Of late there seems to have been a real drought of fantasy, magic-based virtual reality (VR) experiences, a genre which was once teeming with new titles. Back when VRFocus reviewed Carbon Studio’s The Wizards in 2018 there was also The Unspoken, Wands and The Mage’s Tale. Now there is a sequel, The Wizards – Dark Times, expanding on the original premise that conjuring spells shouldn’t be a button press away.
Originally The Wizards – Dark Times was going to be an expansion for the original title but Carbon Studio rightly did away with this idea, envisioning a grander adventure with more freedom to do what you want. And it does, sort of. The levels aren’t constrained like they used to be and the spells feel more powerful and natural to wield, yet the experience seems shorter with less to do.
Still set in Meliora, this time the magical land has been twisted and taken over by a dark force called the Umbra. This has altered the inhabitants, turning the elves into a plagued army called the Unlit while others have become more aggressive. This sets the scene for an epic adventure across a mixture of regions from poisonous swamps to lakes which don’t exactly obey any physical laws. While the story is decent enough, it’s your narrator buddy Aurelius who keeps the journey light-hearted with the odd quip in the quiet moments between fights so not to be distracting.
As a mage, all these fights require magic with 11 spells to learn over the course of the journey. These are introduced gradually so you aren’t suddenly overwhelmed trying to learn the various gestures each requires. This has been one of the big upgrades from the original, providing hand/arm gestures that aren’t overly complicated, becoming intuitive with practice. You can also be completely ambidextrous with your conjuring, casting spells in either hand – great for double fireballs.
Some of the same spells return whilst getting an upgrade. The fireball is the first you learn, activated by a flick of the wrist whilst holding the trigger. Then there’s the shield which is a horizontal arm motion and super useful now that you can have one in each hand. Then there are their powerful secondary functions, all activated by bringing both controllers together, pressing grip and then pulling apart. These include the homing Radiant Missiles for those distant enemies and electrical Storm Nova for stunning nearby opponents. There’s enough of a mix for an abundance of strategy options when engaging in battles.
Generally, the spells aren’t difficult to master as it just takes repetition. However, in the heat of battle there were a number of occasions where trying to cast the Arcane Shield would bring up a fireball, or vice versa. Testing The Wizards – Dark Times with Valve Index also caused casting problems as your hand naturally grips around the controller. This meant the system could get confused as to whether you were activating a grip function when simply pressing the trigger. A minor gripe but one that was noticeable when trying to move around the environment whilst engaging multiple enemies.
As for movement and the overall immersive qualities of The Wizards – Dark Times, Carbon Studio has players well covered. There’s smooth movement, teleportation (or both together), snap turning of various degrees, a vignette and support for lefties, which covers most base needs. There are plenty of nods to make sure the player is connected with the world, an abundance of climbing for instance, as well as light environmental puzzles which require magic to keep those hands busy.
There are some glitches to be solved as there were moments when the view went black because of walking into a rock or wall mid-fight. And the hub felt really underused. It looks awesome, with a little goblin strumming away and glowing mushrooms growing out the walls, yet apart from changing the colour of your hands or using the portal to visit a previous level, it was pretty vacant. Certainly, an area that’ll be expanded upon in future updates. Also, The Wizards – Dark Times is shorter than expected, clocking in at around 4 hours. And do turn off the subtitles if you don’t need them, as they ruin the look of the experience.
The Wizards – Dark Times needed to be a bigger, better adventure than its forebear and for the most part, it does. Once all the spells are unlocked the magic system showcases why VR is a natural fit this style of videogame, wielding powerful spells with abandon. There are no RPG elements to get bogged down with, potions to collect or stats to upgrade, unencumbering players for a lighter gameplay experience which is easy to step into. Even though there are some gripes along the way The Wizards – Dark Times still proves a satisfying magical adventure.