Looking Back: Magic and Mayhem

  • Name: Magic and Mayhem
  • Also Known As: Duel: The Mage Wars (USA)
  • Developer: Mythos Games
  • Publisher: Virgin Interactive (EU), Bethesda (NA)
  • Originally Released: November 1998

“My uncle summoned me to his laboratory the day after my graduation from the academy. I assumed that he had at last decided to accept me as his apprentice, but now that I’ve arrived, he is nowhere to be seen…”

These were the words that introduced me to PC gaming, and these words set the immediate tone of a world of magic, mystery and mayhem. Faced with the fact that his uncle is missing, Cornelius embarks on the journey his uncle was planning, accompanied by a “pesky raven”. After trekking through lands such as Avalon, Aegea and Albion, Making allies like Percival the Knight and great enemies like The Overlord, and stealing numerous artefacts such as the Holy Grail and the Golden Fleece, he eventually is able to return home. We won’t spoil the ending twist, but we’re pretty sure you won’t see it coming.

The storyline is woven around the mythologies of the Celts, Greeks and English, and is an interesting take on the RTS genre. There are a few things that the game leaves open, and it’s surprising that they didn’t take the opportunity to fill in these plot holes in the sequel, but the storyline leaves the player wanting more while giving just enough away every level that the player is almost sated. Most of the storyline is revealed by playing the isometrically-drawn levels, however a significant portion is also revealed during cutscenes within the game.

During the levels, the player’s primary task is advancing the storyline. This usually takes the form of “do enough damage to the enemy wizard/s to trigger them to say a speech and run away”, however it can be anything from “free your allies from prison” to “steal the artefact without being caught”. There are at times elements of Roguelikes and even some puzzle games. A prime example is the level “Woodsman’s Hall”, where a maze has to be navigated while killing the enemy, all within a very tight time limit. Outside of the main levels, the player can use experience to increase the stats of their character, and modify their spell selection using a fairly unique system in the player’s ‘portmanteau’.

The player has a certain number of Talismans – either Chaotic, Neutral or Lawful – gained by spending XP on them. The player also has access to magical ingredients, gained during the main levels. By combining an ingredient with a talisman, the player gains access to various spells – for example, combining Clover with a Lawful talisman allows the player to summon Unicorns while the two are combined. This is an interesting mechanic not seen in many other titles and it would be good to see it again. This adds a new level of strategy to the game – if you can’t complete a level, is it because of your in-level strategy or spell selection?

Despite the set of possible spells being so varied the game has a tight, fairly intuitive control scheme – left click to select, right click to do. The AI can be quite annoying at times, but apart from that, the gameplay is fairly solid. However, there were a few issues with the game, particularly pertaining to playing it on a modern PC. Starting the game on a Windows 10 machine for the first time, a box appeared asking to install DirectPlay – a Microsoft API that wasn’t necessary under prior versions of Windows. Why this is is uncertain, but it definitely stopped the game for a good 15 minutes while it installed. On top of this, the game normally requires the disk to be present at all times, although there is a free patch for this online. Finally, opening up any type of scroll ingame crashes it – and with the lack of Autosave, this can be very annoying. This too can be fixed, although it requires a modification of one of the games’ base files.

This final issue relates to the sound files, and the way that modern machines handle them. The sound files themselves, however, are very professional, and add an air of mystery and excitement to the game. The music is from Afro Celt Sound System, and combines West African traditional music with Celtic stylings and more modern sounds too. The track “Dark Moon, High Tide” will always stick as a favourite game theme, and overall the game soundtrack is the most memorable part of the game. The cinematics are done in Claymation, and are very well done. If you’re looking into how to sell a game based on its audiovisual elements, look no further.

Although it has its share of issues (some of them game breaking), these are all fixable. If there is anything to recommend the game, it would be the soundtrack, although the main gameplay is almost as good. At its current retail price of £18.98 (Amazon.co.uk), it’s well worth the money. Although the main campaign has little to no replayability (unless you’ve forgotten the storyline), the quick battle feature can be quite fun to play for an hour or so here and there.

Overall, I absolutely adore Magic and Mayhem, and as it was the first proper game I played, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Value for Money9.5
Despite some compatibility issues thanks to its age, Magic and Mayhem is still a great experience if you missed it the first time.

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