In Verbis Virtus could most easily be described as a first person puzzler. However, while its problems are reminiscent of Portal or The Talos Principle, it differentiates itself with magic. Delving down into a lost civilization to discover powerful arcane arts, you must use your microphone to actually cast spells. It's a simple trick that creates a powerful connection with the world as you learn each incantation.
The power of words
My interest in In Verbis Virtus was sparked as I wanted to see if it could deliver on its promise. Usually games that utilize verbal controls struggle with even basic commands like yes and no, so controlling a full range of magic seemed ambitious. It was due to this that I tempered my childish joy and began with some skepticism.
With movement controlled using the mouse or gamepad, the majority of the action came as second nature as I began guiding the hero. Starting in a parched desert, I escaped into a conveniently placed tomb which held the entrance to an ancient city. It seemed that this had been the goal of my ward along. As a scholar of the magical Maha’ki race, this was to answer all of his questions, and so I led him down into their beautiful but unsettling civilization.
It doesn't take long to get my first taste of magic, a spell that lights up the darkness like a light bulb, “lumeh tial”. This shows how In Verbis Virtus uses the Maha’ki language to sidestep voice recognition issues, creating distinctive sounds to easily differentiate words. It also asked me to hold down a button before casting. This works much like aiming down the barrel in a military game, allowing me to target and aim magic before my words shot it into the world. An effective technical solution, but one that works against the immersion of saying spells - officially making this the first time I wanted a motion-tracking camera like Kinect in a game.
Feel the magic
Magics were quickly doled out as I continued delving my way through the subterranean world. Each new spell gives me more freedoms in the city. One grants me the ability to deliver a beam of light to damage weaker creatures in the world and charge magical devices, while another lifts collapsed pillars and other impossibly large items that block my path. Unlocking these powers, and committing them to memory, keeps things fresh - providing you retain momentum. The problem is some of the more obscure puzzles and regular backtracking can really slow you down and send you running around in circles.
This actually happened to me twice at the same collapsed bridge. I first arrived and found myself stuck, as I didn't yet have the magic needed to progress. This was not clear, however, and I spent half an hour searching for a clue. It was only when looking at a map on the wall that I saw there was another still open to me. Returning later resulted in a similar situation because, even with the required abilities, I was unable to find the rune I had to use to reconstitute the bridge.
While these situations proved frustrating, I was most annoyed when In Verbis Virtus failed to communicate quickly enough that I had discovered a solution. Some puzzles demand that you reach a certain threshold before the solution triggers, such as charging blocks with magic to allow them to levitate. Unfortunately, the feedback for these tasks proved underwhelming, making it easy to pass over a problem's solution.
To compound this issue, came the introduction of enemies. These pressured me to keep moving while trying to solve problems. To be fair some kind of antagonist was necessary, as slowly the beauty of the world gave way to a barren emptiness. But the mix of conflict and puzzles found me cursing several of In Verbis Virtus's level design choices.
Flashes of excellence
Interesting but frustrating, In Verbis Virtus demands a good deal of patience. At moments, its problem solving and back tracking actually makes it feel more like a point-and-click adventure game, rather than a first person puzzler. If you like giving your brain a workout then there is certainly a lot to appeal here, but there are a good many caveats for people prone to frustration.
Because of this, and its wonderful world design, In Verbis Virtus teeters squarely between a seven and an eight on our scale depending on my mood. And so, it really is a coin-flip that has dictated my final score.