Just like most children that grew up reading the Harry Potter books as a kid, I remember fantasizing about being able to cast spells. I even dressed as Harry Potter himself for Halloween for several years, owned my own set of Gryffindor robes, a lightning bolt sticker for my forehead, and an actual replica of his wand. I wanted so bad to be a wizard – but my owl from Hogwarts never came. Not until I was 24 and playing an incredibly inventive indie game called In Verbis Virtus, at least.
The premise is simple: you have magical powers that are activated by speaking magical words in a made up magical-sounding language. There’s a lot of magic. The catch is that you don’t make your character speak the words by equipping the spell in a skill slot and clicking the mouse, or by pressing the corresponding number on your keyboard, you cast the spells by literally saying them, out loud, using your actual voice. Like, speaking into a real microphone or headset. And it actually works.
I was extremely skeptical at first – as anyone that’s trying out a flashy new mechanic in a game would be – but all my reservations were cast aside once In Verbis Virtus was up and running. Things start out simply enough as you solve some basic little “walk around and click on stuff” puzzles, when you eventually adventure deeper into the cavern with hidden secrets and magical artifacts waiting to be found.
Much to my delight, all of the spells in the game sound satisfyingly magical. The developers, Indomitus Games, did a marvelous job of crafting their own original words in a fictional language called Maha’ki. Based on common pronunciations from our world’s existing languages and some latin root interpretations, they created words such as “lumeh tial” which translates to “light, so be it” and creates a ball of light in your hand. Or “obi kehnu” that translates to “matter or substance, motion” and creates a telekinesis spell. That means you won’t be screaming the likes of “MAGIC MISSILE” or “LIGHTNING BOLT” this time around.
The most impressive part about all of this is just how incredibly accurately the voice recognition program performs. It was able to, without fail, hear and interpret my words. I never cast the wrong spell and it never accepted a half-assed pronunciation of a spell either – it forced me to actually articulate. This is the first time in years that I have been compelled to write down on a physical notepad next to me while playing, even though I could have just pulled up the in-game journal.
Speaking of which, I implore you to explore every nook and cranny of this world and read every single journal entry very carefully. The answers to many of the puzzles were found by not only paying attention to the world, but by reading the journals and actually having to solve riddles by thinking outside of the box. For example, one room requires you to enter it looking at your feet and avoiding eye contact with a large monument, until you are immediately in front of it, then looking upwards towards a giant eye. Puzzles such as this occupy a precarious balance of requiring tasks that you could never just “figure it out” while also not feeling completely arbitrary.
Given the indie status, In Verbis Virtus is also a surprisingly pretty game. The wonderful light and shadow systems do a really nice job of accentuating the detail of the environments and I honestly found myself stopping to just admire my surroundings much more than usual. Technically though, a lot of people have reported problems with not only the microphone recognition, but general display and audio problems as well. Most of that appears to be taken care of now that it’s in full release mode.
Part of me wishes the game had a heavier focus on combat, especially early on, but I can’t really fault it too much for something it never really intended to do. With that being said though, the Harry Potter fanboy that still dreams of dueling Death Eaters alongside my hypothetical Hogwarts classmates, the prospect of engaging in a fast-paced duel is incredibly exciting. Multiplayer would be an incredible addition to a game like this – for both competitive and cooperative varieties – so there’s some wishful thinking for a potential follow-up.
In Verbis Virtus is one of the only truly innovative and original games that I’ve played in the past half decade or so. Other than the fact that it relies on fantasy elements such as magic and spells, there are incredibly few parts of this game that I felt like I had seen before. From the spells, to the puzzles, to the environments, and most especially the verbal magic system itself, In Verbis Virtus is an incredibly well-made and inventive experience.
This review is based on a digital review copy of the game for PC on Steam provided by the developer.