If it weren’t for my promise to write this article, I would have given up on Maguss in less than 15 minutes had I been a consumer.
I understand the game’s in open beta, but from the start it was repeating issues I’ve seen too many times: bad tutorial, terrible UI, and aggressive monetization the likes of which I’ve only heard of in terrible games and dating apps. Like many of you, I grow defensive when seeing industry terms used as shields against bad design when developers (actually) need funding to continue. I’m jaded, I’m suspicious, and I don’t want to be nice or patient about it, especially when my money is on the line. What sounded like a great Pokemon GO challenger left me once again questioning why I bother with video games as a hobby at all.
But then I got past it. I found some things I genuinely liked that were in and functioning (mostly) as advertised. No, I’m not a convert, but I’ve dug through the dirt and found a bit of gold, and if the developer, Mawa, is able to make some changes to the game before really trying to attract a launch playerbase, Niantic may actually have a rival in the location-based alternate reality game genre.
You know things are bad when even a game’s class descriptions are bugged. I understand the studio is small, but the game’s been in a paid alpha for a while, and regular Massively OP readers probably know by now that I’m one of the least patient people when it comes to games asking for money from fans to test their games. To step off that soapbox, I do applaud Mawa for helping fans recover from the bug, as class stats were switched. For example, the “balanced” druid class had the right basic description but was showing stats, pros, and cons for the offensive-oriented paladin class.
Like POGO‘s UI, Maguss’ UI is lacking. I’m fine with learning a new game, but when you’re not using a major IP, you can’t hope to dump game explanations onto the playerbase, especially for a location-based game with touch controls. While I could learn/teach new people due to the popularity of Pokemon Go, Maguss has no features that seem particularly multiplayer, making finding other players near me even more difficult. All I remember is this overwhelming feeling that I didn’t have enough information, and even after playing for an hour or more a day for about a week now, I still feel that way about my basic stats.
Combat is less than intuitive. I was in a fight for five minutes and had no idea what I was looking at. I couldn’t tell my health from my “heat” (a stacking resource that adds up but stops you when you’ve “maxed out,” similar to the Bounty Hunter class resource in SWTOR). The game would start counting down, so I’d trace the spell I was taught – except that because of touch control and/or server issues, nothing seemed to work.
As combat is both interactive and turn-based (you have 10 seconds to cast spells, each of which will take up 1-5 slots of your 5 slots per turn), the timer threw me off: Was that my opponent’s turn? (No, you go at the same time.) Was that my mental prep stage? (No, that was my time to cast.) Could I do anything while combat animation played out? (Yes, tapping the timer lets you skip the animation.) A slower tutorial could have helped this, as could a “Help” icon. Based on my duels even at level 10 when game options seemed to pick up, I didn’t feel like people “got” it.
Worse, though, is the tracing to attack. You really have to pay attention to the art as there’s no “Help” button or even a zoom in feature to get a better look at it. I like the idea of tracing figures I secretly attached to spells, especially when it’s simple. The problem is that the game had issues recognizing simple shapes, like (essentially) a spiral vs. a heart. The “practice area” in your spellbook is nice since you can practice on your own, but when I have only four attack options, with the game confusing the first two patterns with the second two, it makes me worried about further patterns and responsiveness.
I loved my Wii, but The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and other motion-heavy games were very frustrating due to the fact that the technology really wasn’t where it needed to be. As Maguss will also have similar wands you can purchase to “enhance” gameplay (and tell the world that you’re playing the game), I’m very worried about usability.
Still, I must admit that when things do work, the game is actually impressive.
One of the first things I noticed about Maguss was that I could play it a bit more from my house than I could Pokemon Go. It could be luck, but as I’ve taken the game to some of my local POGO stomping grounds, I’ve gotten this feeling that Maguss is just better populated with, well, stuff. There are herbs to pick, monsters to fight, treasure chests to grab… just talking about it makes it feel like a more traditional game when compared to my (admittedly) short time in Ingress. While location is important in Niantic’s games, Mawa’s game feels playable anywhere, as long as you’re willing to walk a bit once you’ve picked and killed everything near you.
Another neat thing is that the monsters aren’t static. They don’t stand around waiting to be attacked. They wander around. Maybe they’ll come into range for you to attack, or maybe they’re walking out of range. It’s a small but interesting difference that’s mostly nice, except that especially in residential areas, there are times I feel I’d have to get way too close to someone’s house to get something, and clearly I don’t want to just stand around and trace images on my phone while some worried homeowner calls the neighborhood watch on me. But hey, the tracing to slow down the game hopefully means people won’t drive and play this game!
