Wizardry Online Impressions: Gaming with Consequences
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
Sony Online Entertainment took the wild card bet on an unorthodox MMORPG recently that not only introduces an element of permadeath but seems to scream nostalgia from the rooftops every chance it gets. I'm of course talking about Wizardry Online, an action MMO with gameplay similar to Vindictus and being developed by Gamepot. I have to say this game defies all conventional logic that most investors in the industry have followed that only titles with the convenience and a focus to pander to the many at the cost of the few can succeed these days. Rather they offer a UI that really reminds me of SNES JRPG days and dungeons with minibosses and final bosses that gives a far greater feeling of accomplishment than just about any online title in recent memory. While at times the title drills the whole permadeath thing at you a little too intensely, it's still a nice reminder to the fact that you're playing a first class permadeath title released with the technology of 2012. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This game will feel foreign to even veteran MMORPG players so I will break down the intricacies to help paint a fuller picture of why Wizardry has me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning.
Races and Classes - Decisions that Matter
When creating your character you have 3 main decisions outside of customization. Choose your race. Choose your alignment. Choose your class. Each will have a serious impact on your game experience beyond just appearance in both the short and long term so you might want to read up before jumping straight in blindly.
Humans offer stat diversity that makes them a jack of all trades but master of none. Their decent starting HP and MP make them quite versatile in the early levels and an overall safe pick for someone new to the game.
Elves are exactly what you'd expect elves to be. They sacrifice survivability for unmatchable MP, allowing them to be useful for longer periods of time without resting when tackling long dungeons. However your magical prowess won't do you any good if you're dead so you may need to spend a few extra points in the defensive stats like VIT and AGI or you'll find yourself respawning all too often. If you're looking for a real challenge, role an elf fighter as everything a fighter needs, elves are sub-par at.
Dwarves are the only class to have a variant between male (dwarf) and female (gnome). Though their stats only vary slightly from each other and both are well suited to be both fighters and priests. If you find yourself dead too often this may be a class to consider rolling as they start with a whopping 80 hp (at the cost of only getting 15 mp).
Porkuls are an odd little hobbit-like race. They are almost as squishy as elves but lack the magical power and large MP pool elves bring to the table. In essence they are really only good at landing critical strikes and whatever the LUC stat does (I have a strong feeling it is related to revival chance and opening up traps, but anything beyond would be purely speculation). Still these little critters are quick and a Porkul thief can unleash devastating damage on a slower foe so don't count them out just because of their base stats.
Following your racial choice you will be given the option of a starting alignment; be it neutral, lawful, or chaotic. This is rather unpredictable for a first time player and I feel they could do a better job of explaining how each will impact your specific class, as some skills you learn will gain bonus effects based on your alignment. But while making your character all you are going to know is that some classes are alignment dependent, such as thieves can't be lawful and priests can't be neutral (chaotic allows you to be anything. Screw the rules!).
Finally you can choose between a class which you may have deduced by now include priest, thief, fighter, and mage. Each class has some simple minimum stat requirements that may force your hand in distributing some of your starting bonus points if you choose a race that isn't well suited for said class, but overall you probably won't even notice this limiting factor exists. Honestly the whole role for bonus stats is a waste of RNG that seems to serve no purpose except awarding players with too much time on their hands. Be that as it may, so long as it stays in the game I suggest at least trying to role a 9 or higher as it won't take you much time to pull off and will ensure you enough points to survive the awkward level 1 stage on any class. Also once in-game if you need a bit more motivation to fight for the next level, be sure to check out the class specialties tab for class-unique bonuses you can unlock as you level up.
Here lies Windrush and StoneArm, two thieves whose greed for gold outweighed the value of their lives
Now that you've survived the lengthy research process behind choosing the right character and class for yourself, you will be thrown into town to experience basic tutorials on everything a level 1 needs to know to survive. Long story short, red diamonds cause death, monsters cause more death, quests good, dying bad, and treasure chests may as well have the grim reaper's insignia on them because they will kill you and anyone else dumb enough to watch in anticipation in close proximity. Also at some point an overly confident npc will make light of your untimely death as a way to teach you the process of revival. This incredibly detailed tutorial doesn't take nearly as long as it sounds and does a fantastic job of maintaining the dark mood of the game world while still filling your brain full of key facts. After that the fun begins as you're thrust into the first dungeon with the absolutely impossible task of killing the head of a bandit gang at level 1. Pro-tip: Unless you know powerful friends, this likely will not be happening on your first jaunt into the Caligrase Sewers!
