The Death of Wizardry Online

Well. Honestly. Who didn’t see this coming? I have mixed feelings on this. I really do.

As a lifelong Wizardry fan, I was extremely excited to hear SOE was bringing this game to the US. But I admit I was really really let down by the product that was delivered.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I was VERY hyped for this game. I even started a podcast aimed at Wizardry Online. Once I got my hands on it…. my excitement faded. Fast. So that leaves the question… what happened?

I know that Wiz Online is healthy in Japan. I don’t know if their client is identical to ours or perhaps has a bit more polish…. but the success can’t simply be cultural.
Look at other j-mmos like Final Fantasy. XIV 2.0 is thriving in both Japan and the US.

My biggest hope was that Wizardry Online was going to spark a new interest in the Wizardry series as a whole here in the west. But now, I fear that it will actually be the final nail in it’s coffin.

I hope that maybe 5-10 years from now, the rights will change hands again and someone will reboot the series.

 

Review: Wizardry Online

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So after that long trip down Wizardry memory lane, I’m going to spend a few moments to give my review of first major Wizardry release in the US since Wizardry 8. Of course, I’m talking about Sony Online Entertainment’s latest Free-to-Play MMO, Wizardry Online.

If you are a frequent reader to the blog, you may know how excited I was for this game. When I first heard that Japan had an online version of Wizardry I was extremely jazzed at the prospects of a western version. I scoured the net for any news I could find. So passionate about Wizardry, was I, that when it was announced that SOE would be publishing a version of the game in English I rushed out and founded the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast. The show ran from June-November 2012. However, upon participating in the closed and open beta tests of the game, I became so disappointed with what I had seen that it killed my spirit regarding the game and I retired the podcast.

Despite my initial disappointment, I decided to give the game another honest chance upon release. I found that while a few of my initial gripes and complaints had been addressed, the game overall left me a bit disappointed.

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Sony advertised Wizardry Online as being a triumphant return to the old days of RPG gaming. They tout that game has being for the hardcore only. They point to things such as always-on PVP, permadeath, and player corpse looting as examples. I found this claim to be a bit misleading. While all of these things are certainly possible, most of them don’t actually take effect until later in the game. In Wizardry Online, when you character dies, you have a chance to resurrect. This chance goes down the older and more powerful your character is. If you happen to fail, your character is reduced to ash. If you fail the resurrection of an ash character… it’s bye bye. It’s important to point out, that you can increase your chances of resurrection by sacrificing items. Interestingly enough, the items that tend to increase this chance the most are items bought from the Sony based “real money” in-game store, the Royal Shop.

Yes, this game features a cash shop. This is not really an unusual addition for most free-to-play games these days. However, for a game like Wizardry Online, which features the chance that you will lose your character forever, it certainly changes things. Whenever a cash shop is involved, I prefer to see it filled with things like vanity items, mounts, costumes, etc. While the Royal Shop does feature some costume item, it also features items of advantage. One of the more popular things for sale are medals that protect your items from being looted off your corpse by other players. This is something that I tend to disagree with. An optional subscription is also available that bestows the player with experience perks and beneficial items.

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Pay-to-win controversy aside, I find the game itself to leave a lot to be desired. In a lot of ways Wizardry Online seems like a Wizardry game in name only. The combat system in the game is action based, and as a result success can be somewhat dependent on server stability. At the time of this writing, the game has been open to the public for a little over two weeks. And even today, server lag and stability is a major issue. Upon release, the game suffered from overcrowding and SOE’s servers buckled under the weight. It reminded me a lot of the problems Diablo III experienced upon release. Once the connection issues were resolved, the game suffered from massive server lag. Rubberbanding has been a major issue. As a result, many North American players resulted in migrating the less populated European servers to avoid crowding.

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Whereas cash purchases and twitch combat certainly don’t feel very “Wizardry like”, there are a few nice throwbacks to be found in the game. The game features the standard core races and classes of the original Wizardry series. (For trademark reasons, Hobbits have been renamed to Porkuls.) An upcoming expansion in Japan will expand on this a bit and will add several of the advanced classes as well.

Character creation is very familiar to legacy Wizardry players, point assignment complete with a randomly generated bonus roll are a nice touch.

