The New Hardcore - Hands-on with Wizardry Online
WeÂve heard this battle cry from old school gamers for years: ÂThe bad decisions you make while playing an MMO should be punished.Â It seems that for every 3 or so people who whine about overly harsh mechanics, thereÂs one who wants to go back to the good old days of gaming where teamwork was everything and mistakes were costly.
If you believe the PR, Wizardry Online, the upcoming hardcore title from Gamepot and Sony Online Entertainment, promises to do just that. It boasts Âinsane difficulty,Â with "complex mazes, unrelenting mobs, and traps around every turn." And its primary hook is permadeath. ThatÂs right, kiddies--if you donÂt play smart, and youÂre unlucky enough to fail two random attempts to appease the gods, you could lose your character, all his items, and most of his progress...permanently. Although true permadeath for the well-prepared player should be relatively rare, it can happen.
I had the privilege of delving into some dungeons with Todd Carson, Wizardry OnlineÂs Senior Producer, as he led a tour through the game. IÂll share my experiences, and then let you form your own opinions about whether Wizardry Online is the answer to your gaming prayers or the kind of nightmare youÂll want to avoid.
Maybe first impressions arenÂt everything, but the first thing I noticed entering Wizardry Online was that the game just plain looks dated. If youÂre a graphics aficionado, this could prove to be an instant buzz-kill. Although Wizardry Online embraces an anime art style, which plenty of gamers appreciate, itÂs delivered in a rather bland, old school way. I suppose you might call it 50 Shades of Brown. (Yeah. Had to. Sorry.)
Of course, for many people itÂs fun that makes the game, not graphics. Their biggest question is: How is the game play?
First off, Wizardry Online is based on the Wizardry RPG, a game old timers might remember playing on their Apple II or Commodore 64. Given that, youÂll find elements of D&D-style game play embedded throughout. In fact, even character creation begins with a random roll for stats. And, although itÂs not uncommon to encounter lone players wandering the world, youÂre likely to find that traditional party-based dungeon crawling sets the tone for this game.
I was handed a level 20 sword-and-board human Fighter to adventure with. Other classes include the archetypical Priest, Mage and Thief, but that doesnÂt mean that thereÂs a shortage of customization. Between random rolls for stats and other player choices, including multi-classing, there could be significant differences between one Fighter and the next. Races are linked to stats, so youÂll also have different bonuses depending on whether you roll a Human, Elf, Porkul, Gnome or Dwarf.
Health regeneration is not a given in Wizardry Online, so my Fighter was equipped with a good stash of health potions. Of course, running with a Priest in your group is probably the most efficient way to fly. You can also return to town to rest, or carry portable camps, which allow you to rest up while youÂre out in the world. In the absence of any of these things--priests, potions or camps--youÂll find that your health wonÂt regenerate between fights at all, so if you end one fight at deathÂs door, youÂre going to begin the next at a significant disadvantage.
We set off from a town hub, where an NPC ushers players into their choice of 10 dungeons. Although there are quests to pick up as you adventure, with 20 main quest lines, my cursory look at the quest dialog didnÂt reveal much in the way of story; Wizardry Online seems to be all about the dungeon crawling. And, if thatÂs your thing, you just might find the experience worthy of your time.
As we made our way through the first dungeon, we encountered a swarm of trash mobs followed by a mini-boss. Taking them out, at least on my FighterÂs part, involved a combination of melee attack and shield defense. Attacking is pretty straight forward: you click the center mouse button to unsheathe your weapon, and then hack away by repeatedly clicking your left mouse button and triggering various hotbar skills with your number keys. You can raise your shield to block with a press of the shift key. Because our dev hosts were dropping heals on us, and our pre-made characters were fairly well equipped, it was difficult to get a feel for exactly how much damage we were taking, but we were told that we were holding our own fairly well.
Todd Carson kept urging us to move on through the dungeon, which made me notice one thing early on--mobs seem to respawn in a hurry. Whether solo or grouped, efficiency is of the essence if you want to avoid the wrath of respawn pops and continue making forward progress. For better or worse, though, dungeons are not instanced. This means that if you get overwhelmed, and there are others in the area, they can, and often will, pitch in to help. Of course, there are also those players who simply want to kill you. More on that in a moment.
As you might expect from a D&D-type game, the dungeons in Wizardry Online are laden with traps. Open a chest without a decent disarm trap skill level and youÂll be in for a rude awakening. I disarmed my first chest by pure luck, but my second attempt wasnÂt quite as fruitful--I sprang a poison trap that hit me and my group for massive damage. (A nearby player did the same thing as we were adventuring; one disadvantage of the non-instanced dungeon format.) We also encountered random flame and poison traps, and the damage they caused if you failed to avoid them was significant, especially in a game with no automatic health regen. Owning dungeons in Wizardry Online will require a keen eye for danger, as well as a good memory for how to avoid it in the future.
The items dropped in Wizardry Online are plentiful, but they do come with a caveat--youÂll need to have them identified in town before equipping them, not because you canÂt equip them, but because you probably shouldnÂt. Unlike almost every MMO, where equipping an item is merely a case of measuring its quality against that of what you already have, in Wizardry Online youÂll encounter cursed items that will actually hinder your character. Consider yourself warned.
That said, going back to town is something youÂll need to get used to, anyway. You may gain the XP necessary to level up while dungeon crawling, but you wonÂt be able to apply it until you go back to town and complete the level up process by resting at an inn. WhatÂs interesting is that youÂll be able to choose the type of room you want to level up in, and the quality of the room will have an effect on your random rolls for stats. If you skimp on the equivalent of the cheap-o room, where the bed has a sagging mattress and Magic Fingers, you might not get as lucky as you would by going all out on the room that offers turn-down service and a mint on your pillow.
And, finally, thereÂs PvP. ItÂs not optional in Wizardry Online, so players who simply want to dungeon crawl are going to have to endure random player attacks and potential griefing. Fortunately, there are some mechanics in place to give PvP consequences. Attack other players, and youÂll be flagged as a criminal. Once you become a criminal, other players can attack you without affecting their own status--itÂs okay to kill a criminal. Not only that, but it can be rewarding. If youÂre a criminal who pisses off another player sufficiently, that player can place a bounty on your head so that the first player to kill you will claim a reward. Further, if youÂre a total jackass and your criminal level gets high enough, NPCs in the good part of town will stop interacting with you, forcing you to seek out the seedier types in the slum areas. Will these elements help stop the griefers? It remains to be seen, but consider this: since when has a griefer ever been concerned with the consequences of being a dick?
My time with Wizardry Online was brief, but it offered enough of a glimpse into the game to see that, given a fair chance, itÂs likely to appeal to a certain type of gamer. Is it the right kind of hardcore to appease the tough love gaming crowd? You be the judge. Since Wizardry Online is free-to-play, youÂve got nothing to lose. The game is in beta at the moment. Although Ten Ton HammerÂs recent stash of beta keys flew out the door in a hurry, you can take apply as a tester at wizardrythegame.com.