Making huge important daily decisions that can determine the lives and welfare of thousands of people must be a truly horrible nightmare. I have trouble deciding what cereal to eat in the morning, let alone what resources I would need to sacrifice in order to defend a city from the legions of hell. We as gamers though are asked to make some stupidly tough decisions when playing any kind of sim game or RPG. In Mittelborg: City of Mages, things are no different as you take up responsibility for a whole city and its occupants. Armed with your wits, a few mages, and a bit of luck it’s up to you to be the strong one in the big seat.
Mittelborg: City of Mages is part of the Xbox Creators Collection – a series of games that run with no achievements nor any form of online multiplayer. As such, you won’t find this on the Xbox Store ‘for real’. Should you decide to give it a punt though, you will discover that it puts you straight into the boots of the chancellor of Mittelborg. In this strange otherwordly city lies a group of mages who have one job – to protect the tree of order which dwells in the city. The tree keeps balance in the universe, and since the last chancellor disappeared on an expedition it hasn’t been doing too well; its magic slowly fading. It leads to an inbalance in the universe as the city is attacked by tempests. Your job is to rebuild the city, survive the tempests and explore other domains through a magical portal. Are you ready?
The game’s concept and writing on this fantasy narrative are good and provide an interesting insight into a magical world. As you progress more insights and information about the story are implemented through extracts – still images and some text. There are even choose your own adventure-type choices to make that will provide you extra resources to take away back to the city. It has to be said, I’ve enjoyed the world-building tales and the deliverance of the story more so than the gameplay.
You see, Mittelborg is described as a strategy game, with roguelike elements and a management sim feel. The main job you have is to protect the tree of order and it’s health, and you do that by making sure that before each tempest arrives you have barricaded your city enough to alleviate the damage caused by the storms and enemy raiders. You have a garrison that sees soldiers protecting the front gate and several points (resources) to spend after each turn. You start the game with just the one mage, so it’s up to you to move them to where you think the next attack will take place. For example, a red tempest will cause enemies to attack the garrison so you’ll want to put the mage there and keep your soldiers’ numbers constantly at the limit. If you have a blue tempest, a supernatural attack will occur on the building which is the tower of light, so you’ll want to get a mage over there to keep the damage limited. There are purple tempests where you can just collect magical resource points from a sort of windmill, and even some days where you have no storms; that is time for reflection, defense-building or exploration.
You can create other buildings in the city as well, like an oracle who can predict what color the next tempest will be, allowing you an insight into how you need to prepare. You can even craft places to create potions so that you are given special defense powers for one day or an ability that will ensure the tempest does not arrive for a bit. You will eventually get more mages to control and use, letting you multitask as the game gets harder. And further still, sending them off on a mini adventure through a portal to other realms will see them coming back with more resources for the city. Ultimately though, if the tree dies, all progress is lost – you need to be constantly on your toes.
The main problem I have with Mittelborg is found in the UI and control system. I can imagine it would be great for those using keyboard and mouse, or even the Nintendo Switch, but it just isn’t responsive enough for Xbox One. I resorted to ignoring the thumbstick completely and just using the direction buttons, but even then it is easy to skip over the things you are looking for.
Visually the game is okay, but again it isn’t really suited to Xbox One; more in line with a mobile title. You have to remember though, this is a Creators Collection game and it is lined up well for the kind of titles that go on there. I think the hand-drawn artwork is a nice touch, working very well, as does some of the city design. The audio is pretty damn basic though.
Mittelborg: City of Mages on Xbox One is a title that works fine enough, delivering some interesting strategy elements and an original world and story. I just don’t see it being one that was designed with the Xbox in mind, and it is much more suitable for a mobile or other handheld device. It has some lovely hand-drawn artwork, a good system of choice and luck gameplay, and some city-building which is decent. The defensive system is strangely compelling too. How long it will keep your interest levels up though is another matter – especially as it doesn’t come with any achievements to keep you hooked.