For me, the highlight of the game is it’s atmosphere. The dungeons have a feel and ambiance that are exactly what I hoped for. Things are dark and mysterious. The sounds are creepy and appropriate. The feel and mood are certainly a part of the game that the developers got right.

It’s important to note that this success in this game is very dependent on playing with others. It is near impossible to solo through this game, especially in later dungeons. Of course, with the game being what it is, one must have companions they can trust. I fear this will be something that will turn many off. Wizardry Online is so radically different from other MMOs out there that many players will find their friends are uninterested. So most teamplay will be largely with strangers.

I’m afraid that I do not see myself spending very many more hours with this title. For everything that it does right, it is overshadowed by everything it fails at. It is my predication that the game will end up with a small but very dedicated following. I only hope that it is profitable enough that the game remains up and running for years to come.

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Difficulty: Very Difficult – MMOs are always hard to gauge in terms of difficulty. But Wizardry Online is a unique exception. This game was designed to be difficult and hardcore. If that was the goal of the developers, they have certainly succeeded. This is not necessarily a negative. There are many gamers out there who are looking for a challenge. And by advertising the game the way they are, SOE is certainly not out to deceive anyone.

Story: This game actually has quite a bit of backstory and lore to be found in it. However, it’s not flashed before the player and one must be diligent to appreciate it. The Wizardry Renaissance universe that this game takes place in has proved itself to be a worthy successor to the old days of the Llylgamyn saga.

Originality: In terms of modern MMOs, Wizardry Online is certainly unlike any other. No one can ever claim the developers just used the tried and true cookie cutter format that most fantasy online games rely on. What makes the game unique is it’s balls-to-the-wall approach of doing things it’s own way. All the while, building off the basic elements of the preceding Wizardry series.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack to the game has several very catchy and appropriate tunes. Several others leave a lot to be desired. I own the official Japanese game soundtrack and I find myself skipping over many of the tracks. In game, they do tend to work better. But it’s a mixed bag.

Fun: The hardcore elements of this game will be a turn off for many players, yet it will also appeal to some. For me, I found the game to such a chaotic jumble that I was turned off by it. The combat system and UI was done very poor in my opinion and the game suffers as a result.

Graphics: This is hard one to gauge. The game doesn’t look bad…. but yet it doesn’t look all that good either. The graphics seem to be a bit on the soft side for some reason. There’s a lot of fog and a lot of bloom used in the game. I feel that these effects may be a bit overused actually. But, overall, the graphics are fitting of a title of this type.

Playcontrol: This is probably one of the games biggest failures. The UI is horrendous and it is not very intuitive at all. There is little to no customization in the game and what is presented by default leaves a lot to be desired. The game uses a variation of the standard WSAD control scheme that most PC games do these days, but the combat is either mouse driven or managed by hotkeys (numerical). The camera doesn’t seem to respond as one would expect and everything feels both loose and clunky at the same time… how is that even possible? I decided to try the game using a gamepad as well, but I was even more disappointed.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I really wanted to like this game and I tried my best to approach it with an open mind. I can honestly claim that my disappointment with the title is not due to it’s deviation from it’s original Wizardry roots, but rather I just feel like it’s a subpar game. There’s a lot of potential here. But I worry that it’s going to go unrealized. I think the biggest thing that’s going to hurt the game here in the west is it’s publisher. SOE has a notorious reputation for being a money-hungry company that takes a good game and drives it into the ground. So far their ignorant attitude towards server issues and customer complaints seem to validate these fears. Time will tell. I fear that the glory days of Wizardry may be behind us.

Currently Available: Free Download from www.wizardrythegame.com   —-  UPDATE:  SOE HAS DISCONTINUED THIS TITLE

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Review: Wizardry 8

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Finally, we have the last game in the original Wizardry series. Wizardry 8. For the first time in the series we do not have a fancy sub-name for the game. It’s just “Wizardry 8”. Years ago when I operated Kyler’s Wizardry Den, I interviewed one of the developers and asked why the choice was made to break tradition and not give this game a meta-name. I was told that the title “Lords of the Cosmic Circle” was bantered around the office quite a bit, but ultimately, the decision was made to simply leave it as “Wizardry 8”. So, for what it’s worth, there’s your “true name”.

