Owners of Waltz of the Wizard: Extended Edition, the spell-casting VR experience for SteamVR and Quest, are getting a major free expansion today called ‘Natural Magic’. It brings to the game a new magic-based combat system and a massive dungeon where you can finetune how to use your singular, albeit surprisingly flexible spell.
Waltz of the Wizard has been in continuous development by Iceland-based studio Aldin Dynamics since it was launched on Steam back in 2016. It’s an amazing game in its own right, and now it’s getting a big update which essentially brings a substantial new mode to its mostly non-linear sandbox-style gameplay.
In Natural Magic, you’re tasked with going deep into the stronghold created by the strange interdimensional beings that have invaded your world. Your only way to defend yourself from the enemies that lurk within is essentially a singular spell, which is more like a Swiss army knife than it appears at first blush. The star of the show really is the spell itself, and how it makes you feel when you use it correctly. Particles swirl around your hands; executing a perfect cast and using the full extent of your abilities to tackle different enemies feels absolutely electrifying.
You can blast out the particles from both hands to get the most destructive shot—simply pull your palms towards you while grabbing to ‘gather’ magical particles and then release to shoot them out. If you toss them out with a quick motion, they’re powerful and compact. Toss them out slowly, and the particles gently leave your hands and spread apart for a wider area of effect.
On its own, it sounds like a spell you might see in any magic game, but there’s more to it than that. Those particles can be guided in mid-air by holding the trigger again and moving your hand; you can move around corners, chase flying enemies, and navigate your shot through tight spaces like windows. You can speed up and slow down the particles just by moving you casting hand forward or backwards, making it indispensable in certain levels.
By slowing down and directing your shot mid-flight, you can also cover baddies with particles and telekinetically control them, which usually means smashing them into a wall for extra damage or into the mouth of an open pit.
Then there’s the ‘sonic scream’, which is done by holding the gathered particles up to your face and actually physically yelling. This sends enemies flying backwards when they get too close for comfort. You’ll need to give the game permission to use the microphone to do this, but it’s not really a fundamental weapon to the game. I never really used it because I didn’t want to be the upstairs neighbor randomly screaming at magical robots—no more than usual, that is.
Mastering all of these sub-spells is a big reason to pop your head into Natural Magic. After the first hour of gameplay, you really start to get a feel for each piece of the spell. It feels, well, natural to gather magic, cast, change your mind mid-flight, pick up a baddy and smash him into a wall. It’s a clever, flexible little system, and I hope other developers take notice of just what innovations Aldin keeps cooking up in Waltz of the Wizard.
The expansion’s magic system and absolutely gobsmacking level of polish on everything is a bit underserved by the overall slowness of its pace though. Around the 15th level, which took me around two hours to reach, you start to see a lot of the same level architecture reshuffled. You fight past mostly all of the same baddies, which includes basic grunts, flying drones, and tank enemies. There is a bit more variety in the game than that, notably a difficult magic-using enemy, but the bulk are always doled out in predictable ways that sometimes feel like a chore worth avoiding than something earnestly engaging. If you’re quick enough, you can even run past almost everything on your way to the exit room if you want, and I found myself doing that more than a few times after turning the corner to find the umpteenth gang of ground enemies.
It’s a free expansion for owners of the Extended Edition (see explanation below), and without looking a gift horse in the mouth too closely, it’s important to note that the new dungeon area in Natural Magic currently doesn’t include puzzles to solve, chests to loot, upgrades to find, shops to visit, or currency to spend—only magic-casting, bad guys, and the expectation to reach the exit room to gather a piece of a mosaic before heading into the next level. The whole Natural Magic part of the game is 40 levels-long, which isn’t something to sneeze at, but I think it could have been much better served by cutting that number in half and doing away with some of the levels that felt like playing constant repeats.
Although I wish there were more stand-out levels, and more of the sort of clever gadgets to play with back in the ‘Tower’ section of the game, you have to hand it to Aldin for spinning a truly compelling world into existence and constantly growing it. Just like back at the Tower, voice acting reminds me of the hopelessly corny ’80s sword and sorcery flicks, and also a bit of the famed British kid’s show Knightmare for good measure. It’s just too scrappy and cheesy not to love.
It also shouldn’t be underestimated how good the game looks and plays, even on Quest 2 where it legitimately feels like it’s actually running with the power of a PC by how smooth everything works. Particle effects, lighting, physics-based enemies, smooth locomotion in addition to its standard teleporting scheme—all of them are compute intensive tasks that Waltz of the Wizard seems to handle with astonishing ease.
In the end, Waltz of the Wizard was always worth playing, if only for its fun and mysterious gadgets and moments of exploration it presents. Natural Magic is an excellent add-on, and will have you spending hours of time beating baddies with magical panache.
If you already own Waltz of the Wizard: Extended Edition, you’ll get Natural Magic for free. At launch of the expansion on July 6th, the game is being renamed Waltz of the Wizard: Natural Magic and is increasing in price from $10 to $20 for new owners. Aldin says updates will arrive in similar fashion in the future, as the studio is committed to continuing development on the title.
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