As a single-player experience past the UI issues, Maguss is, dare I say, pretty freaking good for a mobile title. You level, raise stats, find loot, even make simple pre-set conversation with other players you duel. However, dueling is basically the only multiplayer feature right now. As much as I think POGO‘s gym system was a band-aid on a content-wound that really needs to be removed at this point, at least it had that. If Maguss had implemented territorial PvP again, fine. If it’d done trading or group monsters, things might have been more interesting. But simple dueling feels like a beta kludge, and I’m hoping there’ll be something more social at launch to lure people in – if the monetization doesn’t scare people away.
After I slowly started learning the game’s UI, the solo experience started to feel solid, and even duels, which you can do online instead of face-to-face with someone who might not take defeat well, left me somewhat impressed. However, from my initial hour of play up to now, there’s one thing that I still strongly dislike about Maguss: its monetization.
Buy to alpha/beta is one thing (not a good thing, but sadly an industry norm). Then you have two forms of currency with one being purchasable. Fine, normal enough. Then you have consumables that you can buy that also grant power. Annoying and pay-to-win, but OK, I’m not that invested in being competitive anyway. Pay to reduce timers? I’m getting annoyed. Lockboxes I get from exploring require the real-money purchasable currency to unlock? I’m mad, but we’re not done yet, people.
This game has ads. Genuine advertisements. For other games. In my Harry Potter-esque game. It’d be like if Harry suddenly turned on the TV and watched an ad for the latest Drizzt Do’Urden book mid-chapter. You watch an ad for yet another currency, or to speed up a crafting process, or to save some cash on your login bonus, or to change the items in the game-gold item shop. It’s excessive. It kills immersion. It’s overly monetized, aggressively so, and while the option to turn it off is there, it means losing the chance of, say, doubling your rewards after a PvP match.
Look, I get it. Games aren’t free. They aren’t charities. They need money. But not this way. Not this much. Not without turning off your audience. I thought about this, and figured, “If Grand Theft Auto, The Secret World, or (hear my cry, Itoi-san) Earthbound advertised real-life games or products in-game, I might be OK with that.” These are modern settings with modern and (mostly) believable storylines. Normal life is a big part of them. Maguss… doesn’t feel that way. Yes, I may have a hoodie, but I’m using a magic wand and making magical potions, not using psychic powers and making medicine. It’s firmly fantasy, and to suddenly have the UI come out and shout, “Watch this ad for a reward!” is offensive to the senses.
Newbie packs that unlock storage, skins, potions, spells, and maybe some stat armor would be understandable. It’d be like an introductory pack. Selling skins and/or the secondary currency would be fine, then, especially if the game rolled out with seasonal skins to purchase. Sell expansions that unlock more content. Ditch the lootboxes for sure– it’s 2018! The commercials are highly intrusive as well, so unless more “reality” gets mixed into the game’s play (and lore), it also feels like it needs to go. Again, I get that Mawa needs money, but when every feature feels like it’s asking you spend money (or annoying you until you do), it’s hard to want not to feel like the whole game is an ad rather than a product.
Maguss feels mechanically deeper than POGO to be sure. Drawing for combat makes it feel more interactive, as does having to think of how to use your available moves for which slots for each turn. It’s not a game about one or two simple mechanics with incredibly basic combat tacked on. There’s gathering items, equipping gear, making a build, using an in-game-only currency to shop, getting mob loot, crafting, a combat practice area, exploration perks, health regeneration and healing, skill trees… GASP! It feels like there’s enough there to be a full-fledged game. An MMO even, if Mawa really puts in the work to fulfill that end of it (which it’s advertised). There’s only dueling right now, but if Mawa is serious, the beta feedback sheet gives options to vote on implementing more multiplayer features like trade and territory warfare.
But the monetization absolutely ruins the immersion and feels tone deaf in the context of the modern gaming narrative, especially to those of us who come from a core gamer background and are willing to lay down serious cash for a game that respects us and the hobby and the genre. Bad UI isn’t going to help either, especially now that the world’s seen how much of a turn0off that can be thanks to Pokemon Go. There’s plenty of room for a new king in the MMOARG market, but money alone won’t win the crown.