When I was a young adult, I waited with baited breath for this game to be released. It had been almost 10 years since the last Wizardry game was released and I remember telling my girlfriend (now my wife) at the time, “when this game hits the store shelf, you will not see me for several days, fair warning.” I was in my zone.

A lot happened to the company of Sir-Tech between the release of Savant and Wizardry 8. Numerous legal wrangling and staff changes caused many Wizardry fans to worry that we would never get that promised conclusion to the story of the Dark Savant. Luckily, Sir-Tech delivered.

Wizardry 8 was released during an interesting time for PC gamers. 3D acceleration was in it’s infancy and there were many competing technologies at the time. This made it both difficult and expensive to produce a 3D accelerated game. The DOS operating system was a thing of the past, and game developers had to work within the confines of various APIs and programing protocals that Windows provided. As a result, many early 3D games suffered in quality or were laden with bugs. Wizardry 8 was no exception.

It didn’t take Sir-Tech long to patch the game, but sadly they went out of business before most player complaints could be fully addressed. Regardless, many of the game’s developers continued to work on fixing bugs during their personal time and a final “unofficial” patch was released.

Even with a nine year wait between games, Sir-Tech made good on their promise to allow players to import their Dark Savant savegames. As a result, the beginning of the game could be vastly different depending on the file that was imported.

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In this entry, the players have pursed the Savant to the world of Dominus. It is here that they begin their quest to recover three lost cosmic artifacts. If they are successful, the will ascend to godhood where they can change the fate of universe and undo all the evils set into motion by the Dark Savant. It’s important to note that during the completion of this title, the true identity of the Dark Savant is revealed… But I don’t wish to spoil it for anyone.

Aside from very engrossing gameplay, there are several Easter Eggs provided for the oldschool fans of the series. The game features an Ironman Mode, which restores the difficulty level to that of the original five games, complete the permadeath. There’s also a hidden dungeon to be found towards the end of the game that strips away all fancy 3D graphics and returns the white-on-black wireframe dungeons of yesteryear,

There’s a lot of things about Wizardry 8 that leave a feeling that the game was rushed to release. However, for it’s many faults, it does stand was one of the last true dungeon crawling RPGs. With the demise of Sir-Tech, the rights to the Wizardry series as a whole were purchased by a Japanese developer. Thus began the “lost years” for the American audience. Game after game was released in Japan, and sadly, only two of them were ever properly ported for western audiences. I intend to cover those two games another time.

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Difficulty: Variable – The default setting for the game is very much like the experience provided by Wizardry 6 and 7. Ironman mode restores the challenge of earlier games. This option was a welcome addition in my opinion.

Story: Despite the long wait between games, Sir-Tech proved that they knew exactly where they wanted to go with the storyline. I had personally feared that the connection between the games would be rather weak. I was pleasantly surprised by the deep integration between the titles.

Originality: There’s a lot of new things here. While keeping the basic game mechanics pretty much the same, Sir-Tech upgraded the world around the player with all of best technology at the time. CD quality music and accelerated graphics add a new level of polish to what is an ancient series. The addition of a new player class is a nice touch for new players.

Soundtrack: As mentioned above, we finally have a CD quality game soundtrack. Complete with music and high quality sound effect. This is certainly a nice addition.

Fun: Many people feel that this game marked the end of an era. First-person dungeon crawlers have become a thing of the past for the most part. This title provides the best of the experience. Ambient dungeons, strange creatures, mystery and adventure… it’s all here and it’s blast to experience.

Graphics: For the first time we have a Wizardry game with graphic acceleration. Of course, by today’s standards the game is blocky and robotic feeling. However, at the time, it featured one of the best visual experiences one could expect.

Playcontrol:  Personally, I found the controls to be clunky and confusing at first. After a while, things tend to fall into place. But I can’t help but think there could have been a better interface for the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Four stars for the final entry in Sir-Tech’s epic franchise. Even today, many old school gamers tend to look back fondly on this title. I am no exception. I feel that with today’s technology, the potential for a truly epic and mind-blowing Wizardry experience could easily become a reality. And while I do enjoy several of Japan’s recent offerings, I fear the good old days are finally at an end.

