REVIEW: Wizard with a Gun shoots, loops, and crafts a satisfying solo and co-op experience
No game has captured my attention more than Wizard with a Gun did in its marketing cycle. Through a series of animated shorts, Galvanic Games sold an identity stronger than even the biggest budget games. I knew I wanted to play it before I'd seen a single moment of gameplay.
After spending a good 20 hours in its world, I'm happy to report that it wasn't purely something as elusive as 'the vibes' that made Wizard with a Gun as good as it is. Instead, it was the satisfying survival crafting gunplay, which has surprising roots in the likes of Escape from Tarkov and the extraction genre.
Just the Facts
Developer: Galvanic Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series S and X (Switch at later date) *platform reviewed on
Release Date: October 17, 2023
Review key provided by Devolver Digital.
A wizard of many bullets and few words
Wizard with a Gun is the plainly titled but deeply stylish sixth release from Galvanic Games, a team based out of Seattle since 2016. It's published by Devolver Digital. With a history based in multiplayer games and licensed projects, Galvanic has spent the last four years building up what looks to be their biggest release yet. And with over 500,000 wishlists ahead of release, Wizard with a Gun certainly tapped into gamer hype in a way that indie releases rarely do.
So let's talk about the thing that probably drew everyone else in the way it did me — that aforementioned identity and how it plays into the story.
Wizard with a Gun has an incredibly strong voice, one that starts with Western Americana, leaning into the pistol-wielding cowboy of it all, but rolled in a dusting of Gothic arcana, with the wizards and potions and cauldrons and all. Scrolling through the game's menu, you're rewarded with the strum of guitar strings. Animated cutscenes feature void-faced wizards wearing turn of the century clothing, channeling magic into the bullets of their guns. There's a vision here and it's being executed in its audio-visual experience to perfection.
In-universe, these wizards — 'gunmancers' — have decided to channel their magic through guns and enchanted bullets because magic had been destroying their bodies. Guns are used to not only send out bullets to rip magical beings apart, but to build new machines, but also place floor tiles to expand your buildable space, heal your friends and much more.
There's so much personality torn from the concept of "Wizard + Gun" that all works in such great harmony. This is a game that Knows What It's About, and every last detail feels cohesive and creative.
The one surprising part is... it doesn't manage to say much with this strong voice. The story is delivered primarily through written journals you're able to find in the world, and through its 15 – 20 hour story, it never really managed to make itself clear or get us hooked. You can piece together bits and bobs through the powerful visuals and bits of environmental storytelling, but it never feels like it delivers a story or characters capable of wielding the power of Wizard with a Gun's incredible identity.
That story starts with your create-a-wizard hero crash landing in a land known as the Shatter. The Shatter is made up of the remains of a land torn apart by Chaos, a physical embodiment of the destructive concept that has ripped the land apart so much that only tiny islands of land remain, floating in the dark void of space.
Soon after you land, you meet the Cryptomancer, a time-detached being who guides you through a tutorial and the game's story. They set you up with a weapon and send you to The Tower — the last space safe from chaos and the home of the Crytpomancer's Wheel, a large stone tablet pulsing with magical energy. Throughout the game, you can place a series of cogs to help the wheel turn, sending the Shatter back in time piece by piece, restoring biomes and getting you closer to your ultimate goal of ending chaos at the start of it all.
It's a fun setup that never quite feels like it pays off in the journal entries you stumble on, or in the surprisingly shallow conflict that has you aiming to destroy Chaos... a being that manifests as silent, featureless, amorphous pink blobs that are certainly hard to beat but fail to be engaging outside of that.
And it all wraps up with an abrupt and subdued ending that feels like it's dropped on your lap, rather than something capitalizing on the game's adventure up to that point.
Survival crafting games have never needed to be narrative-heavy. Most of them are more about building your own stories in the world and with the sandbox. But this only stands out as disappointing because of what the early trailers sold me on in the first place. I love the world, I love how it looks and feels; I just wish there was a more satisfying narrative to play with inside of it all.
Regardless, Wizard with a Gun's gameplay loop and sandbox allow for fun experimentation in everything from spell-slinging to home décor.
Gearing up for an expedition in the Shatter
Rolling off of the gun-focused setup, Galvanic Games builds a fascinating toolset that allows for a variety of approaches to its action-focused combat. You've got five unique guns to find in the world, each with four tiers of upgrade that you'll find the further into the Shatter you go. There are at least 16 different bullet types that we were able to research in our playtime, each with its own unique function in combat. You can also craft powders that impact things like bullet speed, efficacy, and homing abilities. It all makes for some fascinating bits of experimentation as you tinker with the effects of all of the bullets in your arsenal.
For example: using an oil bullet to coat a group of enemies in it before erupting them with a fire bullet, or combining the effects of poison bullets and fire bullets to do constant damage to your enemies. (Can you tell I became a bit of a fire bullets guy?)