Something else done very well by Wizardry is the goal driven dungeon layouts that force players to not only display feats of courage and skill, but also test their mental aptitude to solve simple but sometimes not so obvious puzzles to advance. In the first two dungeons alone I witnessed puzzle quests involving switch scavenger hunts, specific monster hunting, trap gauntlets, force feeding plants bugs to make them puke crystals, riddles, and all kinds of combinations of the above that are required to advance further in the dungeon. Each usually culminates with a boss or miniboss battle that, when alone, can be insanely challenging.
The x button is for ducking under traps, and can often lead to being accused of looking up skirts
Despite the graphics looking slightly dated, the artists seem to have spared no expense to make the monsters in this game intimidating. The first time I stepped inside the sewers on my cute little gnome fighter I thought I could take on the world. I read a random sign that warned of falling rocks and then turned around only to have my heart jump into my throat. Walking Dead level zombies filling a hallway, ambling about with no real purpose other than to scare the living daylights out of noobs like me. Despite the zombies not automatically aggroing players, the sight of them combined with the thought of permadeath drilled into my head was enough to convince me to try my luck with a different route. The fact that I watched a dwarf thief hit 3 zombies and get eaten alive in front of me also didn't help boost my confidence much.
The controls in this game are incredibly smooth though very unorthodox and offer a targeting system that any fan of the Legend of Zelda will feel right at home with. By either tab targeting your opponent or right clicking you can lock on, forcing the camera behind you as your entire focus is given to said target. Characters can then utilize their OD bar and MP bar depending on the skill to unleash special attacks. This game doesn't hold your hand at all though so you will have to judge your range yourself and risk wasting the resources with uncertainty of if it will hit.
Your skill at mastering the controls can mean the difference between a slight victory and upsetting defeat in boss battles
Also against some of the faster foes you will have to learn to dodge. With your weapon drawn you can back jump as well as strafe jump to try to get behind a foe or quickly get out of the way of power attacks. These maneuvers draw from your OD bar as well so use them sparingly. OD will recover to a certain point while you are not taking damage but can be recovered fully by successfully landing auto attacks.
If you're playing with a shield in mind you will also have yet another resource to monitor called GP or guard points. Guard Points essentially act as an HP shield that absorbs all damage you would normally take. Your equipment combined with some correlating skills determine how much successive guard point damage you can take before having your defensive stance broken. GP recovers as you disengage from combat so when tanking tougher foes you will have to learn to mix guarding with dodging to maximize your defensive usefulness. Or you can just stick with what you've used in easier MMORPGs and die. It's always an option.
An unusual feature not found in just about any other MMORPG I've played is the way your control scheme changes when you sheath your weapon. Your speed increases as well as gaining the ability to run (at the cost of OD) and jump forward. However you won't be able to attack or use any of your skills and there is a delay of about 1.25 seconds to pull your weapon out again, so you should be cautious as to where you put your weapon away at. I had a blast at the challenge offered when monsters and traps are put in close proximity to each other, forcing players to engage in jump quest style action quickly followed by close quarters combat as flames explode on all directions daring you to retreat.
Hub Town Humdrum
Of course not everything in Wizardry is life and death battles and heart stopping trap gauntlets. You can also find your fair share of useful NPCs in town. Though this aspect of the game is much less developed than most MMORPGs being released so don't expect to play to become an epic blacksmith or other life profession. Weapons shops sell weapons, armor shops sell armor, magic shops sell stuff my gnome is too stupid to understand, and the blacksmith will hit your gear with a loud hammer until it's magically returned to its former glory. There is also basic refining at the risk of losing your gear which those that live long enough to care are sure to spend many frustrating dollars working on.