Currently Available: GOG.com, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Review: Wizardry – Crusaders of the Dark Savant

Onward to the seventh title in the original Wizardry series, Crusaders of the Dark Savant. This game is a direct sequel to Bane of the Cosmic Forge. The storyline picks up right where Bane left off, and you can import your characters from the previous scenario into this one.

In the game, our heroes are actually sent to another planet in pursuit of an evil Cosmic Lord known only as The Dark Savant. The Savant and his army have occupied the small planet in hope of recovering a powerful artifact known as the Astral Dominae. If the heroes wish to stop him, they will have to assimilate themselves with the various races and warring factions of the planet.

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In many respects, this game is similar to Bane of the Cosmic Forge. The most noticeable difference is the upgrade graphics. The art in this game is a step above what was seen in Bane. On top of that, an enhanced version of this game was also released for Windows 95, which is even an improvement on the original version. Again, much like the previous game, this one is completely mouse driven. The game is controlled via a point and click system. The menus and interface are much improved over Bane of the Cosmic Forge in my opinion.

In this game, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the maze is gone. Dark Savant features a variety of locales for players to explore. From forests, to cities, there’s plenty of open world feel in this title. This is somewhat of a new concept for the Wizardry series, but one that is very well implemented here.

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Difficulty: Medium – Again we have a game that is appealing to both legacy players and  the more casual audience. Progress within the game can be saved and loaded at will. Which makes it easy to “ignore” bad choices and party wipes.

Story: Once again we have a given a game with a very in depth storyline. Information is not spoonfed to the player like many modern games, but must be sought after and uncovered as the player progresses through the game.

Originality: When you a series as popular as Wizardry, it’s often difficult to make too many changes to the formula without upsetting your core fanbase. Sir-Tech always had a way of making small tweaks and improvements to their games that kept things fresh and exciting without tinkering too much with the things under the hood. This game is a great example of that.

Soundtrack: The game has no musical soundtrack but features sound effects for PCs equipped with a SoundBlaster compatible soundcard.

Fun: This game was another favorite of mine and a young teen. Many late nights were spent exploring the world of Lost Gaurdia. And even today, as I played through the game for this review, I found myself enjoying the game just as much as I did then.

Graphics: By today’s standards, the graphics leave a lot to be desired. However, they were pretty top-of-the-line in the day and age the game made it’s debut. As stated earlier, the “Wizardry Gold” version of this title provides even sharper graphics that the original DOS based version of the game.

Playcontrol:  Here we have a game that is controlled completely by the mouse. The interface and navigation is an improvement over the previous game. Modern gamers may need to take a minute to get the hang of things though.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Another example of classic RPG gaming at it’s best. Games like this may be a thing of the past, but they are certainly treasures worth cherishing.

Currently Available: GOG.com, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Review: Wizardry – Bane of the Cosmic Forge

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Here we have the sixth installment in the Wizardry series, Bane of the Cosmic Forge. This title, is probably my second favorite in the Wizardry universe. It is the first entry in the series complete free of the influence of the original creators. Here we have a game created completely by David W. Bradley and Sir-Tech Software, which is very obvious due it’s radical change in direction.

For the first time in the series, we are given a Wizardry title that focuses just as heavily on art work as it does story. Color EGA graphics, which were top of the line at the time, transformed the Wizardry world into something never seen before. Also, gone are the days of keyboard only gameplay. Bane features a mouse driven interface, which was very inviting to new players at the time.

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Despite these changes, all of the staples of the series are still here. The traditional races and classes are all included, with new additions to both (Faeries, Lizardmen, etc for races, and Alchemists, Bards and more for classes). New character skills and a revamp of the magic system are also integrated into the game. (Say goodbye to cryptic magic words)

While the graphical and UI presentation of the game is first thing many veteran’s notice, the storyline of the game is equally immersing and probably the best in the series so far. The plot begins simple enough, your team of adventurers enter a long abandoned castle in hope of doing some serious treasure hunting. Little do they know they are about to become involved in what will be both a quest of supernatural and cosmic epicness. In the end, your party is given the opportunity to invoke one of the most powerful relics in the entire universe: The Cosmic Forge. A mystical pen that will turn anything written with it into reality.

The game features multiple endings and once the game is over, you are given the opportunity to save your game for import into the sequel. The ending achieved in this title has a big impact on how you begin the next game.

