A competitive shooter that’s truly magical.
A little over four years ago, Destructoid published my first-ever piece of games writing – an article piece about why Heretic was great and more people should play it. I’ve come a long way since then (would you believe that my byline featured a picture of me wearing a fedora and the line “Warning: may contain sarcasm”) but one thing hasn’t changed: my unabashed love for fantasy first-person shooters. It should therefore come as no surprise that I’ve been having a blast (pun intended) with the closed beta for Mirage: Arcane Warfare, the latest from the developers of Chivalry. While the game’s still pretty rough around the edges (such is the nature of beta content), I think this could easily turn out to be the coolest competitive multiplayer experience of the year.
Even if I’m absolutely terrible at it.
Mirage doesn’t really have much in common with Chivalry, but it’s clear that a lot of the same design principles drove its development. For one thing, the game is hard. You can’t just find one ability that works and spam it over and over – you’ll need to master all the different types of basic attacks and the best situations in which to use them, plus dodging, parrying, and the six different abilities available to each class (three of which can be equipped at a time.) The difficulty of the game’s base mechanics and the different loadout options available means that each of the six classes comes with a pretty steep learning curve, and at least at the beginning you’re going to want to stick just with the one that most gels with your playstyle. Personally, I preferred the Alchemancer, a squishy ranged specialist who’s easily countered, but who can throw powerful nukes into the middle of other combats if your enemy’s not paying attention. He’s basically “Kill Steals: the character,” and no, I won’t apologize for who I am.
That’s the thing: you’d think that adding ranged magical abilities to Chivalry‘s melee combat system would completely break the game, but it really doesn’t. This is largely because most ranged abilities are slow enough that they can be parried and blocked by melee attackers or the classes that have magical shields, sending them flying back at the caster. This means that picking a magic user won’t let you completely sidestep the complicated ballet of striking, blocking, and dodging – it just adds a new step to the dance.
The other thing that sets Mirage apart from the competition is that its presentation is peerless. It seems kinda silly to say this, but the world of this gory competitive shooter reminds me more of Journey than of anything else – beautiful, stylistic Arabian deserts full of rich oranges and vibrant purples, a welcome change from brown and gray. Plus, I love all of the character designs (bless every game that actually remembers to give each class a distinct silhouette) and the amount of personality each class has been given through both art and voice performance (there’s a dedicated “War Cry” button and I recommend you press it as often as possible.) Better yet: even with the wide range of body types and the sometimes ridiculous outfits each class wears, they all feel like part of the same universe, much moreso than (careful, now) the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach to character design popularized by Overwatch.
Animations, too, smartly walk that line between gameplay practicality and artistic expression. I was surprised at how smoothly everything moved, and it’s awesome to watch characters hurling magma spheres, firing bright purple lasers, or dashing forward in orange flame. But what’s even more awesome is that each animation is perfectly timed, giving players the opportunity to see and understand exactly what’s coming and allowing you just enough time to react while still feeling like it took skill to do so.
Honestly, if I’d been told this was a final release version of Mirage: Arcane Warfare, I think I’d still be pretty impressed. There’s some pretty serious technical issues – the two worst are that sometimes the lobby finder will immediately give up even if there are plenty of open games and the game seems to just completely hard-crash every thirty minutes or so – but not nearly as many as I expected. Plus, with five different game modes, eight different maps, and the promise that more will come before launch, I feel like there’s still a ton of content for me to explore as I try to master more classes (next up: the engineer-like Tinker and her impressive array of confusing mechanical traps.)
Mirage feels like something genuinely new in the competitive multiplayer space: a game that takes both from fantasy FPSes like Heretic, the recent rise of the ability-based hero shooter, and its sword-focused spiritual predecessor, but does something that doesn’t really feel like any of those things. Its world is beautiful and original and its gameplay is skillful and bloody. What more could you ask for, really?