On the surface I took this screenshot to show off the town, but it was really just an excuse to include my Gnome's panties in the article.
If you keep a keen eye on your radar you can also find many quest giving NPCs, though I wasn't a fan of the system in which NPCs would tell me they had problems but follow it up with "But you're useless and probably couldn't help me anyway" lines that you have to suffer again and again until you level up a bit. Although I don't know a lot about it, this game does offer some kind of progressive storyline that should make surviving until your next trip to town a little more rewarding.
Another big factor in town is the Inn. This wonderful building serves 3 functions:
1. Restore HP and MP (while at the same time being an excellent coin sink to fight inflation)
2. Level your character up once you meet the EXP requirement. Besides the fountain in dungeons, this is the only way to actually level up. While leveling up your stats with randomly go up or down depending entirely on RNG-based on growth rates associated with your class. Your chances of positive outcomes can be impacted by spending more for the fancier hotel rooms.
3. Recover Condition: a stamina-type meter that can positively or negatively impact your stats depending on how rested your character is. It deteriorates faster when your weapon is drawn.
One final mention to know about town is the class school NPCs that offer the ability to change class and retain 5 class skills you currently know at the cost of being reduced back to level 1. This transition is irreversible once performed so think long and carefully before utilizing it. It can definitely give you the element of surprise in PvP!
Soul Sharing is Caring
For those fearful that they might lose everything upon permadeath, they can take some comfort in knowing that any major quest you turn in will reward soul points used to rank up your account's soul. Each of your characters builds towards this soul, which unlocks greater benefits the further you push up the ladder. All characters will also share the first name of your Soul along with buddy list, a small touch that I immediately fell in love with and wish more titles offered. One final benefit of the soul system is when your character eventually passes on, you can transfer a portion of their experience to a new character to start off with a wee bit of a boost.
Speaking of souls Wizardry makes a big marketing deal about permadeath but the reality is it isn't as unforgiving as you might imagine in regards to past titles like Diablo II's hardcore mode. Instead you have two lives to live and when you die you get to wager your items to try to increase your chances of reviving. If you fail you get one more shot and if you fail that time it's game over. Also while a spirit running to the statue that allows you to make this roll, you may be mangled by grim reapers and other horrifying soul destroying things. Players not wanting to deal with this may warp back to the nearest revive statue, though you will have to wait through a delay before reviving and your gear will take a major hit in durability. Also after soul rank 2 people could loot your body while you're dead. This game has a way of making all your decisions weigh heavily on you.
Community and PvP
What happens to your standard PKer when faced with the possibility of losing something? They usually step back and play it safe rather than risk something on their end. Thus far the community in Wizardry seems to follow this logic and PKers are few and far between. However this also breeds a different level of PKer who is willing to risk it all in order to gain notoriety. This distinction creates a higher class level of fighter that will organize in groups, practice their fighting power, and unleash hell on any hapless foes that bring sweet gear out of the safety of the cities for the taking. As such I advise players to take making friends early as a serious tactic because later on when you have trusted allies at your back, it might mean the difference between life and permadeath. As a neat bonus feature I'd just like to mention that you can be PKed in the middle of town if your attacker is willy enough to sneak around the patrolling guards. It can create a tiny bit of paranoia but I love the extreme freedom this game offers.
Wizardry Online is a refreshing title to test after experiencing the same format MMORPGs for so long. It's almost as if Gamepot's devs were locked in a time capsule since the Ultima Online days and emerged to find new powerful programming tools but with the same mentality for making hardcore consequential titles. Of the people I've tested it with I've really seen there are two types of players when it comes to this game. Many find it too stressful or frustrating and give up. The rest fall head over heels in love with the title for offering that taste of nostalgia from a more hardcore age of gaming. I fortunately find myself addicted to the title even though I never was an online gamer in that lost era and recommend anyone else wishing for a bit more fight in their MMO to seek out a beta key and give it a shot.
And you happen to be in luck. We've just added 100 keys to our event page! First come first serve so don't delay!