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Difficulty: Medium – For this first time we have a Wizardry that is accessible to the semi-casual player. Progress within the game can be saved and loaded at will. Which makes it easy to “ignore” bad choices and party wipes

Story: An amazingly in-depth story for those that take the time to read it. There are no cutscenes, and it’s possible to speed through all of the in-game dialogue.

Originality: There’s a lot of new ideas and style brought to the series in this title. But somehow, the developers also managed to stay true the legacy introduced in the original game.

Soundtrack: The game has no musical soundtrack but features sound effects for PCs equipped with a SoundBlaster compatible soundcard.

Fun: I enjoy this title quite a bit. I’ve never failed to have a wonderful time exploring the dungeons and the lands beyond.

Graphics: By today’s standards, the graphics leave a lot to be desired. However, they were pretty top-of-the-line in the day and age the game made it’s debut.

Playcontrol: For the first time in the series, the game is controlled by mouse. This provides a bit of a learning curve for modern gamers, but soon becomes second-nature.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Bane of the Cosmic Forge is prime example of a classic PC RPG. This game begins the 2nd age of Wizardry and along with the first title in the series, are on my list of games to play before you die.

Currently Available: GOG.com

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Review: Wizardry V – Heart of the Maelstrom

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Moving right along, we are brought to the fifth scenario. Like Wizardry 1-3, you can import characters from the previous games. However, this time around it is not a requirement. This game was marketed as a “stand-alone scenario”.

In this title, our heroes are asked to plunge into the depths below the holy temple to seek out a rouge priestess named The Sorn. Her foul magicks have opened a dimensional rift deep underground that threaten to consume the entire kingdom.

In many ways Wizardry V is very much like the previous games. But in just as many, it is very different. Gone are the days of 20×20 grids for dungeon levels. The game also now features NPCs within the dungeon that can be interacted with (albeit, in a very rudimentary way). Many of these changes are the result of the introduction of D.W. Bradley as the main programmer.

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While keeping with the flair of the “magic word” spell system of the original games, several new spells have been added. Also, slight modifications have been made to the battle system as well. Ninjas now have the ability to “Hide in the Shadows” for a chance to improve striking damage.

Graphically, the game is slightly improved. The new fonts and minimal use of color are certainly a welcome addition but they do seem to fall a bit short. Wizardry V was released in 1990, and by this time the original engine was starting to show it’s age.

One of the bigger selling points of this title in particular is the in-depth level of game play. With bigger dungeons, interactive NPCs, and tons and tons of riddles and puzzles, Maelstrom became the largest game the series had seen. It’s popularity even led to a great looking port to the SNES.

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Difficulty: Difficult – This title reverted back to the difficulty level of the previous titles. For the experienced Wizardry player, a large portion of the game may seem to be a bit too easy. However, the larger dungeons and “change to the rules” still manage to keep players on their toes.

Story: The story behind the game seems to be a bit weak at first. However, it does manage to progress fairly nicely as you plunge into the depths of the dungeon.

Originality: Considering the restraints of the game engine, it seems that Bradley did the best he could to add new twists and turns to the world of Wizardry. While keeping with many of the traditional elements of the series, he also managed to successfully add a new layer of gameplay that a new sense of wonder to the series.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip).

Fun: For many players, Wizardry V was actually their first look into the world of Wizardry. For those players, this game offers an experience unlike any other. For veteran players, many of us were starting to tire a bit of what was starting to become a repetitive experience. Despite this complaint, there’s still a lot of fun to be had exploring the Maelstrom.

Graphics: The graphics in this game are again, a small step up from the other scenarios. There’s a slight increase to the use of color within the game and the menus, but nothing too spectacular.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – The improvements to the engine are very much noted in the title. However, for me at least, the game still failed to capture that feeling of wonder that the original title did. That being said, the experience delivered in the title is still incredible and it takes it’s place as one of the classic RPGs for the home computer.

Not currently available

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry III – The Legacy of Llylgamyn

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As I continue my trip down memory lane, I am brought to one of the most underrated entries in the series, Wizardry III. In most respects, this game is very much like the first two. Same engine, same concept. Just like Wizardry II, you are required to import your characters from one of the previous scenarios. However, unlike last time, your characters are reset back to level 1. What is actually going on lorewise, is you are playing a party composed of the ancestors of your previous characters. However, thru a ritual at the beginning of the game, they inherit the traits of their forefathers.

