You would never break the chain
The world of League of Legends has been rapidly expanding over the last few years. From series like Arcane to spin-offs like Ruined King, the world of Runeterra keeps on growing. It’s the latter section where The Mageseeker: A League of Legends Story fits in, handing a slice of the world to Digital Sun.
As the team behind 2018’s roguish action-RPG Moonlighter, Digital Sun take a similar approach to the world of League here, focusing on the champion Sylas. With the MOBA genre’s roots in RPG systems and Digital Sun’s proven talent for making a solid action-RPG, it wasn’t surprising that Mageseeker works. What surprised me at my demo during PAX East 2023 was just how well it works, and how the studio is pushing itself in the process to make a crisp, action-heavy but magic-focused game.
It’s a kind of magic
Mageseeker is the latest partnership from Riot Forge, the studio’s endeavor to publish games set in its lore from third-party developers. With this particular game, the Moonlighter crew took on Sylas, though it didn’t quite set out to at first. Animator and cutscene coordinator Josep Baño tells me Riot approached Digital Sun after Moonlighter‘s release. The studio put together some ideas, including one for a man who could steal magic. As it turns out, Sylas’ release was right around the corner.
He was a bit after my own time with League of Legends, but Sylas is a mage who’s able to copy and use the ultimate abilities of other champions. For Digital Sun’s take on this, Mageseeker dives deeper into Sylas’ past. In an intro cutscene for my demo, I saw a short slice of Sylas as he was in the past: his ability to sense magic used to hunt mages throughout the kingdom of Demacia and, after having a change of heart and defending one, becoming imprisoned as a mage himself.
What’s nice about this is that, despite very little knowledge of Sylas’ backstory, it was pretty easy to follow. Granted, I know some of the big cultural touchstones here. Demacia is a big part of League lore, and the story teases appearances from the likes of Garen and Lux. The focus, however, is on Sylas and the magical rebellion he seeks to incite after his escape from wizard jail.
What’s yours is mine
In gameplay, though, is where Sylas shines. He’s a bit interesting, as both a mage and warrior, and that shines through in how he handles. Sylas’ chains can be whipped out to latch onto enemies, letting Sylas leap forward toward them for a light-and-heavy attack combo. He’s not squishy like the average magician, and it shows.
Still, he can copy magic, and that’s where his chains come back into play. Targeting a magic user will let Sylas copy their magical powers, which can then be cast once. These spells, metered out by a mana-like resource under Sylas’ health bar, work on a full-blown magical system with corresponding weaknesses. Steal a fireball spell and use it on an ice mage for extra damage, or vice versa. Spotting the type of magic an enemy uses is key to tackling some encounters.
“We wanted to translate this feel when you play Sylas in League of Legends,” Baño said. “He has this magic stuff, but also he’s very [physical], and very fast movement, and his melee is very—how do you say—good-feeling when you play it.”
This was emphasized in a later section I played during the demo, where I could only really damage an enemy with magic. While Sylas will build up a repertoire of his own spells that can always be cast, there’s still the option to copy and unleash the enemy’s magic too. The visual indicators are thankfully easy to follow, and it didn’t take much time to figure out how to master the elements.
What results is a top-down combat system that feels like Kratos went to magic school. At times I went flying around the arena, pummeling foes with my fists, only to rip out a spell and toss it at another enemy. The arenas allow for plenty of ways for Sylas to get around, and Sylas has as many options available as he does foes.
We are the champions
This all comes to a head in boss fights, which can get intense. I didn’t get to tussle with any of League‘s greats, though I did fight a mage that seems tied into Sylas’ backstory. In an interesting twist, my focus wasn’t on defeating the mage—who was a bit too powerful for Sylas to take on—but to bust open a door and hold another friend captive.
Through this fight, I found myself fighting against swarms of additional enemies, all with different types and skills that could throw curveballs at me as I beat down the door. Lasers, giant warriors, and swift assassins who could silence my magic all pestered me. It was a neat twist that really made me appreciate Digital Sun’s approach to Mageseeker. This system already allows for excellent combat, but the highlight I saw focused on the tension of that combat without just putting a big, high-HP enemy to pummel in front of me.
Combine all of that with Digital Sun’s incredible pixel art, and Mageseeker is looking like another solid entry in Riot’s third-party lineup. It’s got great action, a great look, and a compelling story that works even if you’re not familiar with League of Legends. I’m curious to see how the whole thing slots together into one full game, and if each level can keep up the momentum of the few I saw. But Mageseeker certainly has my attention.
The Mageseeker: A League of Legends Story arrives on April 18 for PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.