With a ridiculous on-the-nose title like Wizard with a Gun, you know exactly what you’re getting into. You’re a wizard, and you have a gun. But the gun is also your wand, so even though you’re shooting all manner of creatures, it’s magical shooting. This silly premise has a lot going for it, opening the door for plenty of unique combat scenarios in its sandbox world. But despite a great opening, Wizard with a Gun starts losing momentum once it becomes clear that it just doesn’t feel finished. Pulling off spell combos and crafting new bullets can be a lot of fun with a friend in co-op, and there is a good amount to explore for fans of survival sandboxes, but balance issues and the lack of a proper ending leave it feeling like it’s missing an Early Access label. As my friends and I kept saying, “it’s got good bones,” but the robes on top of them don’t take long to wear thin.
Wizard with a Gun immediately gets you to the shooting and the wizarding, with a campaign that’s easy to understand on its face: With only five minutes left before the world ends, you have to keep turning back the clock in order to defeat chaos and save all existence. How you choose to use each five-minute chunk is up to you, be it gathering resources for a complex but rewarding crafting system, or maybe facing off against a mini boss to gather gears that allow you to unlock more areas to explore. At any point you can choose to escape to the Tower, where you can spend as much time as you want doing research to gather more bullets — I mean spells — for your many guns, or decorate your headquarters using recipes you get through exploration (although there isn’t much to gain for doing so). Then, once you’re ready, you reset the clock and venture back out.
Wizard with a Gun Screenshots
You can run through the campaign solo or with one partner, and the co-op is super easy to set up. You just start a save file in multiplayer mode, and a friend can hop in and out. While they won’t join your game with any items, it’s easy to stash some of your own in the Tower for them to use — you’ll have plenty, too, as there are four types of guns available to find at various levels of power, and you can carry up to six at a time. Because progression is tied to your guns and upgrades, you can easily jump back and forth into each other’s save files, or just use the same save file when playing alone to progress on your own.
The most fun I had was with a friend, largely because the overall experience differs wildly from playing solo. While Wizard with a Gun attempts to make the map more difficult when you’re playing in co-op, that mostly comes down to more enemies: Instead of one chaos monster spawning, you’ll get two. It’s an intuitive way to balance having multiple players, but there are a lot potentially unintended side effects. For one, when you defeat a chaos enemy, you can then reduce the overall chaos, which means you get more time added to the countdown to the end of the world. This works well when you’re by yourself since you’ll get an extra 30 seconds every so often, but when there are two of you, you get way more added time. There were expeditions where my friend and I had nearly doubled the available time, which let us gather a ton of resources and get to the boss at the end of each area much faster than it felt like we should have.
Foes seemed to take and deal the same amount of damage whether I had a partner or not, and which enemies pop up in higher numbers during co-op didn’t seem to be consistent across the different enemy types. That meant I had to run back to the Tower more often solo because many encounters were significantly more difficult. That’s especially true of bosses, since they essentially take double damage when you’re with a friend. Plus, they can usually only attack one of you at a time, which is a reprieve you obviously don’t get in solo mode. The result is that neither mode feels balanced properly, with enemies that are too difficult by yourself and too easy when you’re with a partner.
The balance problems are even more apparent when it comes to the spells. You start off with a basic damage bullet, but you can unlock multiple research stations that give you access to more bullet types. There are the obvious ones, like burning, poison, and ice, but the more you upgrade, the more humorous and fun they become. Each research station is tied to a certain type of bullet, so one can upgrade your ice bullets to do more damage, for example — but you can also unlock more interesting options like freezing bullets that encase an enemy in a block of ice, or a drill that can deal more damage once they’re frozen. Move on over to the physics station and you can get force bullets that knock enemies around, or an upgrade to get ones that summon boulders that fall from the sky and block movement. There are bullets that can revive your friend immediately, or cool ones that can make enemies either your friend or terrified of you.
You can also craft powders, which are basically bullet attachments that generate other effects for devastating combos. Some just increase damage, but others might leave a trail that can boost the efficacy of your bullets. Put a water trail on a cold bullet and it will increase how quickly you can freeze an enemy. Put an oil trail on a fire bullet and watch everything go up in flames. One of Wizard with a Gun’s great joys is trying out different combos and seeing what happens. And because each of the map’s areas has a different biome (there’s a burning desert, a poisonous swamp, and a frozen waste), you’ll want to change out your bullets and try different combos to combat enemy immunities.
However, you might not actually want to try new things, because there’s one bullet tree that trumps all the others, and it works in just about any environment: lightning. There are two kinds, general shock bullets and ones that call down lightning strikes for massive damage. The long cooldowns might initially deter you from using them, but as one of my friends soon pieced together, if you put lighting strikes on each of your guns, you can get around the cooldown by switching between them. So while it took me close to 25 hours to finish Wizard with a Gun as I moved between the different bullet types and upgraded multiple research stations, he got through the entire campaign in less than 10 hours just by spamming lightning abilities.
The bullet types are just horribly uneven, whether it’s due to how much damage they deal, how many of them it takes to instill an effect, or how early they’re introduced in the campaign. It makes sense to lock more powerful bullet types behind weaker abilities in their research trees, but you can get lightning strikes before you even beat the first boss, which is only after maybe an hour or two. Even when you decide to switch to some of the more interesting types, you may find they have very limited uses or don’t work as advertised. Charming bullets theoretically make enemies friendly, but I found that it took too many bullets to try and turn just one, which is an impossible task when you’re getting bombarded on multiple sides.
There’s also the Order bullet, which only deals damage to chaos enemy types, but just barely. Even with a few upgrades, it only made a difference when fighting the lower-level ones, and anything it could do, another bullet type could do it better. So many of the spell types have the potential to be exciting, and I get that not every option can be damage-heavy and powerful, but more work could have been put into making sure you actually want to try out different combinations. At a certain point, I was unlocking research trees for the sake of completion, not because they were interesting.
Another thing I did just for the sake of it is figure out the story. You know that the world has ended and chaos is running rampant, but you don’t know where everybody went or why. There’s a good amount of environmental storytelling that you can unlock by scanning parts of the world, along with NPCs that give you a bit of obtuse and poetic dialogue about what happened, but little of it felt worth listening to or learning about. As you unlock areas in the Tower by finding more gates, you’ll come across tomes that discuss the bosses and how they became trapped, too. There’s even one guy that’s literally trapped in a block of amber, but the details of these things don’t necessarily matter. You can stop and read every piece of lore if you want, but it doesn’t do much besides slow down the flow of gameplay.
Plus, it’s tough to think about if any of it really matters when getting to the end and defeating the final boss is an extremely anticlimactic affair. Usually, I would avoid talking about the ending of a game to avoid spoilers, but Wizard with a Gun’s is, frankly, incomplete. Some of the bosses, like the barbarian Kolanna, have a set attack pattern you have to navigate, or a specific weakness you can exploit. But the final boss doesn’t utilize much strategy at all. You can spam whatever weapons you have and take them down. Then once you defeat them, there’s a little dialogue, a congratulations, and the credits roll. That’s it.
There’s still a lot more to do in Wizard with a Gun since you can continue playing after the campaign to unlock everything, but when you work so hard to get through four unique, sometimes very difficult bosses, only to get to a final boss far less interesting than any of them and the news that you have to wait for future updates to see more of the story, I started to wonder if I should’ve waited for those additions in the first place.