Wizardry 8 - Part 1 - getting started is its own story

After a foray into the world of adventure gaming, I've returned to my roots - RPGs.  Specifically, Wizardry 8.

My new adventure.

First, a bit of history...

Wizardry 1 ("Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord - 1981) is THE genre-defining RPG game.  It is to RPG's what Wolf 3D is to FPS - not the first, but by far the most influential.  I am ashamed to say I have never played it - I tried recently, but I couldn't get it and a character editor working on my Mac.  Ironic, considering it was originally released for Apple II.

RPG fans everywhere owe a lot to this unassuming box

But the series did not end with Wizardry 1, although by all accounts it was very average for a good 10 years.  Wizardry 2 and 3 were almost identical to Wiz 1; Wizardry 4 was (by all accounts) so unfairly random that it was unplayable by any except the most die-hard or patient, and no-one seems to talk about Wiz 5 - which is not a good sign.

Apparently there were a dozen spin off games in Japan, but again, no-one seems to talk about them other than acknowledging they exist.  Presumably they've either never been translated, or they weren't very good.  Or both.

Then in 1990 Wizardry 6, "Bane of the Cosmic Forge" was released.  Wizardry 6 was the first of what's since been referred to as the "Dark Savant Trilogy".  Wizardry 8 (2001) is the end of the trilogy, and so far the end of the much-vaunted Wizardry franchise.

Mind you, if Green Hornet can get a re-boot, anything's possible.

Wizardry deserves a reboot far more than certain other efforts

Earlier games - Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge and Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant (aka Wizardry Gold)

Being unable to get Wizardry 1 working, I started with the first game that was commercially available - Wizardry 6.  I've played and finished both it and the sequel, Wizardry 7.  One of the fun things about this series it that your characters transfer from one game to the next.  Easy enough now, although back in the day there was 11 years between Wiz 6 and Wiz 8, so you'd want to be patient.

Wizardry 6 - the series becomes interesting again

Wizardry 6 was a first-person RPG with a simply massive number of race/class combinations, huge non-linear levels and, most unusually, a fairly complex plot with multiple endings.  Not that the plot was easy to interact with - the game assumed that if you picked up a certain item you intended to use it.  You couldn't drop the item, once you picked it up (about half-way through) your end-game was pretty much set.  So the plot was unique, not user friendly.

Still, I had a great time with Wiz 6.

Wiz 6 - grid-based dungeon crawling, now with plot!

I also had a great time with Wiz 7 (1992), which was basically more of the same.  It was however one of the first RPGs to introduce a diplomacy mechanic, although it was fairly basic.  Also for some unknown reason when Wiz 7 was re-released as "Wizardry Gold" (1996) it shipped with the diplomacy mechanic broken (Pro-tip:  don't play Wizardry Gold).

Wizardry 7:  an upgrade, but very similar.  Note it's still grid-based

But both Wizardry 6 and 7 had one particular mechanic that tormented people, such as myself, with a perfectionist streak:  the class-changing mechanic.

I won't explain the ins and outs, the summary is that it was easy for persons such as me to spend hours grinding your characters into perfection.  You may blame me for that, but it was encouraged to a certain extent - the hint-book flat out told you to do it and do it by save-scumming.  I spent so many hours save-scumming my way through the advancement trees that I should question my sanity.

So when I finally finished Wizardry 7, I was looking forward to moving in to some modern game design with Wizardry 8, which came out in 2001.  Somewhat wisely they did not do a "Wiz 7" with this sequel and completely re-built the game from the ground up.  So, with a sigh of relief I transfer my characters across and start a new game with Wiz 8.

Wizardry 8 - false starts

First problem - this brand-new system in Wizardry 8 meant that my old Wiz 7 party was now unworkable.  To get something vaguely useful I needed to go back into Wiz 7 and change all of my character's classes to combinations that worked in Wiz 8.  This again required the use of an editor - unless I felt like spending hours playing Wiz 7 again.  Not a great start.

But then I hit the next problem of these old-skool RPG's - what's a good combination?  I have a party of 6, each of whom must be one of the available 15 classes and 9 races.  And the class-change mechanic has now changed such that I'm going to be stuck with my first choices - so how am I supposed to know if my party of 6 worked until I'd played the game for a good 20 hours?

