Mage Knight Apocalypse is a hack-and-slash action role-playing game set in the fantasy world of the Mage Knight collectible miniatures game from WizKids games. You don't have to be familiar with the tabletop game to understand Mage Knight Apocalypse, though. It's a very basic dungeon crawler with all of the essentials you've come to expect from games like Diablo and Dungeon Siege: multiple character classes, a variety of ugly monsters to kill, dungeons to clear, and lots and lots of loot to collect. There are some interesting design concepts in this game, but unfortunately the execution wavers between aggravatingly sloppy and painfully bland.
The story in Mage Knight Apocalypse is taken straight from the tabletop game. It takes place in a world known as The Land, where fantasy races like dwarves, elves, vampires, dragons, and orcs are locked in constant war. A group of powerful spirit masters known as the Solonavi have kept an eye on things, and they are convinced that if they don't eliminate the evil force that is driving the inhabitants of The Land to war, the world will come to an end. So the Solonavi call a group of five heroes to form a fellowship known as the Oathsworn, whose job it is to find and destroy the source of the evil before the world is destroyed. It's a workable setup for a game, but the story just never gets off the ground. The characters are uninteresting and lifeless, and the story is so riddled with clichés that it feels completely generic. It doesn't help that the dialogue is all stilted and awkward, and the voices for the characters are completely devoid of emotion and personality. All of this makes it very difficult to get wrapped up in the story. Of course, this is an action-focused game, so a dull story can be forgivable if the gameplay is compelling enough to stand on its own.
When you begin the game you're given a choice of five heroes to play as, and each has three separate skill paths to follow. Eventually you'll have a party of all five heroes, although you'll only ever actually control the hero that you choose at the beginning of the game. The Nightblade can be an assassin, a necromancer, or a vampire. The Draconum is a mage who can specialize in earth, fire, or wind magic. The Elf is a paladin who can become a strong fighter, a healer, or a ranged attacker who uses a combination of lightning and arrows. The Amazon huntress has three fighting styles modeled after various animals. The bear style gives her strength as a melee fighter, the eagle style allows for effective ranged attacks, and the jaguar style allows the huntress to avoid attacks and inflict damage with well-timed counters. Finally, the dwarf marksman can be a tough melee fighter, a gunner, or an expert with explosives. Aside from choosing which skills to use, there's very little character customization in this game. You can choose a hair color or style, and one of half a dozen faces, but that's it. It feels limited since you have to work within a few dull character templates, and most of the heroes seem exactly like the ones you've seen in countless other role-playing games.
It's not quite as simple as choosing a character and then picking a skill set. Rather, your character develops depending on how you use him or her. You can create a hybrid character if you want to pick and choose skills from each of the various paths, but if you do that it will take much longer to unlock the higher-level skills of each type. That's because instead of developing your character, you're essentially developing his or her skills. There are no experience points in Mage Knight Apocalypse, and there are no levels. Instead, your individual skills and attributes gain experience and increase in level as you use them. If you constantly use your melee attack it will increase in level and become more powerful. At the same time, your strength will increase from all that attacking, and that will further increase the power of your blows. As you level up your skills you'll unlock new skills, so if you're playing as a mage and you primarily use a fire attack, you'll eventually gain access to stronger fire spells. This leveling system is an interesting departure from the usual experience-point grind that many role-playing games fall into, and it's about the only thing that Mage Knight Apocalypse does well. Even then, it's nothing drastically different--it just requires you to be slightly more aware of your actions rather than just bludgeoning your way through mobs of enemies to earn experience points.
The game takes you through six chapters. In each chapter you'll work your way from the beginning of a dungeon to the end, killing hundreds of monsters along the way. The dungeons are all very linear, and it's easy to find your way through. The same can't be said for your computer-controlled allies, though. In each chapter you'll get a new hero to join your party, and you can issue basic commands like follow and attack. However, the artificial intelligence is so terrible that you'll hardly ever see your fellow heroes. More often than not they'll get stuck behind a wall or won't be able to figure out how to turn a corner to follow you, so they'll just stand there leaving you to deal with half a dozen or more monsters at a time.
