Updated Mon, Dec 21, 2009 by Ralsu
Let’s be clear: Kingsisle Entertainment, Inc.’s Wizard101 is a huge Harry Potter knockoff. Players assume the role of a budding wizard enrolled in the world-famous Ravenwood School led by Professor Ambrose. Ravenwood suffers from sinister attacks by a dark wizard named Drake. The names have been changed to prevent copyright infringement, but the world of Wizard101 screams Harry Potter through and through; even so, you can’t blame Kingsisle for taking the initiative on the setting Warner Bros. (owners of the Harry Potter movies) should have turned into a blockbuster MMOG long ago. What makes Wizard101 stand out is the combat system, which features creature summoning from six different schools of magic, and the family-friendly delivery of the package. The fact that Wizard101 can be free-to-play for a long while is just icing on the MMOG cake.
Making your wizard is pretty fun.
You’re a Wizard, Danny!
My journey into Wizard101 began with character creation, which can be accomplished via a quiz to determine your school of magic or by simply picking a school. Eager gamers can even try out the character creation quiz on the official website. The six schools of magic are Fire, Ice, Myth, Life, Death, Storm. A seventh school, Balance, draws upon the energies of the other six schools. Kingsisle balances the spells available to each school by a combination of potential damage and accuracy. The Fire school has higher damage but lower accuracy than the Myth school, for instance. Wizards learn spells in the form of cards they use to make spell decks. Each card summons a creature to attack, heal, or perform some other action. More powerful cards require wizards to build up pips by spending more rounds in battle. With this battle mechanic, the game becomes three parts Harry Potter and one part Pokémon.
Bring the Whole Family
From the outset, Wizard101 aims to get parents and their children playing the game together. A file less than 8MB in size gets players going with installation. System requirements are modest; the website advertises that any computer running Windows 98SE or newer can play Wizard101. Up to 5GB of gameplay data can download while you are playing, but this is based on the areas you try to access, so the download happens in small pieces in the background during play. To add some sprinkles on top, Wizard101 is stable; I have yet to experience a crash.
Preset chat options help players under 18 communicate.
Another feature geared to attract whole families is the chat system. Gamers under 18 can use pre-defined phrases to communicate with other wizards. Although it takes some time to identify their location in the menus, it’s an effective system. Certain presets even allow you to tell someone you need help with a particular quest. The downside to the chat system is that even adults have a filter. Many words and numbers are blocked to prevent youngsters from giving their phone numbers and date of birth to predators. It can be very frustrating to try to tell someone you need to kill two more golems only to have your chat get scrambled.
Payment options in Wizard101 are family-friendly, too. A trial of the game is available 100% free while a single subscription unlocks all of the content for $9.95/month. Families can sign up as part of a package at $6.95/month per player, but six-month and twelve-month subscription rates for individuals tend to be cheaper. Gamers who don’t want to subscribe can unlock areas of the game with microtransactions. Most areas unlock for $3 worth of crowns, the RMT cash of Wizard101.
Continue to page two to learn about the graphics and features of Wizard101.