When I first saw Mages of Mystralia, the new game by Quebec-based Borealys Games, my immediate thought was, "Oh, another Diablo-like." With top-down point-and-click RPGs being all the rage, it was a natural assumption. But the more accurate point of comparison may be The Legend of Zelda.
Like Zelda, Mages of Mystralia is a top-down action-adventure game based primarily around traversal puzzles, one major difference being that its protagonist is a female mage named Zia. Also like Zelda, it doesn't have any stats that you level up. Instead, the depth is found in attaching spells to runes to get various effects.
There are four families of magic to be found: projectiles, melee, conjuring, and stealth, along with the usual earth, water, fire, and air elements. Individual spells can be attached to runes with effects like "boomerang" and "detonate," the effects which amplify as you attach more spells. With the runes, I watched as a fireball gained the ability to split into three parts, then became a massive wheel of flame consisting of multiple fireballs thanks to a handful of rotation runes. These movement runes make it possible for fireballs and other spells to hit hard to reach areas, which serves as a foundation for the puzzles.
In a way, the spell-crafting is akin to Zelda's items, with additional runes becoming available as you progress through the game. Once you become fluent in the spell-crafting system, you can produce some pretty neat effects. It manages to serve as the backbone for the gameplay without feeling overly gimmicky, though it's all promise right now. Mages of Mystralia is early enough that concept art had to stand in for the user interface.
What I'm really interested in seeing is how elaborate the dungeon design and exploration ends up being. Zelda derives a large amount of its appeal from its elaborate, multi-level dungeons; and Mages of Mystralia will have to do much the same if it is to stand out amid the flood of games on Steam. This is a case where good, solid design can really elevate a game.
On that note, Mages of Mystralia's chances are aided by its experienced team of 12 developers, many of whom are ex-Ubisoft veterans who have worked on games as diverse as Assassin's Creed and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Their experience is evident in Mystralia's relative polish even at this date. True, the art style is a tad generic - a pseudo-storybook style that will struggle to stand out from the torrent of games that look just like it - but as of right now, it looks pretty good.
As a final item of interest, Ed Greenwood is writing Mages of Mystralia's story. Dungeons & Dragons fans will recognize Greenwood as the creator of Forgotten Realms and the author of more than 150 fantasy novels, making him an interesting addition to the project. His story imagines a world where magic is a known quantity, but is outlawed due to a member of the ruling family going mad and causing tremendous amounts of damage to the kingdom. In this world, Zia is both and an adventurer who is out to discover her magical abilities after accidentally burning down her parent's home (come to think of it, this sounds like an alternate origin story for Harry Potter).
Mages of Mystralia is currently being developed for PC and console, though the rep showing me the game wouldn't reveal which consoles Borealys is targeting. All three have shown interest, though, and Borealys plans to use PAX East to gauge which console they should focus on. It's currently targeted for a 2017 release.
Though it's only about half finished, Mages of Mystralia's mix of charm and smart game design is immediately appealing, and it's very much on my list of games to watch. It resembles Zelda in form; but if Borealys' ideas ultimately pan out, it has the potential to be much more than a clone. I look forward to seeing what comes of it.