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Review by: David Laprad
Published: October 12, 1997
Raven Software’s games have always been a mixed bag. When they have used technology created by id Software, the results have been nothing less than brilliant. The Heretic and Hexen series features a fascinating, maturing world, and some of the hottest and most creative 3D gameplay to date. It has often been rightly said that Raven is the one company that can turn id’s sharp technology into a game worth playing. On the other hand, when they have developed games from the ground up with their own technology, as with Necrodome and CyClones, the results, with respect to both technology and gameplay, have been less than spectacular.
Now, on the heels of the successful Hexen sequel, come two Raven titles based on in-house technology. Both are overhead action games that blend the intensity and play of the classic Gauntlet with the deep, graphic splendor of Quake. It is as if the player is looking down from a god-like perspective upon a 3D world. One is a futuristic shooter called Take No Prisoners, the other, a medieval slaughterfest appropriately titled MageSlayer. This time, Raven has gotten the technology right; upon entering one of these games for the first time, players are generally stunned by the impressive point of view and realistic lighting. Watching the multi-level worlds flow smoothly below is truly something to behold. However, in the case of MageSlayer, the gameplay, while better than previous in-house efforts, still needs improving.
If you have played Heretic or Hexen, you will find yourself on familiar narrative ground with MageSlayer. The game is set in a fantasy world of war and magic. Long ago, evil Mages had ravaged the earth, slaughtering countless thousands and enslaving entire armies in their dark purpose. After many centuries of this destructive, anti-social behavior, five clans formed to free the people from their malevolent masters. These MageSlayers learned to harvest the power of two very powerful meteors that fell from the sky. The SunOrb enabled them to control powerful magic, while the StarStone was crafted into five powerful relics. Using these two forces, the MageSlayers drove the Mages into retreat. When the Mages fought back, the MageSlayers sacrificed the Clan of Knowledge and the powerful relics in order to save the other clans. The game begins as Lord Thane, the sole survivor and founder of the Clan of Knowledge, embarks upon his revenge. He has gathered the relics, given them to his corrupt minions, and launched an attack on the MageSlayers.
The object of MageSlayer is to collect the relics located in each of the game’s five regions. Players hack and slash their way through numerous non-descript dungeons, collecting power-ups, avoiding pitfalls and traps, and slaying enemies. Players commence battle as one of four characters: the Warlock; the Earthlord; the Arch-Demon; and the Inquisitor. Each class has a unique set of four spells, plus a special ability. This is the primary driving force for completing and replaying the game. As the player finishes a region, he is returned to the start map, or Vault, where an Oracle grants a new power. This system of reward motivates the player, and nurtures anticipation regarding the nature and effectiveness of new powers. This is also the most satisfying component of gameplay. The higher spells, as well each character’s special ability, are well-executed and provide a massive, and very gratifying, level of carnage. The player is also responsible for monitoring manna and health levels. Fortunately, the corresponding power-ups are distributed liberally throughout the levels, and are readily accessible from the player’s inventory.
Of course, as the player grows more powerful, so do the enemies. The action is truly intense; even on the easiest setting there is rarely a moment’s rest before hordes of unfriendly hosts swarm upon the battle-weary hero. There is room for strategy, though. One power-up allows the player to pass unnoticed through areas saturated with particularly tough baddies, while another enables him or her to run gauntlets of blood-thirsty demons with inhuman speed. In addition, death can be granted from above due to the 3D nature of the levels. Tossing dynamite on top of a slavering group of demons trying to snack on your toes is quite entertaining (apparently, bad guys have very linear thinking). My favorite power-up, though, is the one that changes the player into Death Incarnate, complete with dark cloak and scythe.
Collecting each region’s relic involves defeating some truly bad-ass bosses that seem unwilling to let go of the past. If you like your meat tough, MageSlayer will certainly satisfy your cravings. Variety is the spice of death, though, and there are new enemies in each area. Way too many titles seem content to slab out a limited number of bad guys, who keep showing up again, and again, and over, and over throughout the game. By the time I defeated Blood, I was sick of killing zombies. “More brains!” you say? How about more monsters? The enemies and their numerous attacks is MageSlayer’s greatest pleasure. I constantly wondered what was around the corner, and was rarely disappointed. Some of the enemies are accompanied by cool effects, such as the ability to teleport or cast devious spells, or a special ability, such as resurrecting dead brethren. From the small, venom-shooting frogs, to the large, fire-breathing dragons, MageSlayer’s bestiary is top-notch.
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