Because of your unhelpful companions as well as the high volume of enemies in the game, you'll die a lot. When you die you simply resurrect at the nearest save point. Since the save points are all over the place, you'll usually only have to take a few steps to pick up the fight right where you left off. You'll quickly fall into a very repetitive and annoying cycle of death where you resurrect, fight, and die over and over again. You'll slowly pick away at the mob of monsters until finally they're all dead, then you can move on to do it all again. It removes any sort of challenge or sense of attrition from the game, since the only penalty for dying is coming back to life a few steps away with half of your mana and life back. When you have a sliver of health left why bother wasting a potion or a healing spell when you can just die and regain half your life? Not only does it make absolutely no sense, it just isn't fun.
Your reward for dying a dozen times to kill off that mob of a dozen monsters is, of course, loot. Monsters will drop everything from rings and armor to magic stones and potions. You can collect it all and sell it, or equip it to make your character stronger. The problem is that there's a ton of loot in the game, and not much space in your inventory. Later in the game you'll end up throwing away the majority of what you collect, which makes collecting treasure more tedious than it is rewarding. It's also frustrating because the interface is poorly designed, so you'll have to open separate menus for your character and your inventory if you want to equip anything.
There's also a crafting system in the game, so you can forge weapons with magical stones, or use recipes and herbs to create potions. It's a fine idea, but the implementation is poor. There are tons of herbs all over the place, and there's just no room to store them in your inventory, so it's easier to buy the potions from a vendor or just die and resurrect instead. Again, the interface for these crafting systems is less than ideal. You have to open up a menu for each one, and then open up your inventory menu and drag the items you want to use to the proper slots. The whole process is more trouble than it's worth.
Likewise, the multiplayer in Mage Knight Apocalypse is a pain. You can play the game with up to four other players online. You can choose to play through the entire campaign cooperatively from start to finish, or you can choose your favorite chapter and just play it over and over again. You can chat with the other players or trade items with them, but that's about the extent of it. That is, if you can even make it that far. When trying to play online you'll often get messages saying that the game is unable to connect to the server, even after you've tried a dozen different servers. Once you do manage to connect to a server it usually won't last long, and you'll be disconnected and tossed back out to the server browser in the middle of your game. There also aren't very many people playing online, so unless you have friends you know you can get a game on with, you might as well forget multiplayer even exists in this game.
The presentation in Mage Knight Apocalypse is appealing at times, but for the most part it just feels sloppy. The characters and monsters look fairly detailed, and there are some nice touches in the world of The Land. The different areas all look distinct, from the crumbling temples of the overgrown jungle to the fire and machinery of the underground dwarf stronghold. That's where the appeal ends, though. One of the most endlessly annoying features of the game is the free camera. You can rotate the camera around your character by holding the mouse wheel or space bar and moving the mouse. It sounds simple enough, but it's extremely awkward to reposition the camera while moving. Also, the way the levels are designed you'll constantly need to adjust the camera to see where you're going or who you're attacking. If you leave the camera alone you'll either be running around blind or the camera will get stuck on something and just twitch randomly for a while.
There are also graphical glitches that make the game look much worse than it should. Characters clip through one another and through walls and objects in the environment, and there are some minor graphical bugs that frequently appear. On several occasions one of our companions died, and then remained a corpse even after being revived. The clipping isn't just ugly, it affects the gameplay as well. Enemy archers will shoot you through walls, pillars, and stone, and if you try to retaliate you'll get a message that your attack failed because you didn't have a line of sight.
The audio isn't any better than the visuals. As mentioned, the voice acting is terrible. The sound effects are annoying as well, with the same few grunts, squeals, and screams coming from the characters and enemies. There's no music whatsoever for the majority of the game. Occasionally some bland orchestrated tunes will pick up for a few seconds during story sequences and such, but that's it.
Mage Knight Apocalypse is a poorly executed take on a tried-and-true formula. The game has everything you'd expect from an action RPG, but none of it is handled well. The multiplayer is a hassle, the single-player is riddled with bugs and frustrating design flaws, and the presentation is sloppy. If you can somehow overlook all of these flaws, you could spend a lot of time going through all six chapters of the game with each of the five characters. But when you consider how many similar games of better quality are already available, you're left with very little reason to play this one.