After a decade of resting solely on the laurels of its hit MOBA, Riot Games's decision to expand the lore of the ultra-popular League of Legends and its war chest of playable Champions will likely go down as one of the company's best moves. It's already given us Ruined King and the Netflix show Arcane, and it will soon give us Song of Nunu, Convergence, and the fighter Project L. The Mageseeker: A League Of Legends Story is the next expansion of LoL's lore, and it keeps Riot's momentum going with great combat, a beautiful world, and a riveting (though admittedly slow-starting) story.
The Mageseeker follows Sylas, a mage living in Demecia, a city that persecutes magic wielders through a special task force called Mageseekers. Sylas has the ability to absorb the magic of other mages, which makes him one of the most powerful magic users in the world. Before he discovered his power, Sylas was a Mageseeker himself, and during one of his assignments, he took pity on one of the mages he was seeking out. However, his innate ability kicked in, and his inability to control the magic he unknowingly absorbed from his quarry resulted in the deaths of multiple innocents. Despite his service to the Mageseekers, the discovery of his own power led to his imprisonment for 15 years. Now he is out and he is seeking revenge on those who sent him away.
The aesthetic choices in The Mageseeker are immediately impressive. The minimalist pixel art on display is a far cry from the state-of-the-art graphics modern consoles are capable of--heck, it's even a stark departure from the game's source material. However, the way developer Digital Sun tells a story through this art style, whether it's the backdrop of a scene or subtle movements in characters both playable and not, is remarkable.
There's a scene from the beginning of the game that encapsulates how effective this art style can be. Sylas has just escaped his confines and fought his way out of the city. He comes up on a clearing in the forest populated by other escapees who are trying to regroup. There's a lot of hustle and bustle amongst the NPCs, with heads bobbing and other small interactions creating noticeable movement. Sylas decides to address the group by climbing a nearby cliff and pounding the ground to get their attention, and when he does the group goes completely still.
It's not overt by any means, but the way the characters freeze in place, heads turned toward the chained mage standing above them, is a brilliant way to organically convey how intimidating Sylas is, which is a tall order considering he's a small, faceless figure on the screen. There are moments like this throughout the entire game--small animation choices that have major ripple effects throughout a scene--and every one of them is executed effectively. Digital Sun clearly knows how to maximize the potential of pixel art, and the evidence is abundant throughout The Mageseeker.
Stylish art is great and all, but it means nothing without a solid gameplay foundation to back it up, and The Mageseeker more than delivers in that regard as well. Sylas can either engage enemies with light and heavy attacks, or he can learn and wield a multitude of magic spells found throughout the adventure. You can outfit Sylas with any mixture of learned spells before starting a mission, and that experimentation makes each battle feel uniquely yours. Taking down a big boss with a spell loadout you've chosen makes each victory that much sweeter.
Along with collecting spells, there are multiple ways you can enhance Sylas's abilities to your liking. Resources found during missions can be sold to the blacksmith for stat boosts and additional slots for equipping magic. You can also recruit imprisoned mages, who then are assigned to a subgroup representing one of the game's six elements. As more recruits are found, your abilities with each element increase, which give you more power and more options while fighting enemies.
Should you realize you've made a wrong spell choice mid-mission, Sylas's unique absorption abilities lets him take a one-use spell from an enemy in the heat of battle. The absorbed spell can be used immediately and directed at any foe, which opens up a new potential strategy with each encounter.
For example, many skirmishes will see Sylas fight mages with specifically designated elements, like fire, water, or air. Knowing the weaknesses of each element means you can steal a spell from one enemy, then unleash it on another that is weak to the jacked spell. A common example is seeing fire and ice enemies paired up; use the steal mechanic to take a fire spell, and then launch it at an ice enemy while continuing to attack the fire foe you stole from. The fluidity of battle made each one seem interesting, and more importantly, it kept combat engaging.
Boss battles use this ever-flowing system as well, which results in some truly riveting battles against the big bads. Even bosses you encounter more than once would switch things up; the Giant Helm boss, for example, sometimes attacks with different elements than the previous bout, or the arena is set up differently and forces you to adjust. Every boss battle in the game kept me on my toes thanks to never remaining stagnant, as right when I would establish a pattern and get the timing down, a new obstacle would get in my way. This design gives every fight its own unique vibe, and it improves the whole experience in the process.
The flowing combat does a lot of heavy lifting for the level design, unfortunately, as stages begin to feel repetitive after a while. Every level in the game follows the same basic principle: Walk through a corridor, enter a larger room when I fight bad guys, and then enter another corridor. Sure, there are some extra paths leading to some hidden loot, but those diversions are fleeting. I wish there were more variety in the stages themselves, as the stellar moments of combat could not hide the uninspiring design.
The game's story starts off slowly, with a few chapters feeling like they could have been combined into one larger mission. The search for Kara, an elder mage who Sylas volunteers to rescue, spans multiple missions with continued breaks in between to head back to camp, which slows any momentum the story had. The campsite in the early going doesn't have a lot going for it, as most of the interesting inhabitants have to be found and recruited as the story progresses. The combo of continued story breaks and an uninteresting hub world in those early hours makes for a frustrating experience. Eventually the story builds into an incredible crescendo, and though it does take a while--the halfway point of the story is where things really kick into high gear--once you're there, it is very hard to put the game down. You still go back to camp after each mission, but even that is more interesting in the later stages of the game, thanks to the added NPCs offering more interactions and dialogue. Considering it took me about 11 hours to complete the game, it's not a massive time investment to get to the good story bits, but it is a shame the entire arc didn't reach the heights of the second half.
Riot Games's decision to widen the scope of its marquee franchise has yielded another success in The Mageseeker: A League Of Legends Story. The pixel art and soundtrack build a beautiful world, while the story--though slow to truly kick off--is riveting once it hits that turning point. There are some issues that hold the experience back, particularly its uneven level designs and the aforementioned slow start to the story. The fluid combat and incredible boss battles, however, make up for those shortcomings, and raise The Mageseeker up to be another effective expansion of the League of Legends lore.