Hands-On: Sorcery

Yer an apprentice, Harry.

At E3 2010, Sony debuted a PlayStation Move title that had the industry buzzing. But since its initial announcement, Sorcery has gone pretty ‘under the radar’ – until today. Fortunately, I got to play Sorcery during Sony’s PlayStation holiday showcase in Manhattan. Sorcery is back, and it’s been completely revamped.

The most immediately noticeable change to Sorcery is its design. The art style has seen some significant changes, and the overall presentation of the game has been greatly improved. The game has lost some of its child-like appeal, and now resembles a game designed for an audience of all ages. The art direction has seen a tiny addition of grit, while still maintaining a vast amount of color, bringing the game’s wondrous world of magic to life. The graphics have been updated quite a bit. Textures have made the jump to higher resolutions, and character models have more detail than their two year old counterparts. The apprentice’s spells have been updated with more dynamic effects, making them look more realistic and engaging. Sorcery shows itself to be a full-on PlayStation 3 title, as opposed to a game developed as a quick cash-in on the PlayStation Move controller.

The controls themselves make great use of the motion controller. The peripheral is one and one with the apprentice’s wand, comparable to the Wiimote being one to one with Link’s sword in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (minus the stabbing). The controller is dead on, which is important because you need to wave and flick your wand in specific ways to cast spells and change the trajectory of your Arcane Bolts – the game’s standard spell shot. While some actions may seem a bit overzealous (such as opening treasure chests by circling your wand in front of you), most of the gestures you will make with your controller are simple, fluid, and link a sort of connection between you and the apprentice. I would have preferred to open treasure chests with just a simple upward flick. However, a horizontal flick will cast aside obstacles such as boulders that may stand in your way. This action was a perfect example of adding a layer of immersion you may not be able to find in games without a motion controller.

More complex actions are used for switching spells. While these gestures are not difficult, it can take a bit of time getting used to waving the wand the correct way. Sometimes I found myself switching to ice spells while trying to throw on wind. To switch spells, you simply hold down the Move button to bring up your spell menu, and follow the on-screen gesture for the spell you’d like to put on. To switch to fire, you’d perform a clockwise rotation; for ice, you’d go counterclockwise; and for wind, counterclockwise while pointing the controller up. Casting spells is a bit simpler than choosing them. While you have fire equipped, a single flick of the controller will create a combustion in front of you; drawing a line in front of yourself with the controller will lay down a line of fire at the apprentice’s feet. For the most part, we saw the same gestures used for different things. Waving your wand in a circle may open chests, but it will also equip your ice spell (when you’re holding the Move button, of course), and repair items and terrain. Because of this, the game feels more natural and less cluttered with tons of gestures that will have you sprawled out all over the living room floor.

Intuitive and natural controls are extremely important for Sorcery. It would be a shame if the control scheme took away from the immersion of the game, because the game world has been so radically changed. The old Sorcery was designed to be a dungeon crawler. Now, the game has been changed to suit a big and open world. During our hands-on, we saw two different environments. The first location was a dungeon that housed a secret artifact for the apprentice to collect. The dungeon was our beginner level – introducing us to the controls and gameplay. Despite being simple and straight-forward, the dungeon looked great and felt like inviting and welcoming first steps into the game world. There was a lot to see in terms of environment. Broken columns and pillars sometimes scattered across the floor, while light shined off of surfaces from blazing torches strewn about the walls and pathways.

The second area of the game was more or less an arena of sorts, filled with enemies for the apprentice to fight his way through. Being in outside area, this section of the demo actually looked a bit more tropical. Lush plant life and trees were spread here and there, the gorgeously lit sky opened up, and the sun beat down on the closed arcane gateways – which would soon open up portals for the apprentice to step through, allowing him access to parts of the map he wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. Despite how great the game looked, there were creatures waiting to get their hands on me, cutting my scenic trip just a tad short.

It doesn’t hurt a game when it has a fun and satisfying combat, right? Because that’s just what Sorcery brings to the table. Combat can be as simple as flicking arcane bolts at enemies over and over again, but the reward for exploring the combat system in Sorcery is too good to pass on. There’s nothing quite like drawing a line of fire in front of you, shooting arcane bolts over it, and turning them into fireballs as they hurl into on-screen enemies. Using wind, you can create a tornado, send it toward your enemies, shoot arcane bolts inside it, and watch the bolts fly out and knock them dead. But why not do all three? Draw a line of fire at your feet, cast a tornado through to warp it into a firestorm, and shoot arcane bolts over the line of fire to transform them into fireballs that will bounce off of the firestorm uncontrollably in every direction. Your bolts will also bounce off of a freezing foe, or will shatter the enemy if you’ve completely frozen him. We only had a small taste of the spells / combinations in Sorcery, but there are four more spells and many more combos to be made in the full game that we’ve yet to see. The combat in Sorcery is addictive, simple, intuitive, but most importantly, a lot of fun. Last I checked, that’s a good thing to have in a game.

Some things did not make it to the new version of Sorcery. While the shaking and drinking of potions, as well as the rat potion, have stayed in tact, the pumpkin transformation is now unfortunately gone. In the demo I played, I had health potions readily available, which I could use by pressing square, shaking the Move controller (to mix the potion), and performing a drinking motion with the controller.

Significant changes have been made to Sorcery, and all of its time in silence have been to reinvision the game for a more substantial audience. We are definitely excited to see Sorcery again, and we can fortunately report that the game is looking great, and may actually force me to pick up a PlayStation Move controller as the game’s nears its spring 2012 release date.

For more on Sorcery, be sure to check out our gameplay video and the official b-roll, attached below, as well as our interview with its creative director, Brian Upton. Additionally, you can check out new screenshots of the game at the gallery, and a features list from a fact sheet sent out by Sony below.

  • A Real Magic World – Use the PlayStation Move motion controller as your magic wand. Cast extraordinary magic spells, brew enchanted elixirs, solve ingenious puzzles, and defeat the forces of darkness!
  • Unique Combo System – The gesture-based casting system lets you chain together basic spells into powerful combos. Freeze and shatter your enemies, electrocute them with lightning called down from the heavens, or incinerate them in a lethal firestorm!
  • Develop Your Character – Collect magic items, learn new spells, and concoct upgrade potions, to turn your humble apprentice into an unstoppable magic force!
  • A Lusth and Varied World – Explore five unique realms, each with their own enemies and challenges. Descend into the kingdom of the dead to battle the Banshee and the Restless Dead warriors, venture into the endless stair where vicious bogies are wreaking havoc, brave the faerie forest, raid the Slumbering Palace to free Lord Fey, the Faerie King, and much more!

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