistence and my Stubborn Agile Shield Pattern of Hardness, each with slightly different percentages of damage or duration or critical hits or protection. Just looking at one of the spells I whipped up, Quick Immolation, I can see it does 9 seconds of burn damage at 15 DPS while 50% of the remaining damage is applied when the target is stunned and consumes 40% of Mastery on critical hit increasing burn damage with a 5% critical hit and a 15% critical effect multiplier. That's only about half of what the crafting screen tells me.
And, hey, I know people are into that type of system. I know if magic were real it'd be called science and it would be all about numbers and math and percentages anyway. It's just not for me. And I might be more inclined to give it a real try if being a battlemage wasn't turning out to be so... well, dull. As much fun as roasting and icing undead warriors and archers was the first few times, and how enjoyable it was the next few times, and how it was still pretty much okay the next, you know, couple dozen times, it's begun to lose its novelty. At this stage, about three hours in, there's just very little variety in the types of enemies I've been facing or the environments I've been facing them in.
A new spectral miniboss was exciting to meet, but she just raised a bunch more of the same two or three types of undead that I'd been killing since I started. And then I ran into her about three more times. It took two hours to even unlock a third spell school, which I then proceeded to use on more of the same enemies in more of the same caverns.
After In Verbis Vertis's puzzles I was ready throw fireballs at fools in Battlemage, which let me do exactly that. At this point, though, I'm kind of wishing there was something else to do with all this cool magic. Like solve puzzles.