Become a Deck-building Detective in The Magister
In The Magister, you have the opportunity to play powerful officials of the mighty Empire, investigating the curious death of a colleague in the Northern Province of Silverhurst. You have two weeks to explore and study the scene of the crime and uncover any hidden secrets that will lead you to the truth.
Nerdook Productions (Monster Slayers) is a Malaysian solo game developer who took inspiration from various games and genres to develop The Magister. An experienced Flash game developer, Nerdook definitely knows what gets people clicking and playing, and this interesting mix of influences makes itself known in his most recent title.
The Magister introduces a lot of gameplay loops from different genres. You are solving a murder mystery puzzle with deck-building, turn-based combat. To top it all off, there’s an RPG aspect since you are building your template Magister, and your relationship levels with the town’s inhabitants have a visual novel element to it. So, there’s a lot to see and do with the two in-game weeks you are spending in the fascinating setting of the game – both in Silverhurst and sequences in your character’s dreams.
It was fun to explore all the nooks and crannies of Silverhurst and speak to its inhabitants. It really lends to the “investigation” background of the whole game and pushes you to be more curious about the comings and goings that could have led to the dastardly crime. The charming 2D art is easy to navigate, and you can quickly identify essential NPCs in the crowd. Some devious NPCs will also quiz you about the world to check if you are paying attention! Overall, the worldbuilding is effective, and there’s a level of immersion usually found in more graphically robust RPGs.
Now, on the player character topic, you start off the game choosing from a variety of builds. It’s an exciting application of character customization without taking it off the rails. You need to watch out for things like your HP, skills, wallet, fatigue levels, and relationship levels. This information could be overwhelming to newer players, but experienced RPG players will appreciate the complexity of the Magister’s characters and the world they have been placed in.
The randomly generated mystery is a fun concept that makes the game replayable, which is also a great way to extend the game’s shelf-life. You need to investigate several scenes and accomplish some quests to receive clues that go up on your board – however, it’s up to you to see how these clues (and perhaps some red herrings) link up as you progress through the story. After all, there are so many combinations that you could choose to finish the game – from the way you proceed with enemies (will you talk or fight?) to the freedom to head to the signal tower, should you believe you have collected enough clues. I liked that the game requires you to pay attention to tiny details and conversations that may sound frivolous but are actually very important to the plot and your investigation.
My favorite thing about The Magister is how much choice is given to the player to solve the mystery and how you go about your everyday investigation. You have the option of which skills to focus on while you search for the truth and survive the onslaught of rebels and other enemies. This degree of personalization almost makes the game feel like a roguelike when you find yourself trying again for the correct answers.
While the combat is fun and puts its own fresh spin on the deckbuilding genre, the battles and turns churn out really fast, and you might not be 100% aware of what went on during that time. It took a while to grasp the Tactical Diplomacy mechanic and combat sections fully. These sections are not particularly long. While similar in execution, the Tactical Diplomacy sections were fun (which uses deck-builder gameplay to reason with difficult interviewees), but I found the combat much more engaging. You can even have allies such as dogs, valiant guards and bystanders to come to your aid.
I played the title on the Nintendo Switch, and I appreciated that the game took full advantage of the platform’s capabilities. The touch-screen interface was helpful in both the exploration, deck-building and combat map sections of the game, giving much ease for players. It was a very tactile experience that almost felt like playing DND or a card-based game.
The Magister is jam-packed with all these features (point-and-click exploration, RPG elements, deck-building). While I appreciate how all these elements come together to serve the narrative experience, it’s also a lot to take in. Each core gameplay loop is well-built and balanced, but I can’t help but believe my focus was also scattered because there are so many different things to keep your mind on as you progress through the game. It’s an exciting concept to have all this variety in one role-playing game. But while they all work well on their own, I feel something is compromised so that all sections work well together. I didn’t expect the deck-building to be as complex as famous indie favorites in the genre. Still, I feel like its system could have been deepened further by giving more focus and complexity to one or two core loops (like the straightforward and easy to master Tactical Diplomacy/combat sections).
Still, The Magister is an impressive accomplishment and, given Nerdook’s penchant for procedural generation in games, a step in an exciting direction. If you want a murder mystery experience that gives you a bit more involvement and variety, then The Magister might fit the bill!
The Magister is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One & Series X|S, and for PC on Steam. This review is based on a free copy for Nintendo Switch provided by the publisher.