You're a Rift Wizard, Harry!
Rift Wizard is a traditional roguelike (a turn-based procedurally generated dungeon crawler) that doubles down on the fantasy of being a wizard with a hefty leather-bound spell book at your fingertips, a legion of minions under your control and mastery over ALL of the elements.
Who wouldn’t want that? A lot of video game marketing tells you that you’ll be able to become a Really Cool Mage™ if you play Our Really Cool Magic Game™… but they’re lying to you.
Mages are inevitably brought down to the level of the other, more mundane, classic fantasy archetypes, like the warrior or the rogue, for the sake of balance and because fun magic systems are hard to implement (I would know).
Rift Wizard side steps these problems by telling you up front: “You’re a wizard, Gamer!”. You don’t swing big clubs at people or stab them in the back, you wear a hood and you cast big spells with your little stick.
Each run starts off with you, as the Rift Wizard, in an underground cave with some bats, sometimes goblins, chasing after you. Conveniently, you’ve forgotten all the spells you’ve learned over the course of your lifetime. Thank the almighty Merlin that you remembered to bring your spell book with you.
You start by learning a single spell from your spell book to take out the enemies and close the (demonic?) gate that they’re coming from. Once you’ve taken out the trash, 2 to 4 rifts will open. Each of them leads to a different procedurally generated area, called a realm, with increasingly difficult enemies to fight, potions and other consumable items to help you survive and some skill points you can use to learn new spells or upgrade ones you’ve already learned.
Your goal is to survive long enough to successfully jump into 24 rifts and defeat the final boss Mordred. At least that’s what I’ve been told, I’ve yet to do it myself because the game is hard. The closest I’ve gotten is the 21st realm. I got there by cheering on my horde of poison spitting clay wolves, berserking bears and fire/ice hydras until I was beheaded by teleporting knights that I, clearly, wasn’t prepared for.
It was a fair death because there wasn’t much that was unpredictable about what happened. Before going into a rift, you’re able to see the entire layout of the procedurally generated realm, the enemies, the items… Everything. In the moment to moment gameplay of Rift Wizard, there’s no hidden information. Everything that you have to deal with now or soon, can be seen and prepared for. Of course there’s a limit to this, you can’t take a peek at the final boss’s realm until you’re one rift away from it and the same goes for any other realm.
I have never seen anything like this in any other traditional roguelike that I’ve played, and I’ve played a lot of them. Because all the procedurally generated parts of each run are forecasted to you ahead of time, the game can throw many more powerful, and interesting, enemies at you at the same time and it can give you the tools you need to deal with them without making the game too easy (If you’ve played Into the Breach, you might like Rift Wizard and vice-versa because of the similar way both games heavily foreshadow what’s going to happen).
When you jump into a rift, you can choose the exact spot where your Rift Wizard will appear. This comes in handy, especially when it comes to dealing with gates. Gates are haphazardly placed all over each realm and periodically bring in new enemies for you to deal with. Gates prevent you from waiting for all the enemies to come to you while you blast them away with your magic.
Until you go out of your way to destroy all the gates, enemies will keep coming after you. This is problematic because you can only cast each of the spells you’ve learned a limited number of times before you need to chug a mana potion to replenish your charges.
You can deal with the gates in many ways. You can use minions who can walk toward each gate and destroy them (if your minions survive, that is), you can tunnel through the walls by melting them with arcane energy beams, you can use the Teleporter item to teleport closer to the gates to destroy them and that’s just scratching the surface. The closer you are to the gates, the easier they are to destroy but being close to them means that the enemies they create will also be closer to you. This is one of the many risk vs. reward dilemmas that you’ll be constantly faced with while playing Rift Wizard.
Let’s agree to agree that gates, as I’ve described them, need to be dealt with ASAP. But, the real threats to your Rift Wizard’s life don’t come from gates. All enemies in the game are colour-coded: green means pushover, yellow means situationally scary and red means holy Dumbledore’s rock hard staff.
I’ve yet to discover all of the 500+ enemies in the game but all the red ones I’ve seen, scare me deeply. Unless you’ve prepared to deal with them, with the spells you’ve learned and by parting ways with some of the consumable “plz halp meh” items you’ve found, these scary enemies will kill you.
Fortunately, you have around 200 spells and passive skills to choose from to help you deal with the enemies the game throws at you. The spells and skills interact with each other in many beneficial ways and, so, as you learn more of them during a run, you become exponentially stronger.
It might seem like being able to learn any of the spells in each of your runs, as long as you can pay the skill point cost for them, would make for a repetitive experience. This is not the case. Although you can technically choose any spell to learn, you’re encouraged to choose some spells over others based on the spell circles that show up in each of the realms you decide to visit.
Each circle is tied to a given school of magic (out of a total of 16). A circle reduces the cost of all spells, skills and upgrades tied to its school by 1 skill point if your Rift Wizard is standing on it. You get a relatively limited amount of skill points per realm (usually 3), spell circles encourage you to buy spells from a particular school and, in doing so, force you to discover new combinations of spells each run.
Shrines provide a similar incentive by applying a significant positive modifier to one spell that you’ve already learned as long as it satisfies the criteria specified by the shrine (for example: shrine X’s modifier can be applied to a fire or ice sorcery spell and it doubles the damage it does).
Each realm contains either a circle, a shrine or a permanent health upgrade. The presence of a specific circle or shrine is another factor to keep track of when deciding which rift to jump into. Although the circles and shrines provide an incentive to learn specific spells and skills, sometimes it’s more beneficial to save up your skill points until you find a more appropriate circle or shrine due to the spells and skills you’ve already learned.
Rift Wizard gives you a lot of control over the way you play but provides enough friction through the procedurally generated realm layouts, enemies, items, Etc. to keep you coming back for more.
A lot of the games I’m into are made up of complex interwoven systems that would not function as a whole if not for the player. In these games, The player’s goal is to discover how these systems work and interact with each other through play and, eventually, be able to keep them all under control through eventual mastery of the game. You as a player are an integral part of the machinery. Without you, there is no game. Good games like this need to suck you into their world completely to make you care about the decisions you’re making along the way.
Rift Wizard feels like one of these games and I’m not surprised by how much I’m enjoying my time with it. I applaud the single developer for making a game that I’m likely to keep thinking about for many hours to come. It costs less than two fancy coffees, if you’ve read this far, you should probably buy it.
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