Strategic action combat – now there’s a phrase I like. As someone who has far fonder memories of playing epic hour-plus Battlefield 2 matches, which involved a hell of a lot of tactics, than I have playing pretty much every modern FPS, and as someone who tends to pick an RTS or a 4X as my nightly game of choice more often than not, I like my action games to involve as much thinking and positioning as possible.
Lucky for me – and, I think, the gaming world at large – there is a trend right now (one I think we can at least partly thank Dark Souls for) toward bringing at least some of gaming away from twitchy chaos and into a realm that, while certainly action-heavy, also requires players to put some thought into their in-combat choices.
Enter Mirage: Arcane Warfare, an interesting new first-person brawler from the folks at Tom Banner Studios, who brought you Chivalry: Medieval Warfare back in 2012. Mirage takes the positioning and movement-based multiplayer combat of Chivalry and brings it into a much more dynamic fantasy setting, one that does a lot to make the whole concept work.
Tough, But Fun
Mirage, like Chivalry, is all about timing and knowing your class and load-out. Run into battle and spam swings and spells, and you are going to have your ass summarily handed to you in about four seconds flat. With a wide arrange of standard attacks (my mouse has five mapped to it alone), all of which can be “dragged” to modify them and which react differently based on what’s going on with the enemy (you can attack quicker with a parry after a block, for instance), plus a choice of three of six possible powers per class and a very, very important block ability, you’ve got a lot to keep track of and use correctly to win fights. And that’s just in 1v1 situations; throw even three players together in a small space, and things get complex and magically dangerous with a quickness.
This level of deepness and the intensity of battle which it leads to will either draw you in, or it’ll overwhelm you. For me, I dug it and then some. Even with the steep learning curve, I was able to find a few classes I liked the feel of a little more than the others, and I managed to get a kill here and there in the early goings. A few matches later, and I could at least contribute to a win without having an embarrassing Kill/Death/Assist ratio.
The combat here might be difficult to master, but it’s deep enough, fast enough and fun enough to be good. The devs have obviously learned lessons from Chivalry, and this is a better game for it. Part of that is that the combat system, especially the melee, is a fairly polished thing just waiting for players to discover and git gud at, and that’s the key to any multiplayer match-focused game’s success. If the system is good, all it takes is enough players putting the time in to give it a community, and you’ve got a bonafide Good Game.
Magic and Swords Make for a Very Good First Person Brawler
Before we get into the players, though, I want to talk about how well the devs did with the setting this go around. Chivalry’s historical and militaristic setting, while appealing to some, was clearly a barrier to entry for many. While some love the idea of diving into serious combat in a serious world, to some players it can come off a bit too simulation-esque, a bit too high concept.
Mirage doesn’t have that issue, and it’s an impressive bit of pivoting that Tom Banner Studios has done here. By setting Mirage in a highly fantastical setting, one full of magic and with a healthy dose of self-aware humor, Mirage feels immediately more lighthearted and approachable in its aesthetic than Chivalry ever did.
And that aesthetic is a pretty one. I thoroughly enjoy the richly colored models, the look and feel of the magic, the semi-cartoony yet semi-serious-looking combat. Each class feels alive, unique and engaging, and humorous emotes and battle cries add even more depth to the underlying narrative. It’s clear that Mirage has taken lessons from MOBAs and, particularly, from Overwatch here (an influence you can see in other places as well, such as Escort-like maps), really breathing life into their classes. That does a lot of work for Mirage making this game go from merely an interesting entry in the combat genre to a game that feels fully fleshed-out, with all the little details polished to be fun and interesting.
Multiplayer Titles Need Players, and That Is a Tricky Thing
One of the complaints about Chivalry over the last five years has been that the complex combat system tends to weed out a lot of casual players, leaving a small community of intensely practiced players that would absolutely wallop anyone new who dared to step into a match.
Right now, that’s not too far from where Mirage already is, partly because those very same Chivalry players currently make up a large part of the community that’s playing Mirage at launch. Truthfully, that can be frustrating. I definitely found myself in a handful of rounds where the matchmaking put one team entirely together out of players under Level 10, and the other was all players over Level 15. And people definitely noticed that.
Even so, those matches were rarely slaughters, as the complexity of the combat means there is still some parity even with players more used to this type of combat system. Partly that’s everyone learning this new version at the moment (even Chivalry players will have to do some adjusting), and I think it’s also partly because those that find this game interesting enough to try and keep playing are probably the kind of people that have spent time with other complex action combat systems, such as those in Dark Souls or The Witcher 3.
Should You Buy It?
Yep, if any of this sounds cool to you, and you think a complex combat system with a fun aesthetic sounds like a good time. In fact, my suggestion is that you get into the game right now, as quick as you can. With a base price of only $30 (even less at the time of writing this review), there’s not much risk, and what this game needs most is players. Especially new ones.
I say this because the one thing that could sink Mirage and send it into the dark depths where multiplayer titles that failed to catch on rot away, far from the bright surface where all the currently strong gaming communities live, is if it doesn’t build a community. That’s totally a possibility, with Mirage being as complex as it is, and with the current community already being pretty skilled, and the only thing that’ll stop it is if enough new players join and spread the word.
Mirage deserves that community of dedicated players, and it deserves to be that Cinderella story in multiplayer combat that comes in with its unique aesthetic and hardcore combat and carves out a little space in the internet for itself. It’s pretty, it’s deep as any other FPS or multiplayer brawler out there, and it has clearly been designed by skilled people with love for complex games and the ability to make them actually fun. I went in wondering whether I was too deep down the rabbit hole of strategy games and non-first person party games like Towerfall to get behind the eyes again and do some FP combat. A good dozen or so matches later, and I can tell you, I’ve already slotted this title right into my rotation of games that I pick between each night.
Because magic, deep combat and multiplayer arenas = good gaming. So get on it, and make this one stick. It deserves it.