That’s right, this game takes place many generations after the events of it’s predecessors. For many years peace has reigned over the kingdom. But now, the world is rife with turmoil and natural disaster. Earthquakes and strange astronomical events have spooked the population. A call is sent for those descended from the legendary heroes to seek out a legendary scrying device, The Orb of Earithin, in hopes to quell the disturbance. The Orb is known to be kept by a great serpent living high above the kingdom at the peak of a great mountain

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Many of the same game mechanics from the previous scenarios exist here. However, unlike the other games, certain levels are restricted to characters of a particular alignment. This obstacle is easily avoided by simply using the age old trick of either attacking or ignoring friendly monsters to change the alignment of your characters.

Aside from the alignment-specific restrictions, this entry in the series also relies a bit more on puzzles and other interactions in order to successfully complete the game. Other than that, there’s really nothing new. This is very much a title created for existing fans of the series. Which worked out just perfectly for me.

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Difficulty: Difficult – Like it’s predecessors, this game is not easy. The challenges in this title are a bit different in design however.

Story: The storyline here is a bit weaker than the scenario presented in Wizardry II, but still interesting enough to pull the game along.

Originality: Aside from the new story and a few new monsters, there’s not much new at all with this game. The legacy transfer of characters at the beginning is refreshing, but overall there’s not much new.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip).

Fun: This game really only appeals to fans of the original games. The first title really carved it’s own niche at the time, and like Wizardry II, those who enjoy Wizardry for what it is will not be disappointed.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While this game is just as much a classic at the other two, it is my least favorite of the original trilogy. The formula is beginning to grow stale a bit, and the lack of any real new innovation prevents this title from being attractive to anyone outside of the core audience.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Review: Wizardry II – The Knight of Diamonds

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The first Wizardry scenario was such a great success that a sequel was inevitable. Thus, we have the Knight of Diamonds, the second scenario in the Wizardry series. By today’s standards, many would consider this to be more of an expansion rather than a true sequel. First of all, the PC and Apple versions require that you have a save-game file from the first game. That’s right, you play with the characters you created in the previous title. Second, aside from the storyline, level design and content, there’s nothing new in the game at all. It uses the same engine as the original title, just a different maze to explore, and a different reason for exploring it.

In this game, we are formally introduced to the Kingdom of Llylgamyn. A nation protected from evil by a powerful relic, the Staff of Gnilda. As long as the staff rests within the city walls, no individual with evil in their heart will be permitted to breach the city gates. The one loophole to this rule, is that anyone born within the walls of the city is immune to the staff’s power. Thus, the evil mage Davalpus is able to seize the staff and uses it’s power to slaughter the royal family and take his place on the throne. Little to his knowledge, the Prince and Princess escaped his attack. The prince returns wearing the armors of the legendary hero The Knight of Diamonds. A great battle ensues between the two and in the end all that is left is a gaping hole leading deep into the chambers underneath the royal temple. The Prince and Davalpus are nowhere to be seen. Their fate is known. It is at this time, that the gods speak. Offended by the blasphemy that has occurred, the only way to return divine protection to the city is to return the staff back to it’s home in the walls of the temple. And so it is up to our heroes to explore the labyrinth beneath the kingdom, ultimately collecting the legendary armor and reclaiming the staff.

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Since this game was designed to be played with characters that have already completed the first scenario, the difficulty level is on par with end of Wizardry 1. Unlike the first game, which has ten levels to explore, this game only features six dungeon levels. And upon entering the 6th, the game is over if you’ve managed to play your cards right. However, once you have completed the game you can return to explore, farm treasure, and take on optional bosses.

Other than new monsters, mazes and challenges, there’s nothing that’s really new to the game. The gameplay is identical to the first title.

It’s worthy to note that a version of the game was released for the NES. However, since there was no way to import characters between games, a new party was required. This also means the difficulty level of the game is tweaked greatly in the earlier levels.

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Difficulty: Difficult – The game starts off and finishes being a bit more difficult than the original scenario. However, the middle part of the game tends to go a bit smoother due to the discovery of the various Knight of Diamonds equipment. These items are much more powerful than other items founds throughout the game. However, in the end, they will be lost.

