Wizard With A Gun

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Galvanic Games
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2023


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PC Review - 'Wizard With a Gun'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 19, 2023 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

In Wizard With A Gun, embark on a journey alone or with friends to collect, craft, and outfit your wizard to explore the unknown.

There's a book you'll encounter partway into the game that explains how magicians used to channel magic through their bodies and hands, a technique that not only lacked accuracy in targeting the spell but also took a physical toll on the magic user. Once the last of the old users had died off, magic was injected into bullets, which solved both of those issues. That explanation helps to make sense of Wizard With a Gun, as the idea of a magician needing a firearm might initially seem ridiculous.

The story is set in the world of Shatter, a place comprised of lands that were fractured in a previous conflict. You and a small band of firearm-wielding wizards, known as gunmancers, were traveling by airship to the floating islands when disaster struck and the ship crash-landed into the isles. You awaken to find that the world has become barren, except for a hologram of a fellow gunmancer telling you that the world can be saved with a magical artifact that can turn back time to immediately before the apocalypse. With not much else to go on, you make it your mission to repair the device known as the Chronomancer to give you enough time to stop the calamity.

Wizard With a Gun can be aptly described as a fusion of two different genres. The game has elements of the ever-popular roguelike genre, as the world changes every time you travel back and forth from your base. Changes include the layout and creatures you encounter, and they'll always remain in their biomes unless you lure them out. Dying also means losing what's in your backpack, without the opportunity to recover it on the next run. With that said, it doesn't feature all of the genre's signature elements. Progress doesn't reset after every death or return trip to the base, so you don't have to beat the earthly bosses all over again or re-discover any portals in the world. Healing items and weapons stored in quick select slots won't get lost when you die, so you don't start from scratch if you expire, making this a little more forgiving.

This title also takes inspiration from the survival genre. You start with absolutely nothing but your fists, so you can break down trees and rocks into core elements. The same applies to creatures both hostile and docile, as everything you break or kill leaves behind a useful item. Recipes are discovered by using a book called The First Edition to scan objects, and recipes can be used to craft even more powerful versions of those objects over time. Just like it does with the roguelike genre, the game omits certain aspects that survival game players will be familiar with. For example, there are no meters to deplete. You'll never get hungry or thirsty, and your temperature never fluctuates. You may get wet from the elements, but that isn't harmful unless you face off against enemies that create ice.

Tying these mechanics together are the guns. Your non-lethal guns include one that actually builds the furniture if you have the necessary elements; you just point and shoot at the spot where you want it to be. The same gun can also deconstruct furniture as an easy way of gathering elements, all without a penalty so you can feel free to experiment. The other non-lethal gun in your arsenal is a groundlayer, which can build floor tiles to connect or separate two pieces of land. It can be a little unwieldy to use these, but the learning curve isn't too steep.

Initially, the lethal weapons aren't too exciting. You'll see them in different states that dictate their firepower, but there's not much excitement in seeing a pistol, an Uzi, a rifle, or a blunderbuss, even with the discovery that each weapon has two different bullet reserves. What makes them exciting are the different bullets and powders that you can craft for them. The bullets mostly fall in the elemental category (e.g., fire, ice), and you have some nice variations like poison. Powders can alter the bullets, such as making them produce a bigger area of effect or seek out heat.

The combinations of bullets and powders along with the fact that you can have different combinations in one gun makes for some very innovative ways to fight. For example, you can poison an enemy and then freeze them, so they still keep taking damage while you focus on other foes. You can fire off one flaming bullet and watch it quickly burn down whole structures. Fire some heat-seeking rounds, and you can find yourself with an army of minions willing to swarm a bigger threat. This feature alone is worth experiencing, as it ensures that battles can be unpredictable in enjoyable ways.