So, I hit the walkthroughs.  Pages of text.  Pages and pages of text, forum links, explanations of what various classes and skills actually do and what the game does and does not require from you.

By the time I have finally got my starting party, it's been 2 HOURS.  There is something to be said for modern usability.

But, all that reading means that I have learned that Wiz 8 made two important changes to its character creation/levelling system:

  • there is now almost no point in changing classes; and
  • each class now has a a unique class-bonus.
This is a good example of a series jettisoning some of its old "brand-essential" elements in order to update its gameplay.  Wizardry has, since the beginning, divided its classes into basic/advanced, and encouraged players to progress from (for example) Thief to Ninja.  The penalties were also pretty savage, because your stats reset when you changed class.

But Wiz 1 did not have skills.  Wiz 6 did.  This changed the tenor completely, because a stat-reset doesn't matter too much when your combat skills are maxed out.  It also largely removed the point of the basic classes, because class changes were less about progression and more about skill-gathering.

What Wiz 8 has done is remove a lot of the advantages in changing class, and watered down the basic/advanced division with the class-specific bonuses.  A ninja is no longer a souped-up thief; they are distinct with their own advantages.

So big tick so far.

In the end I run with - Samurai, Lord (a Paladin, really), Ninja, Bishop (a spell caster), Gadgeteer and Bard.  I took the Gadgeteer because they're new in Wiz 8 and I'm keen to see what they do.

Wizardry 8 - the plot begins (spoilers for Wiz 7)

When I FINALLY start playing the game I see that they've given the game a substantial graphics upgrade:

Not stellar by today's standards, but definitely from this century

They've also moved it off a grid-system.  I imagine Bard's Tale IV will be vaguely similar.

So the story is this: my stalwart rainbow coalition of 6...sentient beings (only one is a "person"), have spent the past 10 years chasing various McGuffins and dealing with multiple personality disorder.  At least, that's the best explanation I can come up with for why someone would go from Thief to Bishop to Samurai.

In Wizardry 6, the McGuffin was the "Cosmic Forge".  But when you get it, you learn that the "Astral Dominae" is even better.  So, tossing the Forge to one side you go to hunt down super-McGuffin #2 on a completely different planet.

Yes, I said "different planet".  Wizardry 6 - 8 has a borderline hilarious sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic that reminds me of riding my horse to the space-rocket in Ultima 1.  Wizardry 7 features a sword-wielding cyborg whose futuristic technology does not apparently include guns, the internal combustion engine or pants.

This is Vi.  Dislikes: evil super-villains, projectile weapons and winter.

Once you retrieve super-McGuffin #2 in Wizardry 7, resident Big Evil Guy (TM) called the "Dark Savant" appears and takes it from you, and departs on his spaceship.

Naturally, you pick up your chainmail, magic broadsword etc and bundle it into your spaceship (wait - let's acknowledge how stupid that is....ok, ready) and follow him.  Depending on the choices you made in Wiz 7, you may be accompanied in your spaceship by either:
  • an alien race of spiders (called the "T'Rang");
  • an alien race of rhinoceros (called the "Umpani"); or
  • Cyborg-Sword-No-Pants Girl (called "blatant pandering to horny teenagers", but named "Vi").
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I chose to travel with pantless-girl over a spider or a rhinoceros.  Although I suppose technically they didn't wear any pants either, so maybe I acted rashly.

Vi tells you that you are all headed to her home planet, where super-McGuffins #3 and 4 may be found.  When super-McGuffins #2, 3 and 4 are combined, the holder becomes a God.  Or Captain Planet; tbh I wasn't really listening, I was too busy wondering what the point of McGuffin #1 was.

Anyway, your ship lands on the new planet using the tried-and-true method for all video-game aircraft used in opening cinematics (i.e. promptly shot down).

My stalwart rainbow coalition now finds themselves in a strange monastery, on a strange planet.  Ready to explore....

...and that I think shall do for this blog post.

Which seems a suitable way to begin taking about Wizardry 8 - a whole lot of reading with no real way of knowing how much of it will be relevant in the end.

Time spent so far:     2 hours
Current impression:  A little tutorial goes a long way.  Also if you're going to revamp the mechanics, some flexibility for imported parties from the last game would be nice.