Story: The storyline in this game is much more refined than in the first scenario. Which is a bit welcome. The first game offered a very basic framework, it seems much more effort was put into this chapter.

Originality: Aside from the new story and a few new monsters, there’s nothing new at all with this game. As I said, it’s marketed as a scenario, so it’s better to really look at it as more of an expansion than a whole new game.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip). The NES version of the game was the first to include music and was filled with quirky catchy tunes.

Fun: This game really only appeals to fans of the original game. The first title really carved it’s own niche at the time, and those who enjoy Wizardry for what it is will not be disappointed.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is a great continuation to what was started with the first title. The detailed story is a welcome addition.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry – Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

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With the North American release of Wizardry Online only a few days away, and my playthrough of legacy Nintendo titles at an end, I recently decided to revisit one of my favorite RPG game series of all time: Wizardry.

I mentioned early on this blog that Wizardry was one of the first PC games I had ever spent any real time with. My family didn’t own a PC until I was in my early teens, so originally I played Wizardry on my friend’s old black and white Macintosh. A few years later, Wizardry  and Wizardry II were released for the NES. These were versions I spent a lot of time with as a teen. However, the NES ports lacked one really critical feature that really made these games unique: the ability to transfer characters between the scenarios.

Many years later, a collection known as the Ultimate Wizardry Archives was released. For the first time, the first seven games in the series were bundled into one package and I was able to play through them all again (including Wizardry III and IV – which I missed the first time around).

The story of Wizardry 1 is quite simple, the evil wizard Werdna has stolen a magical amulet from the kingdom’s overlord, Trebor. Desperate to retrieve it, Trebor is recruiting any adventurers brave enough to accept the challenge. To play, you must create a variety of characters and assemble them into a party of no more than six members. Once a party is formed, they venture down into the depths of a great underground labyrinth, the lair of Werdna. The maze is filled with monsters, traps and treasure. The challenge is not to be taken lightly, one wrong move and you might find your whole team obliterated.

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The PC version of Wizardry 1 is probably one of the most inferior versions actually, the controls are not very intuitive and a bit clunky but eventually you manage to get used to it. Also, on the graphics front, the games leaves a lot to be desired. The PC version of Wizardry is nothing but a black screen with white wire-frame lines to represent the maze. The only color graphics in the game are used for monsters and treasure chests. It’s important to note that several enhanced versions of the game exist in Japan, but only the NES version has seen the light of day in the US. This is a shame too, as I would absolutely LOVE to experience the game with modern day visuals and ambient sounds.

To play the game these days, a DOS emulator such as DOSBox is required. Luckily, this program is available for free online and a simple Google search for “Dosbox” should bring up plenty of options.

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Wizardry has the reputation for being an extremely hardcore game. The maze has no distinctive features and everything looks the same. There are traps and tricks to confuse the player, so following a map is a must. Actually, back in my day I would map my progress on a piece of graph paper. To survive, you must be extremely patient, running back to town to rest up quite often at the beginning.  That’s right, aside from healing spells, the only way to restore your HP is to go back to town and rest at the inn. That’s also the only way to actually level up your character.

If one of your characters does die, you have two chances to bring them back to life. If the first attempt fails, the character’s body is reduced to ash. If the next attempt fails, the character’s soul is lost forever and you must replace them. In the event that your entire party is wiped out at one time, you can send a new group of characters into the maze to retrieve the corpses. However, your new party will need to be strong enough to survive the journey.

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While many aspects of the game may seem simplistic, there’s actually a lot here to digest. There are advanced classes for your characters to achieve, legendary treasures to uncover, and of course Werdna himself. Once your party has defeated the evil wizard, the are award with a Chevron that appears on their character profile.  ( ”   >   ”  )  – Characters that have earned this honor can still explore the maze in search of stronger treasure, but can also be imported into the next scenario.

I spent countless hours with Wizardry as a kid. It was one of the most mind-blowing games I had played and it left a huge impact that stays with me to this very day. It’s no wonder that it is still considered the Grandfather of all RPG Games.

