My carefully crafted team of six has been on the road for a couple of weeks now; we haven't had such an adventure in a long while. Sometimes another one or two travellers have joined us to help out but they have turned out to be fickle friends. Each of them has had a dislike for some place or other and opted to take leave when the rest of us pushed on with our business. Luckily there's usually been someone else around to fill their shoes because we like to keep our party at the maximum of eight.
Thus far we've scrounged around the dingy tunnels of the monastery; we've wondered at the marvellous sights of the city of Arnika, cleared some of the riff-raff from the streets and highways; we've helped the Trynnie in the tree top world of Trynton, braved the swamps, found the graveyard and indulged in extensive speleology and underwater exploration.
And that's just the start. We've also met up with the T'Rang at Marten's Bluff and paid a visit to the Umpani encampment; and these two archenemies still don't like each other much. With the very best of intentions, of course, we've been playing a game of high diplomacy, attempting to maintain an alliance with both sides. We got sprung once and it spoiled our plans so we did some backtracking to repair the damage. Alas, now we are in trouble again for a slight misdemeanour, so this is a good place to stop and take stock of our progress.
I think I've played the last four Wizardry games and I've been thoroughly absorbed by every one of them. Wizardry 8 continues the tradition of mixing fantasy with a slice of science fiction and serving up a very deep and satisfying roleplaying feast. It's very easy to over indulge because there's so much to do, including attending minutely to your party, chatting with other characters, making friends (or foes), completing quests, going shopping, exploring the wilderness and, last but not least, dealing with all the assorted denizens that are out to make your life (and your game) very brief.
The story of Wizardry 8 follows on from Wizardry Gold/Crusaders of the Dark Savant, the last Wizardry episode. Don't panic, you don't have to have played that game as the story is pretty much self-contained in this one. In any event you'll get plenty of background as you progress. Briefly it's all to do with three powerful artefacts: The Astral Dominae, The Destinae Dominus and The Chaos Moliri that were fashioned by the Cosmic Lords and used to create the Wizardry World. They are so potent that possession of all three bestows ultimate power. As it happens they are on the loose and, not surprisingly, everyone is after them: The Dark Savant, The Umpani, The T'Rang, and more, and in this game you'll be chasing after the chasers to ward off catastrophe. I suppose you are even one of the chasers ... how will it end, I wonder?
Assembling your party is your first mission and it's one of my favourite parts of any roleplaying game. Wizardry 8 has a ready made party for you to use, or you can import characters from the previous game or, of course, mix and match your own right then and there. Just follow the prompts to create your team; there are heaps of choices including two genders J, eleven races and fifteen professions. As with other Wizardry games the races include Lizardmen, Dracons and Mooks as well as the familiar Dwarves and Elves and Fairies; and added to the more conventional professions of Fighter, Mage, Ranger, etc, there is also the choice of taking a Gadgeteer, a Bard, a Monk or Bishop.
So you choose your gender, race, profession and name, and match them with a portrait and a voice, which in turn matches the personality you have selected for each character. You will also be asked to distribute a few attribute and skill points and, for magic users you can take a starting spell or two. There is quite a lot to get through here to fashion the perfect party but everything is made so easy by the magical right mouse click. Hence you don't have to reach for the manual to read up on the intricacies of Magehood; a right click will show you what skills are important. The same goes for the intricacies of various races or of a particular attribute or spell. This easy access to information saves a lot of hassle and it's continued throughout the game where you can right click on just about everything to be reminded of its 'essence'. For instance what does a particular spell or potion do? Right click on it for the answer. I'm thinking that my manual might still be relatively intact (and squeaky clean white) when I reach the end of the game, although it has a wealth of useful information so don't forget to read it.
Once you set out on your adventure, of course, you are going to be facing the odd battle now and again. Rather than 'now and again' I should say 'again and again' because there's a lot of battling in Wizardry 8 and very often against multiple foes.
Strategy is the key to combat. I was enthusiastic when I played the demo and I'm positively salivating now. When facing a horde of enemies you must attend to each character individually and use their skills wisely. The magic in this game is pure 'magic' and there's a huge selection of spells. To improve your chances in combat you can silence, blind or, maybe paralyse your opponents but remember they aren't stupid. They'll surround you if they get the chance, and flee if they are too damaged or frightened, only to come back to get you later, or wait in ambush.
Combat is simple although there is surely a learning curve for players new to Wizardry games. There are two modes, phased (turn-based) and continuous and you can easily change between the two. You can also choose between three difficulty levels, plus there's an 'Ironman' mode designed strictly for masochists.
Especially if there are a lot of participants, battles can be a bit drawn out but to compensate there is plenty going on to demand your attention. For instance you might need to move your party closer to your opponents, swap individual members around, change equipment, select spells, the list goes on. If one character is poorly another might want to protect them. Everything mentioned here, and more, you can do with just a few mouse clicks and, if you are in phased mode you have all the time in the world to make the crucial decisions.
For those new to this series, Wizardry 8 is a first person perspective, party based game. The arrow keys take care of navigation and there are keyboard substitutes for just about everything. Besides combat there are lots of characters to meet to give you information to help you on your way and this is recorded in a journal. There's also plenty of treasure to collect and a lot of locks to pick. I must admit I preferred the lockpicking in The Dark Savant but this could be because I'm not very good at it yet. There's also a few riddles and some 'puzzles' to work out such as repairing a bridge or learning how to cross a chasm.
The game interface is very intuitive and includes four screens for each character displaying their inventory and numerous other statistics. Along with the journal mentioned above there is a small graphic to show your party's formation as well as a 'radar' screen to help navigation and to locate enemies, which in turn gives access to an auto map. These and other controls sit at the bottom of the screen although they can be hidden, along with the character portraits, if you want a panoramic view of the game world.
Now I've heard complaints about the Wizardry 8 graphics but I also know that many players are more than happy with them. I'm in the latter group. I think they are absolutely fine, very fine in fact. The treetops in Trynton are fascinating to explore and the monastery has some grand rooms. The voice acting is also very good, and entertaining too, especially the passing comments of your characters.
Maybe the combat is a bit too heavy at the beginning when your insipid characters face multiple foes, but persevere, you will get better J. Despite this the combat system is excellent as it delivers loads of feedback so all the while you know how well your party is shaping up. You can also gauge the relative strength of your opponents and they are very well animated, so much so that they seem to have personalities of their own as they make warning gestures or wipe their brow with their arm or tentacle or whatever.
I must say I'm enjoying this trip immensely. I like the way there are repercussions for my actions. I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to keep up my double dealing till the end of the game. I also like the way in which nearby friendly characters jump into battle with you. This isn't a new thing, of course, but I was hugely impressed when the Trynnie Chief kindly healed my battered mage during one hectic confrontation.
If you are a fan of classic roleplaying games then Wizardry 8 is a must. If you haven't played one then try it out. It's just too good to miss.
NOTE: I certainly did finish Wizardry 8 and my opinion never wavered. It performed perfectly and remained engrossing to the very end!
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2001.
All rights reserved.
233 MHz or better
64 MB RAM
1.2 GB free hard drive space
4 x CD ROM
3D Accelerator Card with min. 8MB texture memory
Sound Card, Mouse