A bit of important context: we played Wizard with a Gun entirely in co-op. The game allows for solo or two-player co-op play, and we were lucky enough to get two pre-release codes to be able to see how the game feels in co-op — so, know that everything said here is through that lens. Additionally, having tried both, we strongly recommend mouse and keyboard over controller for this game.
As a duo, we found it easy to manage our resource pool to keep things from getting too overwhelming, where a solo player may be twice as overwhelmed. We also found that specializing in specific bullets was one of the best ways to get through the game, although we experimented occasionally just to experience everything on offer. I focused on the Burning Bullet and all the fire elemental-focused bullets. Julie focused on the Cold Bullet and all the ice elemental-focused bullets.
For all the variety that's out there, the game doesn't do a lot to incentivize using the whole toolset. Each gun can use up to two unique bullet types, and you can only really carry six guns for quick access at any time, so that's 12 different bullet types you can carry with you at any time. With each one having its own upgrade tree and special resources needed to both upgrade and craft new bullets for them, it only makes sense that you'd find a nice little corner to focus on rather than trying to maintain everything all at once.
We wished that, with all these fascinating and diverse bullet types, there were elemental weaknesses to consider or something else to encourage players to try things out. However, it obviously feels nice to not be forced to play in ways you'd rather not, and if you find a playstyle you like, you can keep with that from beginning to end and have a good time.
The game also incorporates a few bullets with limited use but incredible effectiveness, such as the Order Bullet which is powerful against Chaos, bullets that can heal or revive a teammate, and bullets that can either strike fear in your enemies or have them become your friend and ally.
A crawling start opens up to an immersive cycle
Wizard with a Gun quickly tosses you into what I call "The Churn." It's an experience familiar to fans of the survival crafting genre that has you making run after run into the world to find the resources you need to build that next big upgrade. Only to then find yourself in need of basic resources to build potions and ammo just to survive your next runs. So you go out for that, barely making a dent in your overall goals. And you just cycle through those things again and again. The Churn.
Usually, survival crafting games get you there after a satisfying opening, one where upgrades and weapons and tools come together quickly and you feel like progression is in a good place. Wizard with a Gun drops you into The Churn quickly. It sets up the resource gathering, crafting-heavy experience, but the inch-by-inch progression of those opening hours started to grate before the doors finally flung open properly.
What kept us going, though, was just how fun the core loop was. Wizard with a Gun's gameplay system feels lightly rooted in the time-limited "gear up and go" stylings of extraction shooters. Every time you crank the Chronomancer's Wheel back, you get five minutes on the in-game clock: the time you're allowed to navigate the world to gather resources and gears before Chaos overpowers and apocalyptic events ensue. At that point, you need to get back to a doorway that warps you to the Tower, where you use everything you collected to research new upgrades and gear up again.
It's worth noting, the world-ending Chaos is not as dire as it sounded to us at first — you can still continue exploring after the timer has ended and the Chaos monsters have come out to play, creating a risk-reward decision for you to make if a gear or important loot is just out of your grasp.
Waiting at the end of each biome is a boss, unlocking only after a certain number of gears are slotted into the Wheel. These give a satisfying punctuation mark to each new biome's challenges and unlock the next one.
Condensing the typical survival crafting game loop into this chaotic five minutes creates an interesting shift in focus for the genre. If you're the type of person who has avoided games like Minecraft because the freedom is a bit too much for you, Wizard with a Gun might be for you. You always have a clear idea of the resources you're after and you have a limited amount of time to get it done, so priorities are set before you venture out every time.
Another key to making Wizard with a Gun so enjoyable is just how approachable and fun the actual combat is. Sliding through your various weapons, unloading your elemental bullets on enemies, finding those combos, and dodging out of the way of blatant visually telegraphed attacks. It's never too difficult, especially when playing in a pair, but learning the various enemy types of each biome and how to approach them as you progress is just plain fun experimentation.
Wizard with a Gun is a moody vibes-first, narrative-second survival crafting game that perfectly compresses the most satisfying bits of the genre into an engaging loop. While the light bits of story are delivered through the gaming version of footnotes, the pitch-perfect visuals of its wild and crumbling biomes and twangy music do the additional lifting needed to get players invested in its world. Its approachable and goal-oriented gameplay design are perfect for those who feel out of step with the open-ended approach to many games in the genre. Whether solo or with a friend, Wizard with a Gun has a lot more "review score up" bullets than the "review score down" ones loaded in its chamber.
Video Games Are Good and Wizard with a Gun is . . . GREAT. (8/10)
+ a great compression of the core survival crafting game loop, perfect Ameri-arcana vibes, a great two-player co-op experience
- lacking narrative, overwhelming variety that isn't necessary to dive into anyway, an uneven pace to its progression
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