When the team from Digital Sun got offered to pitch a game to the developers at Riot Games, the imprisoned champion Sylas of Dregbourne had yet to be released or revealed to the world. Through pure will of fate, Digital Sun’s pitch happened to be an exact perfect fit for the character’s magic stealing abilities to aid his vengeance against The Mageseekers. The origins of this game, The Mageseekers: A League of Legends Story was told to us in an exclusive demo at PAX East 2023 in Boston.
The game is designed, much like the Netflix series Arcane, to be a new entry point into the world of League of Legends in a narrative driven, linear action RPG that uses the famous series’ world as a playground to tell the story of Sylas in a gritty action-adventure fantasy. The creators of Moonlighter bring their skills to this new spin-off release with their dependably refined gameplay and ambitious art direction. Our demo presented two segments: the tutorial and first encounters of the game to demonstrate the core combat fundamentals, as well as a dungeon with boss encounters a few chapters later to give a fully featured impression of the gameplay loop.
Spells and Melee
The first segment finds Sylas breaking free of his imprisonment, and not only can he slaughter with the chains bound to his wrists with light and heavy melee combat, dashing and grappling, but he can also steal magic from the Mageseekers and other enemies when players point to, and trigger, to copy their elemental casts. Players need to strategize the use of these spells as copying is a one time use, have a cooldown per enemy, and have critical damage based elemental pairings, such as the relationship between Fire and Ice.
Players eventually are able to craft their own permanent spell assignments, each with their own mana cost that is earned back by dealing damage. By the time you reach the boss fight in the demo, the delicate balance on destroying enemies casting spells from across the room, and deciding where to copy and cast in real time while bounding between grapple chains and melee hits lights a fire similar to puzzling ways you clear a room in the likes of Doom Eternal and Hades, but if either of those main characters could do Kirby’s spell copy ability.
Animation & Art Direction
The art direction and its integration into the UX design are a boon to this gameplay; effects and spells are clear as they fill the screen, signaling what you’re dodging, blocking and casting, but even the character animations express a fountain of personality. Not only do we get expressive writing with character sprites in cutscenes, the overhead view of a pixelated Sylas shows so much bravado and violent proficiency that you can’t help but want to know more about his character. Environments pop with crisp 2-D pixel detail, and a seamlessly synced frame rate between different elements.
Where appealing plants in the forest squash and stretch at 12fps, Sylas can walk beside them, dashing and thrashing in 60. With the knowledge of the game running in Unity, it is endlessly impressive to see how the game’s art is hand animated and drawn. The lead animation team from Digital Sun this title, notated a lot of the challenges of their history working in TV and Film, and translating to video games. Even more challenging, the art team, which he mentioned fluctuated between three and six people depending on the point in development, drew in 2-D first, as a large chunk of their experience is in publicly accessible programs like Aesprite, and then meticulously translated into the Unity engine. The result is a stunning, unique and expressive art style that is worth checking out this game for alone.
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Thankfully the gameplay is just as solid, with my boss rush attempt at the demo’s end, with 0 potions left, had me close to finishing on 8 health. My eyes were dilating as I melted the heath bar of the enemy gate and ran laps around the room as everyone behind me was anxiously biting their nails over a tense battle. Needless to say, the team at Riot and Digital Sun are excited to be finally getting the game in people’s hand and for its rapidly approaching release on April 18th on PS5, PS4, Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch, Steam, GOG and Epic Games Store.