The gameplay loop is a simple one on paper, but it can be quite harrowing in execution. The overall goal is to completely power up the Chronomancer to stop the apocalypse from happening, and that's done by killing creatures that possess some of the gears for the Chronomancer. Kill enough of them, and you'll summon the Rider, who is the enemy that has the gear to opening the other biomes. The rinse-and-repeat nature of this loop is straightforward enough, but you have a time limit until the apocalypse occurs. You can destroy chaos portals to stave this off a little longer, but it will happen sooner or later. The arrival of the apocalypse isn't the end of the run, but it does mean that more portals open up, and more chaos creatures spill out — in addition to chaos asteroids raining down from the sky and destroying the ground to limit your movement and plunge you into the void.

The combination of these elements crafts an experience that can be methodical yet satisfying. There's no way to get a chunk of things done in one run, so it forces you to focus on one thing at a time, such as harvesting items or going after the Chronomancer gears. The roguelike nature does give you the chance to pivot depending on the level layout, while the approaching apocalypse adds an element of unpredictability. There's still a sense that each run can result in something substantial, whether it's you finally creating that piece of furniture to make upgrades or crafting new powders and bullets to get one step closer to the end. It's a loop that encourages players to keep going, with little bits of progress and mandatory automatic saves. Defeat only feels debilitating if you never took the time to store things.

As with many survival games out there, Wizard With a Gun works fine solo but is more exciting as a co-op experience. To get the bad news out of the way first, there is no local co-op, and that's a shame. The good news is that co-op players aren't restricted to being on the same screen as their partner, so they can freely roam around the world if they're feeling adventurous. Co-op also means that some of the stuff you get to craft, such as healing and resurrection bullets, start to make sense. The various statues in the world have a purpose, since that's where you can resurrect dead partners. Finally, dying isn't that bad for one player, as they can still roam around the world as a ghost and apply fear on enemies. Those who meet an early demise can remain active instead of waiting around for their partner to bring them back to life.

There aren't any issues that break the game, but they are little annoyances that can add up over time, so they could use some attention. When creating your gunmancer, if you select a category and back out of that menu, the game highlights a completely different category, making the process feel needlessly long. Playing solo means there's no opportunity to pause the game. If you're packing a full arsenal of weapons and tools, you have to rely on the weapon wheel to select your fists because using the cycle buttons will never get there. Open up a chest in the field, and you'll lament the lack of a Take All button, especially since that's an option when you open a chest in your base. Use The First Edition to scan something, and you'll find that you need to perform the scan in one go; breaking the link to the object forces the meter to reset, no matter how far you've gotten. Thanks to the fixed isometric camera, you'll also have a tough time scanning some objects if they're hidden behind walls or other obstructions.

The overall presentation is quite nice. The animations are smooth but also a little bouncy when you walk or punch items. The look is flat, almost like a Cat Quest or Paper Mario game, minus the actual paper theme. The colors mimic the comics with bold tones and dark blacks, giving the game a striking look, especially when the various effects start to fly, and both normal and chaos-tinged enemies start populating the screen. Over on the audio side, the game features no voice and no replacement in the form of mumbling or something similar. That said, it does feature quite an eclectic soundtrack that evokes Bastion in a way. Regular traversal through the land produces a bevy of different songs, all with elements of country music but with a more foreboding tone that conveys the dire situation.

While Wizard With a Gun is still in the process of being optimized for the Steam Deck, we decided to check out how it currently performs on the device. Coming in at the device's native 1280x800 resolution, the game performs quite well and hits 60fps at almost all times, except for the few bouts of traversal stutter, just like it does on more powerful hardware. The battery life is where you can expect to see some of the optimization, as it fluctuates between two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours on a full charge. It's fine, especially when you consider that the game may be constantly looking for players online, but players may be expecting the charge to last longer, considering how the average battery life for this year's crop of indie games seem to hover around the four-hour mark.

Wizard With a Gun scratches the survival roguelike itch quite nicely. There's variety in the levels and enemies, and you're inspired to make short journeys instead of taking one long trek. The toning down of some elements, such as complete item loss on death and lack of hunger and thirst meters, means that it is a little more forgiving than its contemporaries. The presence of co-op is welcome, even if it's online only. It's a fun game overall and worth checking out, provided you can get over the clunkiness in a few spots.

Score: 8.0/10

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