Wands Alliances hands-on: Epic back alley magic battles with friends on Quest 2
Four spells. Two wands. One winning team.
Close your eyes and picture the streets of London, sometime in the 1800s. Strewn among the brickwork tapestry of the scene are six magic wielders — witches or wizards, if you prefer those terms — slinging spells back and forth at one another in an effort to dispatch their apparent rivals. If you’ve ever read a Harry Potter book or seen one of the movies, there’s little doubt this scene can be immediately conjured up in great detail in your mind.
That sort of scenario is exactly what Wands Alliances for Oculus Quest 2 is all about. You and a team of two other witches or wizards — controlled either by human players or AI bots — set about to duel a team of three others to the death, fighting 3v3 battles in large city environments using a unique tactical teleportation style of locomotion. You’ll have a wand in each hand and four spells to sling at any given time. Only your speed and your wits will save you and your team from an untimely end.
Wands Alliances is the long-awaited sequel to the original Wands game, which was available all the way back on the Oculus Go, and was considered one of the best VR games of its time. Given how limited that system was, it’s not surprising that Wands Alliances is a massive step forward in both the visual and gameplay departments. But does an upgraded version of an old formula still cast a spell on me? Yes, and you’ll find out why in our Wands Alliances hands-on preview below.
Developer Cortopia Studios invited me to a private play session, where I got to join in the battle with four-to-five other members of the development team for about an hour and a half.
Wands Alliances multiplayer pits two teams of three players against each other in a 3v3 battle. Rounds are objective-based, and can last anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes long. A round can be ended either by eliminating all players on the other side, or by capturing the Omega device. Think of it a bit like arming the bomb in a Counter-Strike match (or other similar games), followed by a 45-second window where the other team can disarm the device.
When playing a normal match, any character that isn’t being controlled by a human player will automatically be filled by a bot. In my playtest, I had a hard time figuring out the difference between the humans and bots, so don’t expect to sail through a round just because one team has bots on its side.
During the start of each round, players will choose a class — on offer is a choice between a damage dealer, healer, or support class — followed by choosing four spells to utilize in battle. Dozens of spells exist in the game and are separated by six total classes, each of which can be leveled up as you progress. Spells can be swapped out every four rounds, but you’ll only have six total spells at your disposal to choose from, so you’ll need to plan wisely ahead of time.
During rounds, you will earn XP and level up your character, which can be used to upgrade and unlock new spells. Spells can be upgraded and managed back at the hub, and players are encouraged to try out multiple classes to unlock everything. You can also test out spells at the hub so you’re proficient before starting a multiplayer battle. While there are dozens and dozens of spells, they all fit into either damage, heal, block, deflect, buff, debuff, and control enemy player movement categories.
At launch, Wands Alliances features three levels to play in: The Rookery, The Gateway, and The Maetropolis. More levels are planned for future updates.
During rounds, players will find themselves warping between different “lanterns” scattered throughout each level. While many games employ teleportation as a movement mechanic, Wands Alliances uniquely employs both teleportation and roomscale movement at the same time.
Once you teleport to a lantern — done by aiming your wand at the clearly-illuminated floating lanterns throughout the levels and pressing and holding the grip button — you’ll have a physical 2-by-2 meter area to walk around in. Battlements located at lantern stations typically include walls, wooden pallets, crates, and other obstacles for players to physically duck behind in order to dodge spells.
Some spells include area of effect damage, though, so camping at one lantern can easily be discouraged by the right spell. While more than one ally can occupy some lanterns, enemies and allies cannot stand at the same lantern, which could cut off a vital area of traversal throughout the level.
While in-game voice chat is enabled by default, the developers thankfully recognized that not all players want to hear or communicate with other players this way. Pointing at a lantern and tapping the B or Y buttons will ping that location, helping to point out enemy positions throughout the match, enabling clear non-voice communication.
Impressive, exciting battles await
As Wands Alliances is a sequel to a classic VR title that’s been available on many platforms for many years, it doesn’t try too hard to revolutionize the existing, solid formula. Instead, many of the mechanics you see are evolutions of their implementations in the original title.
For instance, Wands Alliances builds upon the original game’s spell mechanics. Instead of one wand with four spells (as was the case in the original game), you’ll be using two wands with two spells each. Cycling through them is as easy as tapping the A or X buttons.
Each spell is color-coded, which makes it simple enough to keep track of during those extra intense battles. It’s entirely possible to heal enemies if you’re not paying attention, for instance, so players are encouraged to utilize this color-coding feature to better manage spells.
Likewise, casting spells is as simple as pulling the trigger button on either controller. It feels (and looks) a bit like a gun at first, but this type of mechanic is far simpler than the gesture-based system that some other magic-casting games in VR attempt to use. That's especially true since there are dozens and dozens of different spells, which would get very confusing if you had to remember to draw some sort of shape while getting shot at.
From the moment I started up the game, I was blown away by how clean, clear, and detailed the game’s visuals are. Levels are quite large and impressively detailed, with little details strewn throughout that you very well might miss during those epic spell fights.
The unique combination of teleportation and roomscale movement mechanics took me a while to get used to, as I’m accustomed to games prioritizing virtual movement over physical movement in most cases. While teleporting can be considered limiting in some games, teleporting in this game is done from station to station rather than custom locations, so you’re not limited by false movement speed restrictions intended to replicate the normal movement speeds of an individual.
Forcing players to use predetermined teleportation locations also aids in team strategy, as seasoned players can intelligently utilize these pathways to block enemy players’ movements; something that’s particularly important if you’re on the attacking side and are preventing the defenders from disabling the Omega device.
While Wands Alliances can be considered a “shooter” game in many respects, most shooters don’t give you the ability to dodge projectiles without slowing down time or some other kind of mechanic. Watching spells come at you from multiple locations and having the ability to either physically dodge or teleport out of the way is something uniquely satisfying that isn’t found in most other titles.
Even after an hour and a half of playtime, I had no desire to call it a night; I was having way too much fun, and had finally gotten over the learning curve that comes with playing against folks who have already put hundreds (or thousands) of hours into the game. I’m pretty sure they were going easy on me at times but, when they obviously weren’t, it was nothing short of magical to feel like I was in an actual magic battle in the streets of London.
As the game only launches with three total maps and one game mode, it’s expected that additional options will become available in updates after launch. Wands Alliances is currently a Meta Quest 2 exclusive title, but the developer says other platforms are TBD at this time, inferring we will likely see the game’s appearance elsewhere in the future. Check it out in the video below.
Wands Alliances is a 3v3 wizard dueling game that brings players to the mythical streets of Victorian London, slinging spells at one another in an effort to capture or defend the Omega device.
Buy at: Oculus
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