Carbon Studio, the Poland-based team behind The Wizards (2018), is bringing a standalone expansion to the series to PC VR headsets early next year called The Wizards – Dark Times. We got a chance to go hands-on with a 10-minute slice of Dark Times here at Gamescom 2019.
I had an opportunity to pop into the original Wizards back when it arrived on Early Access in 2017, and although the team has since released the full version into the wild, now dubbed The Wizards – Enhanced Edition (2018), I haven’t really had the chance to jump back into the magical realm of Maloira to experience for myself just how enhanced it has become during its year in Early Access. So while I’m not a professed disciple of the series, I can say that on its own merit that the Dark Times demo I played checks some significant boxes in a few departments, the most noticeable of which is its more intuitive spellcasting system and its cohesive and striking visuals.
Moreover, the game is said to be more of a linear adventure and less arena-based, offering what Carbon calls a “short but lore-rich story from Meliora’s chronicles,” making it less of a points-driven wave shooter and more of a proper dungeoning experience, replete with its own story line.
The demo (played on Rift S) plopped me into a post-tutorial level, giving me a few spells at my disposal, including gesture-based spells such as fireballs, frostbow, throwable ethereal shields, and a force push that can knock down enemies.
Although this sounds pretty similar to the old system, Dark Times is also bringing secondary functions to many of its spells. For example, the frostbow can be transformed into two powerful frost-spears by simply bringing your hands apart.
What is radically different about Dark Times though is these spells do elemental damage more in line with standard RPGs, i.e. an ice attack can freeze an enemy in its path so you can transition to a more powerful spell to deal more damage. Mixing the elemental spells is also more intuitive too: freezing an enemy with a few frost-arrows or well placed frost-spear will freeze them, and a fire spell will again release them.
It gets a little more complicated than that though, as it also depends on which environment you’re in at any given time. If you’re sloshing around in a wet spot along the path, enemies standing in water will automatically become resistant to fire magic, but also be more vulnerable to lightning spells too. You can replicate this vulnerability at any time by freezing an enemy, lighting them on fire (which makes them wet) and then shocking them with a lightning spell—something that provides a little more realism and solidity to the world.
The studio maintains that all of the game’s spells have been reworked to play different roles in typical combat situations, which in end effect aims to get players to think more tactically about the spells they should use, and not continuously mashing the same ones over and over.
Besides the spells themselves, which did feel simple and reliable to use, I was also pretty impressed by the visual side of things too. In comparison to the studio’s previous titles Alice VR (2016) and the Early Access version of The Wizards, Carbon seems to really be hitting their stride with Dark Times, as lighting, textures, art direction, voice actors, and overall performance are all pretty much on point. Of course, a 10-minute demo can only reveal so much, although it looks like the standalone continuation of the series has really puts its best foot forward here.
The Wizards – Dark Times is slated to launch in Q1 2020 on the standard slew of modern SteamVR-compatible VR headsets. Carbon Studio is also planning an Oculus Quest version, and says that a PSVR version is also a future possibility.