Magicite: A Good Walk Ruined

I’ve been on a roll with Steam early access games, but I still stick to my rule of thumb: read the discussion before buying. Magicite seemed good and fun. It is a rogue-like sidescroller with crafting and leveling aspects similar to Starbound or Terraria. It also has a bit of between-death progression I loved in Rogue Legacy. As a hint to the future, one achievement to unlock a race demands you beat the game in an hour. So far I am liking all the design on paper. So I buy it.

The game is in Early Access, but it is apparent right away that more love needs to go to crafting. It’s a nice system where you shift+click two things to combine them. Two sticks become an axe handle. Add another stick to an axe handle and it becomes a pick handle. The problem comes in two parts. The first is that this all occurs in the inventory, and it requires separate stacks of items. If I wanted to combine two sticks, I had to separate one stick from my stack of sticks. It is possible I was just doing it wrong.

In town when I used a blacksmith, the system becomes a slot-the-item style, which would be so much better in the inventory. It could also fix the second problem of learning all the recipes. When Minecraft was the only game where I had to learn recipes, I think it worked fine. Now with all the Minecraft-ish games out there, I do not want to learn yet another recipe to make a gorram sword. What makes it worse in Magicite is the system is so simple it is hard to differentiate. If Magicite let me slot two items in a crafting area in my inventory to show me what I was going to make, the system would improve dramatically. If I wanted that crafted item I could just drag it out, thereby using up the slotted input items.

Using the inventory as a crafting pad gets a lot worse because it seems like the inventory fills up entirely too quick. I’m not sure if this is a restriction tied to learning the progression of the game or just a “difficulty” mechanic. Things are not calm as I am frantically combining and reorganizing materials by dropping them in the world and praying I can pick them up before they disappear.

I finally pull through the rough-shod crafting system. I have a few nicer pieces, and I’m finally getting the hang of things. Then my walk through Magicite gets ruined.

It seems that each level is guarded by a time limit. Once time is up some beholder-looking Scourge start slowly gunning me down, which is just really a push towards the end of the level. I finally gave up when I entered a new biome with new enemies because I felt too rushed to learn at my own pace what this new biome was all about. I had already rushed through the snow biome and felt I hadn’t got a good grasp of it yet. So I called it a night.

On the Steam forums, there was an amusing argument wherein one player called it a band-aid for bad design, and then another player said that all Mario games must be bad design then. There’s a huge difference. In Mario, the time limit is announced immediately as a counter above, AND more importantly the goal of each level is to get to the end of the level. It is not to amass and progress with loot and experience.

In the developer’s defense, the Scourge has some design intent. The first is to stop a player from simply grinding down an area in the simplest manner, such as with arrows that enemies don’t seem to understand. The second is to introduce the Scourge.

I find that the developer already had another solution to the problem of a grindy walk a player demanded. One of the account progressions requires that the game be beaten within an hour. This is a great carrot to getting people to move swiftly through the zones while still allowing daisy-pickers to… daisy pick. There is also a hunger mechanic anyway. So really the developer put two time limit mechanics in the game, which further amplifies the feeling that the Scourge time limit is not a great mechanic or solution.

Magicite is an interesting game. It’s got an interesting idea on a more bite-size Terraria/Starbound style game. I love account progression mechanics for these roguelikes/sandboxes. The developer seems very active. It just wasn’t quite the game I was looking for. It seems to have a lot of competing aspects. I feel like I am juggling balls, playing soccer, and learning a sonnet, which are all competing for interest in my advancement.

Perhaps if I had read something about time being the main factor of gameplay, I would have been better informed when starting my walk through the dangerous woods. I guess the developer’s main influence of Spelunky should have been the main tell, but clearly I overlooked that bit with the whole “explore, craft, and survive” idea I had in my head.