In Mage Knight Apocalypse, players take the roles of magical, medieval heroes who fight monsters and complete quests for glory and profit. Based on the tabletop miniature war game from WizKids, Apocalypse offers five playable character types: Elf, Amazon, Dwarf, Vampire, and Sorcerer. Character skills improve with use, and can be chosen from an expanding ability tree that's determined by character type. The default overhead perspective and hack-and-slash play are reminiscent of Dungeon Siege or Neverwinter Nights. The game's interface is designed to be efficient and customizable -- not unlike that of a good "massively multiplayer" RPG -- with plenty of hotkeys and drag-and-droppable icons. Cooperative questing for up to five Internet-connected players is supported.
Mage Knight: Apocalypse is a take-off from the WizKid collectible tabletop characters. I know what you're thinking: a game based off fantasy miniatures has GOT to be cool. While I'm not one to pass (any more) judgment on fans of these particular miniature series, I can say that it seems like a weak basis for a game. At its core an action-RPG akin to the Diablo and Dungeon Siege series, Mage Knight: Apocalypse doesn't actually break much ground in any one area. Yet, this game manages to cram a deal of depth into a pretty package. Some of this execution falls extremely flat, however. Let's delve deeper into the Land, shall we?
The game lives in a place un-inspiringly called "The Land," where all manner of beasties, vampires, amazons, dwarves, etc. have their fun. The main characters of variable races form a group called the "Oathsworn," and they are our group of heroes for the game. You'll initially pick only one of these heroes, each with a set of 3 skill types you can follow. This I feel deserves a little more description, as its a different approach than some games have taken in the past. You'll find that the experience and levels are not based around the player, rather his list of skills. For instance the Nightblade, a gothic female player, can use the skills of a vampire, assassin or necromancer. While its possible for each skill to be utilized and built up, the game rewards you more for focusing on one skill, as it's almost impossible to reach the highest levels of any 2 or 3 skills in one run-through of the game. You can, however, retain your abilities and continue to build up the others in subsequent run-throughs.
Initially you are only able to play as one of the "Heroes" that make up the game's main characters, but each chapter unlocks another of the remaining ones to play alongside you controlled by AI. Beginning a long list of gripes with this game is the AI; the AI controlled characters are fatally stupid and will get snagged on every available object, as well as pointlessly run into walls while you're mobbed by dozens of enemies. This becomes infinitely more frustrating when you throw in the Free Camera feature that is highly touted by the game. Free camera means that you control the camera at all times, and that it will not adapt to your movements. Controlling the camera is relatively easy to do, UNLESS you're moving in any direction whatsoever. You'll constantly run somewhere out of view, pause, completely naked to any attacks, then reposition the camera to a usable angle only to reveal you getting hacked to ribbons because that giant rock wall concealed all manner of evil creatures. Let me say again: stupid, stupid camera.
So its hard to see where you're going and your companions suck... is there anything redeeming in "The Land"? Well it is a pretty place. All the latest manner of graphical effects, pixel-shading, anti-aliasing, and reflective surfaces are all in effect. I was a little surprised by this concept, actually, as Action RPG-style games tend to favor more style over sheer graphics power. The variety of areas and environments is also fairly impressive. The enemy creatures are well realized, and sufficiently scary and brutal. But we all know the last thing to make a game good is just good graphics, so we'll go on to the next thing that drove me crazy: the plot.
This game has the plot depth of an addled 12-year-old's first novel attempt. Having said that, the heroes themselves, the storyline and the ultimate saving the world plot is not only tired, but borrowed heavily from better sources. You'll find it very difficult, as I did, to bring yourself to care about the Hero, their mission, the fate of The Land, or the evil wizard what's-his-name's attempt to stop the horrific war of something-or-other from destroying "THE LAND," which I will once again note as the worst name for a fantasy world ever. The plot or dialogue isn't the worst I've ever seen by far, and you can tell some production values went into the details of the storyline. Its just simply bland and uninteresting.
So you'll fight and kill your way through, anyway? Well, look forward to dying a lot, as your companions are controlled by the idiot technology. But you will find that this doesn't actually provide much of a setback. Dying simply brings you to the nearest save point, which is fairly frequent. Often you will be struck down only to appear a few feet away with half your health restored, ready to continually throw your body into the fray until the enemy simply dies off from the inability to un-die as quickly and easily as you can. This gives the whole game an arcadey feeling that belies its apparent intent to provide a deeper form of gameplay. It also gives the developers the ability to be sloppy with enemy balancing and rushing mobs. You'll know what I mean when you remember the giant but barely manageable hordes from better balanced games like Diablo/DS.
After slaughtering dozens of undead, you're free to loot the corpses of their many useless items. While there are fairly interesting forge, item, inventory and shop systems, you'll often find so much more than your limited inventory can handle, and end up tossing most of it uselessly on the ground. This is just another example of how a game with apparently decent production values fails based off the lack of proper planning and design. The graphics are great, but the camera is awful; the creatures are cool, but they will PWN you over and over again while your mentally feeble pals bounce into rocks. Every cool and well-executed concept in this game is painfully counter-balanced by its glaring flaws. I can't say its totally worthless, but you might enjoy an older and graphically inferior title more, simply because more thought went into its creation. This title could give you nice tiding over until they finally get around to giving us a much needed Diablo 3 release, but don't expect it to become the new fan-favorite of the genre.
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