“Sorcery” Review: A Spell of Brevity, Frustration, and a Little Hope

It’s been a long, long (loooooong) way coming, but Sorcery is finally here. And there’s probably no reviewer who’s been looking as forward to this game more than I have. Even during one of last year’s Infinite Ammo’s roundtables on Motion Gaming, my lasting one hope was that–after Skyward SwordSorcery would come out, rock hard on the PS3, and show the world a good hardcore game can be done with motion controls.

Turns out I was both wrong and right.

Presentation

Sorcery is the story about a young sorcerer’s apprentice named Finn who just can’t keep his hands off his master Dash’s wand. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. When Dash is out and about at the market or fighting trolls, Finn is doing chores, getting berated by Dash’s feline familiar, Erline, and sneaking into Dash’s study to steal another wand to practice magic with.

But after some arcane tomfoolery causes Finn to lose one of Dash’s precious ingredients, Finn and Erline set out on a quest to recover it. A run-in with some particularly dangerous undead fiends draws the attention of the Nightmare Queen, a dangerous threat to the peace and tranquility of the human and faerie realms. And it becomes Finn’s duty to stop her.

The story of Sorcery is told with some in-game rendered cutscenes, but mostly the ever-popular motion comic. The story and the dialogue of Finn and Erline is both engaging and fun enough to drive players on, with a few plot twists to spare. But overall, two things break the presentation. The first is that most interesting aspects of the story come so early or late in the game that it’s easy to forget that you’re not just running down yet another linear path to fight more goblins, but also trying to save a world from an evil sorceress. The second is that the emotion of the game falls a little flat when looking at a halfway decent motion comic instead of a full-rendered cutscene.

All in all, it’s an intriguing world with a few good characters, but the the lack of exploration, the lack of a larger supporting cast, and the brevity of the story give far too little to make players want to know or see more of this world.

But story wasn’t what most people were waiting for. The question on everyone’s mind is simple: do the controls work?

Read on.

The Gameplay

During the course of the game, Finn will eventually control the power of 5 spells: Arcane Bolt, Earth Strike, Ice, Fire, and Lightning. Each spell has a “Fire/Alt. Fire” option, meaning each spell can be used in two ways. Arcane Bolt, for example, can be fired straight on or curved around corners (think Wanted and “Curving the Bullet”); Fire can be used sort of like a shotgun blast for up-close enemies, or can be dragged along a line to create a defensive wall of flame. Some are more useful than others; some are flat-out useless (I’m looking at you, Earth Strike). There’s also a Shield spell that comes with a Shield Bash move (think Sports Champions) that comes in handy.

The most interesting concept for the controls is experimenting with the spells. Mixing and matching spells can have different results, and I found this both very engaging and somehow severely lacking. Early on before unlocking the Fire spell, there’s clever level design that demands you coordinate your Arcane Bolt spell with campfires flames to take out enemies. Another spot is designed to use your Bolt with campfire flames and wind tunnels to make fire-nados. When you unlock all of your spells, you can then do everything you want at your own pace. But there’s a limitation of experimentation that takes away from the–forgive me for this–magic of the game, especially when you realize that there’s not much creativity you can apply in generating new spells. With the lack of any real puzzles (everything is incredibly elementary) it makes fooling around with your wand less fun.

More frustrating is the wand motion and changing spells with gestures. Trying to switch spells in the heat of a dire moment becomes as much a chore as flicking your wrist a million times a second to cast spells. I found that certain spells often get confused since their gestures are nearly identical, and then there’re times when gestures were completely off. It’s these tiring moments of gesture confusion and that constant flicking motion that made me appreciate how short the campaign is.

In some battles your fight is not with the enemy, but the auto-aim. It certainly helps since this is a “hardcore game” without a traditional camera control scheme. And it doesn’t hold your hand much, only centering your camera on new enemies. But during a few fights it tries to center on new enemies before old ones are dispatched, especially in boss fights that need speed and precision (especially in the upper difficulties where enemies regenerate incredibly fast). Far too many times this happens towards the end, and it gets even more frustrating when you’re trying to figure out how to conquer an enemy and conquer the controls.

I should also mention that there’s an alchemy mini-game that faces the same issues as the rest of the game: it has its fun, intuitive simplicity, but can get tedious after a while.

The Final Word

A few years ago, Sorcery was introduced, and it set out to prove to the world that motion controls can be for more than just an alternate control method–that hardcore games can be built from the ground up with motion in mind. While Sorcery doesn’t completely knock the argument out of the park, it certainly does state its case fairly well. Despite all of my gripes, Sorcery has a lot of potential: having followed developer The Workshop for the last few years, it’s easy to see that they put a lot of heart into this game, but may not have had all the resources needed. Now that the foundation has been set, hopefully it can be easier to build upon what’s been made, learn from its mistakes, and make a Sorcery sequel the way Sorcery should have been made.

Sorcery is something special, but it’s just a few components short of a full potion. With a few adjustments to the recipe, a little more ingredients, and more time to brew, this could be the game we need–a game that can wow the world with motion controls. But for now this is just an okay game that leaves you thirsty for something more.

————————————————————————————————————–
I give Sorcery

3

Arcane Bolts

out of 5

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