Mirage: Arcane Warfare is the follow-up to Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, but you probably guessed the association from the name.
After spending a couple of months in beta earlier this year, the game finally released on May 23. There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Mirage, because looking at the Steam stats, there’s hardly anyone playing it. It’s not exactly a niche title from a no-name studio, so this is pretty odd.
Chivalry was successful, having more or less reinvented first-person melee and actually made it work in a multiplayer setting. It was released in 2012 but you can easily still find people playing it today.
Although you may not have seen much talk about Mirage online pre-launch, it was promoted by a couple of very successful YouTubers, some of whom played a lot of Chivalry. There’s also the fact that the game has been featured in two Steam sales since launch already, and it shows great in trailers so the concept is not really a hard sell.
Yet somehow, there just doesn’t appear to be any interest.
"There were less players on the day of release than during the closed beta. And that’s bearing in mind most beta players only have access because they pre-ordered."
I received my code during the beta, where I spent most of my play time. The plan was to do something at launch, but the launch player counts were so low I could hardly find any server that wasn’t TDM. Add to that a bizarre number of bugs and performance issues at launch that weren’t in the beta, and you end up with less players on the day of release than during the closed beta. And that’s bearing in mind most beta players only have access because they pre-ordered.
All of this saddens me, because when you really get down to it, Mirage is one of the best games with first-person melee. The fact it also works so well in multiplayer makes it the only modern game to do so, a winner by default.
First-person melee is a bit of a dead sub-genre. Sure, you’ll find first-person perspective in some RPGs as an option, but it’s almost always terrible. It’s so bad, in fact, people just avoid using melee weapons in shooters and immersive sims.
I was thrilled when For Honor released earlier this year. That game's biggest success was that it figured out a way to present a polished, third-person melee combat model that’s not as complex as Mount & Blade’s, but deep enough that it’ll take you hours to master.
I feel the same way about Mirage, with the difference being that it’s doing this in first-person, as opposed to For Honor’s third-person perspective. But while For Honor may have already squandered its spot in the gaming zeitgeist, Mirage never had any.
There's plenty here worthy of high praise, but it’s how impressively right it gets the core mechanics that’s worth highlighting. It’s the one thing that kept playing.
The two main concepts games often fail at delivering is the weight of each move, and the impact you and your opponent should feel when taking or receiving a hit. These are much easier to convey in third-person games where you see your character’s full body. When you’re locked into first-person view, immersion could break apart at any moment if something doesn't feel right.
A game like For Honor uses on-screen UI elements separate from the combat itself to highlight particular moves, which means it doesn’t need to put an emphasis on the readability of some of them quite as much. There's a nice big indicator telling you what's coming.
On the other hand, a slow animation could be perceived as clunky, completely missing the point. You’ll never get a definitive answer as to which is and isn’t, as it often goes down to personal preference, but most players are usually able to tell when something feels off. There’s a fine line between making all hits incredibly slow - to feign a sense of weight, and getting the balance just right so they’re flashy but don’t lack the necessary heft to convince you you’re wielding a sword.
Where Arcane Warfare excels is in striking this balance perfectly, without compromising the feel of any of the weapons. From the fastest swinging sabres to the heaviest rock hammers, everything moves and hits the way you expect it to. Momentum is important, and overcommitting will leave you open to reposte, as it should.
The other, equally critical part of first-person melee Mirage executes so well, is the impact you see and feel from every one of your swings. The way your opponent takes the hit should be the only indicator you need to know the hit connected, without the aid of any UI. Even compared to the already excellent Chivalry, Mirage is a step above in the impact department.
The superb sound feedback is the final layer, and in Mirage it's always clear which hit landed, and which was parried or deflected.
The mechanics here could easily stand toe-to-toe with Dark Messiah of Might and Magic's, the benchmark for first-person melee.
But it doesn’t stop there, the game’s greatest innovation is that it figured out a way to translate magic spells and fireballs into actual objects that exist in the game space and follow the same rules applied to swords and maces. You can block and even deflect them, if dodging isn’t your thing. Smaller projectiles are a perfect way to kill an enemy with their own weapon, while giant boulders are best avoided.
It’s an elegant solution to a problem fantasy games have been struggling with for years, often relying on sound and visuals exclusively to give a sense of impact to what would otherwise be hollow blips.
This is at the core of the entire package, which consists of multiple game modes, plenty of maps, and a nice customisation and progression system. The six playable classes are each based on fantasy archetypes. You have the giant, mace-wielding guy who swings slow but hits hard. Your agile glass cannons, and the one that only pokes from behind a shield. The game even has a mage class that struck me as odd at first, until I realised his staff is mostly designed to fake players out then do blunt damage.
It all comes together spectacularly as one of the most satisfying games to play, not just among those that deal in first-person melee.
Mirage: Arcane Warfare is well worth taking a chance on, and with the most recent patch having added bots, you’ll get a lot out of it for a game that doesn’t have a single-player campaign.
Note: GIFs are slowed down by 10% to illustrate the point.