People love to play the part of the detective, to solve impossible crimes, and to be declared a hero. This is why detective novels fly off the shelves and Cluedo has been a family staple for years. So, you may think, “what has this got to do with the gaming industry?” Well, let me get to the point…The Magister is the latest title that allows you to lead a murder investigation. You’ll question the locals, piece together clues, and solve the crime, or not, as is so often the case.
Developed by Nerdook Productions and published by Digerati, this is a murder-mystery deck-building RPG. It’s a wonderfully complex title that combines many genres. You will focus on turn-based combat, deck-building and resource management as you gather clues and eliminate suspects.
The Magister: fingers in many pies, spring to mind.
You control a Magister who is effectively the judge, jury, and executioner in any crime. You are sent to the village of Silverhurst to investigate the death of a fellow Magister. The poor chap was murdered in his room in the local inn and you must find the clues, question the locals, and serve justice. In theory, it’s as simple to grasp as Cluedo, but in reality, it’s as tricky as holding a slippery eel.
I’m all up for a game that is ambitious, but The Magister has its fingers in so many pies! The constant back and forth between different mechanics make it hard to master, and this will put off many players. Moreover, this isn’t helped by its thorough tutorial that does well to explain the gameplay, but offers no hints. Therefore, most of your early experiences with this will be of scratching your head. Sadly, this slow and confusing start undermines a rather intelligent and well thought out game. If the developers had capped their ambitions, the project would have been much more successful.
Excellent questioning and rapport building.
I’ve mentioned complex mechanics more times than I like to, but I loved how every element was brilliantly woven together. The game demands that you balance your time between questioning, side quests, and special events. You must work with the locals to gather information, debunk alibis, and piece together the mystery. Your playthrough culminates in a classic revelation of your thoughts as you travel to the Signal Tower to speak to the head Magister. Here you discover if you’re the next Sherlock Holmes, or simply a bumbling idiot.
I loved how each game ended, but let’s roll it back a bit and look at what you’re going to experience. Set from an isometric viewpoint, you are free to explore each unlocked segment of the map. You’ll visit an array of areas each full of colourful characters or enemies to overcome. You must build relationships with the locals in order to question them successfully. Your bond is rated out of three stars and by completing tasks and helping them out, they will be forthcoming with information. This was an excellent choice as it demanded that you looked at the bigger picture and proved your actions have consequences.
Turn-based action and diplomacy.
When you are not interrogating individuals, you are likely to be engaged in either combat or diplomatic events. Both options follow a similar turn-based pattern and both use the deck-building mechanic. Your deck of cards is upgraded and increased during each playthrough and a better deck makes the game much easier.
The combat uses a timer-based approach that determines the order of action. If you go all out and use every card, your character must wait longer to go again. Subsequently, a little poise and some planning is key to getting the best out of each player. Your deck is made up of attack and defence cards and you must observe your opponents and decide the best course of action. You occasionally have support in the form of guards, and the computer-controlled characters offer some much-needed help. However, the lack of control over their actions can make planning challenging.
If you’ve ignored the combat mode and plucked for diplomacy, your aim is to calm your opponent down. You have a limited number of turns to reduce their rage counter. You must use cards to create empathy that, in turn, buys more cards to reduce rage. It’s a tactical battle of luck and wits and is frankly really difficult. Though I found this to be challenging, it was extremely rewarding and, like the combat, it was brilliantly executed.
Resource management and too much to cover.
Once you’ve completed the aforementioned questioning and battles, you are then free to complete side quests and other tasks. This is where the resource management section comes to life. You must use your limited time to select who you wish to help and what tasks are most viable to complete. It can be tricky to balance the villager’s needs with your own, but you must be selfish if you wish to build rapport. Unfortunately, the longer you take to solve the crime, the more impatient the head Magister becomes. After all, no one wants an idiot in charge.
The length of this review shows just how in-depth The Magister goes. There are so many layers to talk about and I haven’t even scratched the RPG elements. With character levelling available and upgraded cards, you have more mechanics to deal with. Once you get to grips with the finer points, you’ll enjoy a thoroughly enjoyable and deep game that’ll keep you playing for hours. Until that moment, however, you’ll need patience, luck, and an experimental mind to find the best approach.
The Magister has an earthy medieval aesthetic.
For all its complexities and convoluted ideas, The Magister has used a simple and dated graphical style. The old-school imagery reminded me of early console/PC RPGs thanks to the basic character model and restrictive world. This decision worked well as it reined in the mechanics and prevented the gameplay from running away with itself. I liked the use of earthy tones to enhance the medieval theme, and the lack of clutter made searching each scene much easier.
The audio does well to also capture the medieval theme and the drama of the impending case. The folksy music creates a lighthearted vibe that was pleasant to experience. With so much going on, the basic soundtrack was a pleasant change that gave you time to think. This was wonderfully contrasted by the aggressive music during the turn-based events.
A woeful port from PC.
Not all games are successfully ported from PC, and sadly, The Magister is one of them. Its woeful controls haunt it throughout and the simplest of tasks is a painful experience. A free-flowing cursor would have been a wise choice. Instead, you are left fumbling around during every encounter.
If you have the patience and aptitude to pick up and understand every mechanic, you’ll experience a game that is full of replay value. With its procedurally generated cases, no playthrough is ever the same. To finish this is no mean feat, and completionists must invest hours to unlock every achievement.
The Magister: brilliantly convoluted, but less is more.
The Magister contains some excellent and interesting mechanics that work well within the detective genre. However, its ambition and convoluted ways make it a tough nut to crack. The adage, less is more is relevant and removing some elements would have made this much more user friendly. Yet I still enjoyed the challenge and recommend you to buy it here! Search for clues, build relationships, and solve the case no matter the challenges ahead.