Defiance Game Studio's first release, Archmage Rises is an ambitious look at the different ways to be a wizard in a fantasy world. The procedurally generated world and strong sandbox elements support Defiance's classification of the game as a simulation, although this doesn't diminish the role-playing elements. Each playthrough chronicles 50-70 years of a character's life and is intended to last four hours; however, permadeath is likely to make some runs shorter than others. After the character dies, mourners at the funeral reflect on how the wizard changed the world through politicking, adventuring, romance, and scholarly pursuits.
I began my demo hunted and alone. I had been kicked out of wizard school, and spellcasting without a license was a crime. I needed friends, so the game assigned my first quest: allying myself with a town lord so I could build a tower on his or her land and protect myself from bounty hunters. The first lord agreed to sell me her patronage, but I tried to angle for a better deal through flattery and smalltalk. Many of the persuasive options weren't implemented, and I was told in no uncertain terms there was a 0% chance to make a successful romantic gesture. She wasn't impressed by my attempt to discuss fashion, one of the several topics selectable from the gossip menu, and quickly tired of my presence. I met my next town lord with a more traditional approach: proving my loyalty by asking if he had any jobs for a down-on-his-luck wizard.
The town lord directed me to a nearby cave where a treasured necklace had been lost. If I didn't complete the quest, the town lord would lose faith in me and assign the job to someone else: a potential competitor for future riches. I switched from the conversation screen to the town screen to the overworld screen before settling on a dungeon. The dungeon didn't contain a lot of options for exploration, but there were several obstacles including darkness (solved by a Light spell), trapped chests (solved by a Detect Traps spell) and a rushing river (which required several swim checks to pass.) After returning the necklace, I rose in the town lord's esteem. Next, I tried bashing some heads to prove myself sturdy and fierce.
The turn-based combat tableau is ruled by action points. Basic actions and simple spells require a single action point, while more complex spells require additional points. No matter how simple the spell, I could choose how much stamina to pour into each casting. The more stamina I used, the more effective the spell was; however, it would also decrease accuracy for combat spells. Fearing my limited health, I found victory with a stamina-boosted Shield spell and flailing fists. Victory wasn't glorious, but it saved the day.
However Archmage Rises shakes out, no one will accuse its developers of dreaming small. I wish the demo would have featured many of the less familiar features, including tower building, manipulating political agendas, and the supply-demand economy. It's clear there is more to come. Archmage Rises is available for pre-order now and will be released early in 2017.