Wizardry 8 Part 4 - Arnika, and meeting the factions

It's in Arnika that I feel the game really starts.  I meet recruitable NPCs, Myles (a thief) and, of course, Vi - who naturally needed to be rescued from kidnapping first.  Vi, much to my surprise, is a valkyrie.  I wouldn't have thought a space-pirate has much in common with Norse battle-angels, but I suppose it's a silly class to start with so I'd best not think too much about it.

Valkyrie (real) vs Valkyrie (Gauntlet II).  Why an angel is dungeoneering is not explained.

The NPCs are quite fun, I get to experiment with using different classes.  I can only have two at a time, and annoyingly they don't level with your party unless they've joined you, so you're encouraged to pick two and stick with them.  I think that's stupid so I'll be using an editor to let me try a variety of NPCs and so experiment with a variety of classes.

In Arnika I learn that, like Wiz 7, this planet is home to different factions.  Presumably, like Wiz 7, I'll have different ratings with each faction and can choose to join at least one of them.

First I meet the Higardi, who are the natives to this planet.  Vi is a Hilgardi, but left the planet years ago to join the Dark Savant.  She only left him during Wiz 7 when she realised he was evil.

Vi swears he's a charming person really (pic from Wiz 7)

The Higardi are a religious order who built Arnika.  They were charged with protecting one of the four McGuffins, the Destine Dominus.  Unfortunately they weren't very good at it because one of their number, Marten, stole it and promptly vanished.  I'm pointed in his general direction, he's obviously my next quest.

The next group I meet are the Mook, who were in Wiz 6 and 7 as playable characters but not NPCs.  The Mook are aliens who look like a cross between a Wookie and Cousin It.  I have one in my party, a Samurai called Usagi (yes I know it means "rabbit", he's named after a comic book samurai).

The Higardi (left) and a holograph of the Mook (right)

You don't actually get to meet the Mook, they're holed up in a spaceship.  They're a bit xenophobic and won't talk to non-Mooks until you prove you're on their side.  There's a nice touch here - they won't speak to the party but they WILL speak to my Mook PC.  Usagi tells me he's been invited to catch up with his countrymen and leaves the party for a bit - when he returns he tells me that the Mook have McGuffin #4, the "Chaos Moliri".  So they're obviously here to try to become Gods too.

While in Arnika I also learn about the Umpani and T'Rang, who are two alternative factions that I could have chosen to side with at the end of Wiz 7 instead of Vi.  The Umpani are Rhinos.  The T'Rang are spiders.  Both are highly militarised, although the Umpani are structured more like a modern military and the T'Rang more like an old feudal Court (with a Queen, of course).

The Umpani and T'Rang hate each other.  Why they are here, other than to add two opposing factions to the mix, is not clear.

 Umpani (left), T'Rang (right).  Although neither are in Arnika

Finally there's the Trynnie, who are weasel-like creatures native to the planet, and appear to have no real agenda.  Also there's the Rapax, who are demons who hate all other life forms and were banished from the planet to "Rapax Rift", which I think is another dimension?  Not really clear.

There's a Rapax weapons seller in town.  Another nice touch - if I steal one of his weapons and try to sell it back to him, he notices and gets angry.

A Rapax (left) and a Trynnie (right).  Again, no Trynnie in Arnika

Arnika is the first time Wiz 8 starts to feel like a breathing world and not a collection of dungeons.  The NPCs help with this - Myles has a massive tab at the local bar and the barmaid yells at him when he enters, Vi is greeted like the prodigal son when she meets the head of the Higardi.  It's worth remembering that this is the price you pay for RPGs with non-descript "make your own" PCs.  They can't really have a personality so the NPCs have to step into the gap.  See Skyrim and Fallout, for example.

I don't think it's an accident that Ultima, with a single PC and consistent named NPCs, has kept a stronger following than Wizardry or Bard's Tale.

There's a few other neat tricks in town - a bank you can break into, a jail cell with a secret passage, a police HQ.  The shopkeepers each have a distinct personality and each tells you significant information, so you're encouraged to interact with them and not just treat them as vendors.  I also find a key that opens a safe back in the monastery and houses some Rapax-killing weapons.  I suspect I'll need them.

Finally, I learn about this Tower that was mentioned back in the monastery.  Apparently the Dark Savant magically built a massive tower in town, and announced that it has a massive bomb - and if anyone else tries to gather the McGuffins and go to the Cosmic Circle he'll explode the bomb and kill...either Arnika or the whole planet, I tend to tune out on generic "and your little dog too" threats.

The tower is apparently also responsible for DS Henchmen spewing out into town.  So as I wander around the town I'm constantly getting into fights with bundles of DS Henchmen, although there's also Higardi patrols so they'll help out if nearby.  Although soon I find myself wishing that they wouldn't - as I said last time, this is not the fastest combat system in the world and doubling the number of participants basically doubles the length of each round.

I don't know what the logic was of putting Henchmen around the town.  Maybe they thought just speaking to people would get dull, and I suppose it does keep it interesting and makes it clear that this is a planet at war.  But after a while, I'm keen to just finish Arnika and hit the road - I'm sure they'll be combat aplenty outside the city gates.

A random encounter in the item shop!

It's at this point I realise why the game was so stilted up to this point - Wiz 7 has multiple endings, so Wiz 8 has multiple beginnings.  This translates to different starting points in the map.  Presumably, if I'd sided with the Umpani at the end of Wiz 7, I'd start at their base camp instead of the monastery.

That's why the start of the game feels so artificial - they can't make any of the starting areas link cleanly plot wise, because then it would feel very strange to parties who don't start in those locations but visit them later.

They could've found a way around this, but it would probably require making multiple versions of different parts of the game.  This game is big enough as it is, so they went the easier route - bare bones introductory areas, each pointing you towards a hub town where the real action happens.

I guess that's the price you pay for having such an open-ended game.  Mass Effect has probably done it the best, although many of its "choices" were illusory.  But that's another story.

Time spent so far:      Approx 30 hours

Current impressions: Wiz 8 finally feels like a world, not a collection of dungeons.  The delay is the price you pay for multiple beginnings, although they should have been able to find a better solution.

Credits: The statue is Valkyrie (1835) by Herman Wilhelm Bissen, from Wikipedia.