Preview: Magic Barrage

What do you get with equal mixes of bullet hell shooter, odd 16-bit nostalgia, and a slathering of stereotypical fantasy?  A mess.  You get a mess.  Magic Barrage could be compared to Frankenstein’s monster when thinking about the parts that went into its creation.  So it’s little surprise that playing the culmination is just as horrific.  Developed by Gameguyz and published by Reality Squared Games, Magic Barrage entered beta on December 17th.

Since it’s a browser based, Flash game, Magic Barrage can be played virtually anywhere and on any system that supports Flash.  The ease of access is a huge plus.  Players start by choosing one of the eight classes to play as and selecting a name.  The classes are RPG staples like the warrior, mage, archer, priest, ninja, paladin, warlock, and assassin.  There’s no character creation beyond this.  No genders, no colors, no features.  And while this makes a little bit of sense for a game touting simplistic graphics, it’s a hard pill to swallow when so many other games include some form of customization. 

Despite looking like a classic adventure RPG, Magic Barrage plays more like a bullet hell shooter.  Characters are moved with WASD and the mouse aiming attacks.  However, the mouse can be rendered all but useless by turning on the auto-aim feature.  This will lock all attacks on the nearest enemy and automatically fire.  And with skills and potions mapped to number keys, it’s entirely possible to play Magic Barrage one handed.  And when a game can be played with only one hand, it’s clear there isn’t much challenge.  Despite the onslaught of attacks coming in from all directions, it’s easy enough to avoid them entirely.  Those that hit don’t do enough damage to warrant concern.  Increasing the difficulty of dungeons doesn't help either as it’s still very easy to clear them and attain the highest rating.  

Quests are obtained from various NPCs much like any other game.  A fair amount of broken English litters the game through quest text and NPC dialogue.  A quest window can be opened which shows accepted and unaccepted quests.  Rather than wandering around and naturally finding new quest givers, players are spoon-fed each quest.  Clicking the NPC will automatically teleport the player to them.

I had often wondered about a game that provided immediate gratification with little to no effort required of the player.  When broken down to basics, each game is about rewarding the player.  The longer a game is played, the more spread out the rewards are.  The rewards typically come in a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment through completing a quest or obtaining a new piece of gear.  So when a game breaks down to jumping from one reward to the next without the hassles of travel times or other annoyances, it should be a constant feeling of satisfaction, right?  Unfortunately, the exact opposite proves to be true.  When a game becomes so automated, it becomes a mindless slog and the true sense of satisfaction never makes an appearance.

Visually speaking, Magic Barrage hits on all the marks it was aiming for.  Resembling something from the early 90’s, there’s a small nostalgia value for those who remember when most games looked like this.  Animations are minimal and most environments are flat, despite other appearances.  In some open world maps, trees and boulders alike can be passed over without any indication they were there.  Otherwise, it is a robust and colorful world with interesting art pieces standing in for the NPCs in chat windows.

Magic Barrage tries something different with its unique amalgamation of genres and features.  Unfortunately, the way it is cobbled together leaves it in an unappealing mess.  It doesn't excel in any one area and since it practically plays itself, there’s little return on investment for the player.  If you’re desperate for a free to play browser game, there are literally hundreds of others much better.