It’s a shame that League of Legends has become such a meme for being a source of toxicity, as Riot Games has consistently shown that the world of Runeterra has quite a bit more potential than the MOBA lets on. Through its Riot Forge publishing arm, the company has enlisted several indie developers to make a diverse lineup of games spanning multiple genres to spotlight its lineup of champions, leading to the creation of great releases like Ruined King and Hextech Mayhem. Now, Digital Sun—the creators of Moonlighter—has been given a crack at the IP with The Mageseeker, and we’re pleased to report that it provides yet another deeply enjoyable take on the world of Runeterra.
The Mageseeker primarily follows characters in the nation of Demacia. Demacia is a prim, proud, and powerful kingdom that arose from the ashes of a global magical war, but that war led to a deep-rooted hatred and fear for all things magic. Out of this fear, the aristocracy formed the Mageseekers, a secret police organization designed to systematically hunt down all natural-born mages within the kingdom and either imprison or kill them.
The protagonist of the story, Sylas, became a Mageseeker when he was just a boy. He was recruited because his ability to sense magic in others made the Mageseekers’ dirty work much more efficient. However, he was branded a criminal by the Mageseekers when he attempted to save a young mage girl and inadvertently absorbed her powers, resulting in him accidentally killing her and the Mageseekers he was with. As a result of the incident, Sylas spent fifteen years in prison, and the only reason he got out was because he stole a friend’s powers and blasted his way out of captivity. The game begins with his escape, which triggers a revolution among the mages who are tired of living under the Demacian bootheel, while Sylas sets out on a quest for vengeance against the state that wronged him.
It’s a deeply emotional narrative, one marked by poignant and touching examples of pain, grief, and redemption. Part of what makes Sylas such a compelling and complicated character is that he’s the kind of person who’s doing the wrong thing for the right reasons; he has valid reasons to be outraged about how the hypocritical Demacian state has oppressed mages for generations, but his chosen path for exacting his revenge sometimes strays too far into wrathful extremism. It’s a classic revenge tale at its heart, but The Mageseeker really does a great job of building a cast of likeable support mages who help to remind Sylas who he’s fighting with and for.
Gameplay in The Mageseeker follows a take on beat ‘em up combat that feels like a 2D retro God of War, right down to the angry protagonist bludgeoning his enemies to death with chains. A typical level consists of you alternating between clearing out arenas of Demacian soldiers and monsters and using your chains to explore relatively linear environments to secure collectibles and hidden journal entries. Once you’ve completed a level, you then return to camp to snag some upgrades and greet your co-conspirators before setting out on another mission to further the cause. It’s a solid gameplay loop, one that’s greatly bolstered by the fast-paced battles and frequent introduction of new enemy types.
Sylas can combo various light and heavy attacks together to make short work of his foes, and his ability to use his chains to nimbly snap to enemies around the map helps move things at a brisk pace. In addition to the chains, Sylas has a growing collection of elemental spells he can use to exploit enemy weaknesses and give him more crowd control capability, but their use is limited by a small mana gauge you have to refill by getting in melee attacks. To make up for this, you’re encouraged to make use of Sylas’s signature move, which is the ability to steal magic from foes. With a quick button tap, you can whip your chains at an enemy mage and get a one-shot, mana-free version of whatever spell they were attacking you with, making Sylas feel like a really buff and angry version of Kirby.
Combat encounters thus become a delicate dance of balancing melee attacks, magic spells, and stolen magic as you dodge and dash your way between fireballs and sword swipes. It doesn’t take long before enemies start to really push the offensive and use their numbers to box you in, which makes for fights that feel thrilling and dynamic. It takes a bit before you get into the groove of learning proper timings for attacks and using the right stick to aim your chains, but a couple of hours of practice sees the controls become second nature as you tear through battalions.
On its base difficulty, Mageseeker isn’t exactly a hard game, but Sylas doesn’t exactly take that many hits before he goes down. Luckily, the abundance of checkpoints and saves help to take the sting out of deaths. Those of you who don’t have the reflexes needed to keep up will be pleased to know that the developers saw fit to include an accessibility menu that lets you tweak variables like Sylas’s health or damage output to create a custom level of difficulty that fits your abilities well. We especially appreciated this because it allows The Mageseeker to be a game that can be approached by players of all skill levels; even if you feel that the base game isn’t difficult enough, you can always adjust those sliders the other way to make things much more brutal.
As we touched on above, when you finish a level, you return to your camp with your spoils and can spend your supplies on things like new spells for Sylas or some upgrades to his base stats. Though these upgrade systems don’t exactly feel robust, it seems like the game always dangles something just out of your reach, giving you plenty of reason to scour every corner of every level. Once you’ve taken care of your upgrades, you can then return to the war table in the middle of camp to either go on the next story mission, or to take a side mission to hopefully find more loot and recruits.
As you go through levels, you’ll occasionally come across other mages sympathetic to your cause, and these mages can then join you to add their power to yours. Back in camp, Sylas can then ‘equip’ companions to follow him on a mission, which will grant him passives that add elemental effects to some of his melee attacks and bolster the strength of certain spells. As you add more recruits to your ranks, the effects of these passives get even stronger, giving you all the more reason to be thorough in your ransacking of the Demacian kingdom. These support mages don’t add a ton to the gameplay loop, but they act as yet another meaningful reward that can help take the edge off those tougher combat encounters.
Visually, Mageseeker utilizes the same gorgeous hi-bit art style that Digital Sun showcased in Moonlighter, characterized by a broad color palette and some impressively detailed environments. Whether you’re hacking your way through a picturesque seaside port or the bowels of a horrifying human experimentation lab, all these locales manage to appear visually distinct while still feeling like they all fit within the same kingdom. Character portraits in dialogue sequences are also a highlight, displaying a level of expression that the spritework could never match while punctuating the lines with more emotional heft.
As for the soundtrack, The Mageseeker generally sticks to a surprisingly melancholic and serious selection of music, underling the often grim implications of Sylas’s mission. It perfectly fits the overall tone of The Mageseeker, and while it can feel sometimes like the music disappears a bit too easily into the background, we were pleased with what it adds to the atmosphere and cutscenes—chiptunes simply wouldn’t have cut it here.
Though it excels nearly everywhere else, Mageseeker is unfortunately pretty rough on the performance side of things, with numerous bugs and frame rate issues affecting the gameplay experience in both docked and handheld. Though some smaller arenas and uncomplicated environments will often see frame rates that appear to be close to 60 FPS, this often dives substantially when the screen gets loaded up with enemies or you find yourself exploring more open environments. We even noted instances where it started to mess with input timings, which delayed dodges and threw off combos. On top of this, the game crashed literally every time we came back to it after putting it in sleep mode for a few hours, and once it closed in the middle of browsing a menu. Hopefully Digital Sun is working on a patch for such issues now; they don’t make the game unplayable, but we’d suggest you hold off on buying until things get polished up a bit.