Playing as mages or wizards kinda sucks in a lot of games. Sure, you get powerful spells that do cool stuff, but you have to use them all while standing far away from combat to keep your frail skull from getting caved in. Better watch your magic points/mana too, or else you’ll be flinging puffs of useless smoke. Screw that, I’d rather just bash something’s face with an axe. My axe will never run out of axe. Still, wouldn’t it be cool if you could toss all that crap aside and just rush right into the thick of combat, launching fire and lightning from within melee range while protected by a magical shield? Xaviant thinks it would be, and Lichdom: Battlemage was birthed through eliminating every single downside to playing caster classes in games.
That sounded like a pretty tall claim, but the dev who showed it to me at PAX was already impressing me in moments. For starters, forget about the backpedaling mage. Instead of flinging spells while walking away from your enemies, the game gives you a combat teleport that will fire you in any direction you choose, launching you out of danger. That would be all right by itself, but doing this teleport also leaves behind a spell of your choosing. Want to freeze everyone while you dodge or make them explode? Do whatever puts the biggest smile on your face.
Not only this, but you have three layers of shield to wear through before your enemies put you in the ground, so you can take a good couple of hits from basic bad guys. The three separate shields worked as a really good indicator of how much danger the player was in, with some serious knuckling down happening when only one shield was left. It’s a decent amount of health that’s easy to visually understand, making some close-up action possible and tempting. You can also tweak your shield to do a couple of different nasty things as well, making it stronger or adding offensive capabilities as you see fit.
None of this is even factoring in the spells in your hands. You can have several spells mapped to your hands at any one time, flicking through them with a few hits of the buttons. This meant that you could be tossing down ice barriers and lightning storms quickly, and all with no mana cost to keep track of. That’s right, there is no stupid magic bar at all. If you can toss fireballs, then you can toss fireballs – no strings attached. Also, the demo I saw had a couple of obvious elemental types and spells/shields to use this with, but the dev promised me that there were many more he hadn’t shown me.
Still, those same fireballs might get old by game’s end, so what’s keeping it interesting? There are lots of little pickups that you can grab from the environment or from dead enemies that you can cobble together to create or enhance spells. I only got to see a little bit of this at play during the demo, but the devs promised a lot of creativity in this system, so I’m interested in seeing what you can do with the system. I saw the dev create a different style of ice spell by sticking a couple of pieces together, using it to get through a hard part, but I think there could be a lot more nasty creativity hidden in the game to find out later. Widening ranges and adding status effects to spells is all well and good, but I’m curious what else I can do.
Another neat aspect of this system was that the dev had picked up a lot of those power-up items items by the end of the demo. Since they were all kind of low-level and weak, I thought he’d just toss them. Instead, you have the option of collapsing similar bonuses together to create a more high-level bonus. The dev even said that they’re working on an auto-collapse option, saving me tons of time and making Xaviant one of my favorite developers ever. Finally, someone realizes that any time saved from busywork in a game is a good thing. Also, it’s nice that I won’t have to look over every single bonus as I walk near it, debating whether it’s worth picking up or not. They all are, since they can all be made into something good, at least.
None of this would have mattered one but if the combat had sucked, but it did not. The enemies in the demo were beyond aggressive, hunting the wizard down and attacking in packs. Ranged and melee fighters would team up to tear the player to shreds, and bosses would just soak up damage while delivering crushing attacks themselves. I was watching one of the men who designed the game play it, seeing him getting positively annihilated by the first boss because he was concentrating on talking to me instead of playing the game well. When he did pay attention, it was a wild ride as he surged between combatants, dodging and firing spells all over the place without any kind of break.
When it was all over, the dev assured me that there were other play styles that would work besides the twitch-based dodging and shooting he was doing. You could also bring up a shield at the last moment of an enemy’s attack, something straight out of Bayonetta, and launch a powerful counter in that moment if you got good enough. That was just another positive point on a game he’d already sold me, though. With this much emphasis on fast combat and skill, I was already looking forward to obsessing over Lichdom: Battlemage. It plays like a mixture of an arena shooter and Skyrim on speed, and I’ve been wondering why no one has ever thought to do this with spellcasters in their own game before.
Lichdom: Battlemage looks like it will definitely be on some “Game of the Year” lists when the full version drops, but why wait when you you can get in on the alpha as we speak? Do so, and make your life better.