Sorcery! 3 continues the trend in mobile gaming of combining videogames and choose-your-own-adventure novels, and while it takes few risks, it is an awfully big adventure. While there have been a good chunk of choose-your-own-adventure games in recent years, few have created a world as engaging, expansive, and changeable as Sorcery! 3. Sorcery! 3 eschews tension-ratcheting gameplay and detailed animation in favor of world-building and choice complexity. This makes the game immersive, but it also makes it less of a game. In fact, it could almost be a browser-based text adventure rather than a mobile game. The elements that make it more than a massive branching novel are often unpolished and cumbersome. It does have gameplay, however, but there are no controls to master, no level-ups, and few skills to speak of. Conflict is solved, instead, by cunning, intuition, and memory. The right choice could leave you with a new, powerful spell, but the wrong one could leave you robbed, injured, or even outright dead. It is sometimes hard to know which decision is the right one, but that’s part of the fun.
There is surprisingly little traditional story telling in Sorcery! 3. That’s usually a death sentence to a game novel, but Sorcery! 3’s unique blend of game and novel elements somehow makes it OK. Great, even. Instead of worrying about who you are and why you’re trying to get from one end of the map to the other, you become immersed in the mysterious and well-built world the author has crafted. You travel through the creatively named “Old World” to stop the “Archmage” who stole the “Crown of Kings” because it is implied that he will do very bad things with it. While the stakes and fantasy terms are generic, the world map is not. Shown from the top-down perspective, it is a sweeping expanse containing deserts, perilous mountains, and oppressive forests. Overhead and all around are literal winds of time that shift the area from past to present, turning deserts into lush plains, forests into swamps, decay into thriving life. Throughout, there are allusions to ancient civilizations, future perils, and hidden magic. After a challenge is overcome, you are more often than not left with questions and the sense that something deeper lurks beneath your adventure. There are whirlwinds that threaten and then disappear, shrinking giants, and dark rituals that wither you to the bone and then restore you completely. Few explanations are found for these strange experiences, but each one pulls you deeper into the world of Sorcery! 3.
While most encounters are best solved with careful judgment, combat is sometimes necessary. This is where the friction between the game and the novel shows. Combat is a herky-jerky guessing-game in which you have to guess a number and hope it’s higher than your opponent’s. There are clues in the text about how you should attack an enemy, but usually they are only helpful after several retries.
In fact, you will find that many encounters exact a harsh toll, especially in the latter half of the adventure. To solve this problem, there is a rewind feature. It lets you backtrack every choice you make. I am torn about this feature. On the one hand, the difficult-to-navigate branching paths of Sorcery! 3 lead to a rewarding challenge, and allowing an instant rewind makes it an exercise in trial-and-error instead of a challenging adventure. On the other hand, it serves as a continuous autosave that allows you to experience more of the world in one playthrough.
Spellcasting, too, is a double-edged sword. The magic system is arduous. You have to jump between several screens to check your spellbook against the situation you are in and to find the possible spells you can cast in that situation. However, the spells themselves open up a bevy of possibilities of Sorcery! 3 by allowing you to alter yourself and the world around you with spells that range from speaking with snakes to levitating.
This enormity of choice is what makes Sorcery! 3 great. And it’s not just the spells that open up new paths. The world of Sorcery!3 is an old one, and enchanted lighthouses can transport you from the near-apocalyptic present to the lush and dangerous past by letting you choose which parts of the map bloom into life and which parts stay in the darkness. Illuminating a ruin can transform it into a thriving city. But there is always a trade-off. Make a city flourish and it may lead the way to a destination filled with peril.
As a game novel, Sorcery 3 neither emphasizes its novel elements nor its game aspects to the detriment of the other. It is an almost perfect hybrid – a true immersive digital adventure. And that’s as it should be. Of course, there’s another camp that feels there’s no place for the hybrid that is the game novel. Hardcore Droid’s review of Sorcery! 1, for example, has a less enchanted view of things. But this is 2015, and titles driven by narrative are becoming increasingly popular. Telltale Games’ reinvention of the point and click adventure by way of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones comes to mind. Like it or not the narrative-driven game is part and parcel of the Android gaming canon, and to a lot of us, game novels not only make for fun games, but the genre as a whole, has earned its place among Android’s best titles.
There is room for improvement in Sorcery! 3, which is somewhat troubling since it is the third chapter and there has been plenty of time to work out the kinks. The title’s combat is pretty dysfunctional and should either be enhanced or done away with entirely. Spellcasting should be streamlined and made more user-friendly. While the spell system is well-integrated into the game as a whole, I was hesitant to experiment because of its cumbersome nature. What S3 lacks however in its combat and magic systems, it makes up for in scope, though ultimately there didn’t need to be a tradeoff between these elements. And yet, it’s hard to fault an enchanting game in and emerging medium for the speed bumps of progress. Instead, this game novel deserves a great deal of praise for its depth, daring, and downright excitement. Sorcery! 3 packs more excitement into a sentence than most polished AAA games render in all their explosions and gore.
Is ripping the teeth out of a giant you just killed hardcore?
While Sorcery! 3 may not be groundbreaking, it is an immersive experience for those who love exploring a fantasy world and having control over the shape of their adventure.