Difficulty: Difficult – The game is certainly difficult. There’s no doubt about it. However, due to today’s technology it’s quite easy to cheat. Avoiding death is a simple as sneakily restoring a previously saved character file. But you wouldn’t do that…. would you?

Story: The storyline seems quite basic, but the observant and imaginative player can actually glean a few interesting pieces of lore from certain events that occur while exploring the maze. Admittedly, it does seem that the storyline for this scenario is quite weak and serves only the basic purpose of giving players are reason to set foot in the maze in the first place.

Originality: For many, this game was the first taste of an RPG. The first person view of the maze was something pretty new at the time. It’s obvious that the game was heavily influenced by the tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip). The NES version of the game was the first to include music and was filled with quirky catchy tunes. The Wizardry Theme included in the NES version is legendary.

Fun: This game can still be fun today, if you have a good understanding what you’re getting into when you play it. Patience is a must, and you have to be willing to shed the skin of modern games and let yourself go back to a simpler time.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite it’s age and many of it’s shortcomings. This is a classic game and probably my favorite of the original Wizardry scenarios. This is the game that started it all. Without Wizardry, there would be no Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls. The game hooked me a kid, and still enthralls me to this day. Unlike most games today, Wizardry gives you the foundation, your imagination takes over the rest of the way. That is something that is sorely missed these days.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Wizardry Online – Beta Test Opinion

I’ve been putting off this article for some time. If you’ve been following the blog, you may remember my excitement for the upcoming North American release of Wizardry Online. Being a lifelong fan of the Wizardry games, I was extremely excited to finally get a chance to play this long awaited MMO.

Several years ago, I hosted a fan-page dedicated to the Wizardry series. It was one of the few on the net at the time and quickly became one of the biggest Wiz sites out there. I prided myself on being such a big player in the community, that I decided to launch a podcast in preparation for the English release of Wizardry Online. So, in July 2012, the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast was born.

To help lend some credibility to the cast, I launched the first episode by interviewing one of the founders of the series itself; Robert Woodhead. As the podcast progressed, I spent some time discussing all of the various games in the series, both western and Japanese titles. Finally, as the details regarding the game started trickling in, things got hectic.

I was accepted in the closed beta, and around the same time I was contacted by SOE and provided with several beta keys to distribute. Suddenly, my podcast subscriptions went from single digits to triple digits overnight. It was everything an aspiring podcaster could ask for. There was just one problem… My experience with the closed beta was… well… awful.

Being under NDA, I couldn’t express my concerns publicly. Several localization issues about the game irked me and the user interface and game controls boggled my mind, and I was not alone. Many users in the beta forums echoed my sentiments. Other aspects of the game seemed severely flawed as well. I was left to wonder, was the current Japanese version of the game so… crappy? Or was SOE giving us some type of modification of the original vanilla JP release?

With the end of the closed beta, and the launch of the open test. The game received a much needed patch. Several of my complaints seemed to have been addressed. But, something about the game still felt… broken. It’s very hard for me to get into specifics because, I can’t really place my finger on it. There are many thing about Wizardry Online that are indeed very “Wizardry-like”. However, there are so many other aspects that seem completely out of place. The things in the game that do seem to honor the roots of the series, such as randomly assigned skill points at character creation, seem out of place for an MMO. While, things from the old series that would thrive, such as advanced classes (Samurai, Lord, Ninja, Bishop) are absent.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to the point where I could no longer offer my support for the game by hosting a community podcast. Rather than make a big scene about it, I just quietly retired the podcast and vanished into the night, as some might say.

Many of my real-life friends who were also jazzed for the game have also expressed their discontent of the title. I am very sad to have to admit it, but my disappointment with the title has been vast.

Now, I realize the game is still in beta. But I would be extremely (and pleasantly) surprised if the title receives enough polish between now and release to win me back.

On a side note, before ending this rant. I do want to point out that one thing the game really seems to get right is ATMOSPHERE. The dungeons and even the town create a very good sense of adventure and danger. However, the combat mechanics, user interface, and clunky controls just overshadow everything else.

Being a Free-to-Play title, I certainly have no plans of uninstalling the game and I do expect to give an honest chance upon release. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think this is going to be a very profitable title for SOE. The worst thing about that is, if this game fails, the chances of any other JP Wizardry titles being brought to the US drop significantly.