This first-person, party-based, turn-based dungeon exploration adventure poses obstacles such as finite resources, hunger and fatigue which constantly force the player to press on or perish. If you’ve played Dungeon Master for the Atari ST or Legend of Grimrock in recent years, you’ll feel right at home with Seven Mages. The mechanics of exploration and interaction are nearly identical, with real differences coming down to the layout of the buttons, graphical quality and story.
The story goes that Rovenland, a medieval island with rumors and stories of hidden treasure, is invaded by rogue mages, bandits, and other scum from all corners of the world. The inhabitants were once protected from dangers such as these by a true mage who had gone missing in action, last seen at the crypts of the Rove, a massive subterranean network underneath the island. Now the denizens, desperate for protection, offer gold to anyone who can find their missing magician. Enter the player’s character, a jack of trades and… card player? The player character enters the crypts with the help of a tavern keeper, on the condition he or she returns with a chest of treasure for the barmaid. As the player digs deep into the crypt in search of the absent illusionist, the history of Rovenland and its treasure and magicians will unravel. But even if the player lost heart and wanted to end the adventure early by returning to the surface quest incomplete, they just couldn’t. As the player’s character remarks in the cinematic introduction, ‘conscience is a bitch’.
OBJECTIVE AND GAMEPLAY
After a brief tutorial with exploration, supply collection and lever pushing, the player will come across their first fight. Though non-combat movement is free and strictly on a grid, all combat-related actions are completely turn based so the player can take all the time needed to survey the surroundings, organize a strategy and decide on the best course of action. To navigate and interact, the player uses the keyboard or mouse to move forward and backward, turn or strafe left and right, crouch to view the ground’s items, and click on anything within the player’s view to pick it up or interact with it. It could be a sword on the ground, a lever on a wall, or even a chute in which to drop items. Keys can be changed in a pre-game setup screen so common for Unity-made games today.
As with most dungeon crawlers, the objective is to progress through the dungeon and its labyrinths, defeat the terrible creatures dwelling within, solve puzzles and clear traps, and collect supplies and equipment as you find them. All in an attempt to survive and make it to the end. Along the way, the player will encounter strangers and recruit them as allies. These allies can move and fend off danger as a group, or split up to explore the crypt more quickly in case of branching pathways. But be warned, sometimes you’ll need greater numbers to defeat a fearsome foe.
But it’s not all just marching through the darkness. After recovering the tavern keeper’s chest from the crypt, the player is free to explore the city in search of quests, trade and recruitment of allies. The jungle outside the town can also be explored, and likely even more that was discovered.
As is common in role-playing games, defeating enemies grants the player experience points and eventually the ability to allocate more points to stats such as Strength and Magic, improving the effectiveness of skills and traits such as magic and maximum health. One unique feature to ‘Seven Mages’ is the ability to learn songs, which members of a party can learn and play in order to activate benefits and buffs for allies within range. The same song can even be played by multiple party members for an exponential effect. The effects of stats are somewhat complex, and will be familiar to players of dungeon crawlers and role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate, Diablo and The Elder Scrolls. It’s still easy enough that someone can pick it up and start playing, but eventually the difficulty increases so a player must actually determine a strategy for their play style and what stats in which to invest their skill points, or ‘Talents’ as they’re called in Seven Mages.
There was one issue with the stats system that annoyed me and my desire to customize stats in any way possible: The player character’s stats are Strength, Charisma, Magic and Speed. To distribute points from one stat to another during character creation, the player moves a marker around a circle in which those stats are organized in a clockwise fashion. To better explain this situation, the player can choose for all stats to be equally average, a high Strength level in exchange for low Magic or vice versa, and a high Speed level in exchange for low Charisma. As a former Dungeons and Dragons player who enjoys playing as a fast and charming bard who is neither strong nor particularly magical, this restriction present on initial stats in Seven Mages irked me a little. Still, a skilled player can make the best of a situation with a game that already features a decent balance between freedom and, well… stat balancing.
The graphics are clean 3d polygons, The enemies and NPCs appear a little plain in textures, and their color schemes make them highly visible against the background. Nothing appears jagged or ugly. Just plain. This is alright if you’re more interested in the game itself and would only be annoyed by dark rooms, flickering lights and camouflage; it might be even better for players with lower resolution monitors which squish things together. Or it works if one simply prefers older-looking graphics.
The sounds are great and get the player in the mood for adventure, danger and heroics, and the cries of battle and death are crystal clear. The sound effects of metal, footsteps and ambience are nice but sound a little weird and misleading on stereo headphones. Maybe it’s to emulate the odd acoustics of an a dank crypt carved out of stones, or maybe it’s because the developers put more effort into more important aspects of the game. The music is full of horns and drums which make for an exciting medieval music to get the blood pumping for battle and adventure. The soundtrack is a shining point with Seven Mages, and I look forward to the official soundtrack’s release.
In the end, Seven Mages is a solid game even in its current state, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic turn-based dungeon crawlers. True, this came out recently so it’s not a classic yet, but it’s certainly in the same vein. I give this game an 8.1 out of 10 but I wasn’t able to dive fully into the game and play tens of hours so take it just as a first impression score. In every case I look forward to visiting the game and playing it in full when it’s finished so I can witness the true fruits of the creators’ labor. By that time, I expect this score will raise to at least a 9.
Story: Standard Swords and Sorcery fare
Difficulty: Pretty Easy
Game Components Scores (out of 2, each):
Gameplay and Fun: 2
Controls and Interface: 1.8