29 October 2018

ORJ: Magus

With the resurgence of the roguelike genre, many of the classics (NetHack, ADOM, Angband) and newcomers (Caves of Qud, TGGW, Golden Krone Hotel) are gaining in popularity and renown. But there are so many hidden gems, obscure roguelikes few people know about and play, even though they would deserve much more attention. Here is one of them.

I have found another forgotten roguelike(-ish?) game a few days ago - it's called Magus and seems to have been originally released in 1993. It might have been lost altogether if it wasn't for the efforts of several fans who preserved its source and binary on GitHub.

My knight fighting a troll in a forest.
And yes, the game has adorable graphics.

Unlike nearly any other roguelike, Magus is exclusively mouse-controlled. Pretty weird for someone accustomed to keyboard controls, but usable. And Magus has even more distinguishing features when compared to classic roguelikes.

Notably, you don't get a single move per turn. Instead, you have several action points which can be used for movement, attacks, spellcasting, etc. You then need to manually end your turn, which both restores your action points and allows the monsters to use theirs. Don't think you're safe with several tiles between you and the enemy, they can cover much more then a single square per turn.

Small house lost in the forest.
There was a spell hidden inside.

This substantially changes the flow of combat, as you can plan your moves more freely with several actions available, but the monsters can also surprise you, emerging from behind a corner and clearing the distance before you get another turn. Don't worry, though - even if they get several attacks at you, you won't be one-shotted from full health. The game seems rather well-balanced in that regard. Several monsters at once, though, or even worse a melee monster together with an archer or a spellcaster, can be quite deadly.

Ambushed by an orcish archer.

I also learnt a neat trick - normally you regain 1 HP per an ended turn. But should you end your turn with unspent action points remaining, they will be converted into extra healing, meaning you can rapidly regenerate by ending turns without spending actions. Thus you don't need to wait ages when out of combat to regain health - an unexpected convenience for such an old game.

Hm, a hidden entrance into the mountainside.

Magus offers multiple character classes that differ both by starting stats and equipment, and do actually play quite differently. From the usual barbarian or wizard to the unusual shaman and unique duck mage, you are offered a nice variety of options. And if you can't decide what class to play as, the game has another surprise prepared.

This room offered a massive treasure haul,
but several trolls trapped me and nearly
brought me down.

The unique way of handling actions allows the game to do a thing virtually unseen in roguelikes - you can manage a whole party rather than only one character. Instead of a single hero, create a party consisting of different classes and control them all, switching between the heroes. I have seen a few other roguelikes who attempted a similar party-based approach, but as far as controlling every member of your party goes, I probably like the implementation in Magus the best.

While it can get a bit clumsy, the action point mechanic is once again very interesting as it allows for positioning, combat assistance and tactics that would be much harder to pull off in a normal turn-based game. And it's nice to have the backup, as the game can throw rather hard fights at you.

A party of a duck mage, a knight and a dwarf
defending a village from some monsters.

Once again unlike nearly any other roguelike, the game is not located in a dungeon split into individual floors, but in an open world. There are tunnels and strongholds dug into the mountains, but no stairs or dungeon branches. I'm also not totally sure whether the game world is procedurally generated, or if it's static and only the monsters and items are placed randomly. (Thus also why this game might be "roguelike-ish" rather than a true roguelike.) However, the map is huge and offers much to explore and discover, especially since I tend to die once I travel further away from the start.

A tiny garden deep within the mountain maze.
I have no idea whether the pentagram
can be used in any way, or how to use it.

Oh, there is a quest! You seem to be tasked with slaying the Dark One who has a fortress somewhere southward from the starting village... But who is playing roguelikes for the story? It does means that the monsters get stronger the more south you get, though.

There also seem to be some friendly NPCs, namely at least one hat-wearing fellow who can be given items, supposedly to give you something in return, eventually.

I have a fancy new axe, but this orcish necromancer
is summoning skeleton faster than I can kill them.

I like the diversity offered by multiple classes, equipment options and spells, but what really makes this game stand out for me is the sense of exploration and discovery. You are given a huge world full of secrets - every forest seems to have a hidden hut, every mountain some dungeon, every lake an island with treasure. Magus feels less like a hack and slash, and more like a Tolkienesque journey for adventure. There is always another passage to explore and I love it.

I found a castle!

Wow, that castle was pretty heavy on loot. I have
Sun's Edge and Sun Shield as my new armaments,
plus a handful of spells. Sadly, I have zero mana
and who knows if I can even gain any as a knight.

You can download all the necessary files here, but it's running in DOSBox, so you will also need that if you want to try it. And it is worth at least a try.

Entering an abandoned village.

An elementalist cornered me with summoned elementals
and I'm not doing well. I also have even more spells now,
and still no mana.

That was way too close.
I should have a break now before
I do something stupid and die.

Happy hacking and don't die!

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