Friday, June 18, 2010

Wizard's Crown: Packing It In

A Wizard's Crown dungeon.

I hope it's obvious by now that I hate to start a game and not finish it. Since I started this blog, the only games I haven't finished (that were "winnable") are Wizardry II and Wizardry III, and this had more to do with their rules about character creation and importing than it did with the games themselves.

But Wizard's Crown is simply no fun. It has some neat innovations, but these are wrapped in countless hours of rote combat and death. I was toying with quitting it during my last posting. Then I went to D.C. for a few days and slept on it. When I got back today, I played for a few hours, but I'm just not feelin' it. I'm going to give it a final ranking here with the understanding that I didn't finish the game so I may have missed some things.

1. Game world. There's an interesting setup in the game manual having to do with a golden age brought to a close by a theft and usurpation. I covered this in my first Wizard's Crown posting. There isn't much history or lore associated with the game, though. You encounter buildings and dungeons with intriguing names but no back story. There are a couple of quests, like clearing the town of thugs, that have some affect on the game world, but otherwise your presence isn't really felt. Final score: 2.

The introduction from the game manual.

2. Character creation and development. It's not bad. Although I was confused during the creation process, the game is fairly unique in the way it gives you experience points to divide among different skills. I'm not sure I ever came up with a good strategy for it, and there were some skills that never seemed to be used, but kudos to the developers for including a character development system ahead of its time. Since you get experience from every battle and can spend it more-or-less immediately, character development is swift and constant. This is the first game to allow selection of your own icons (although from a limited pool), and it might be the first to allow multi-classing. On the other hand, the game offers the exact same experience no matter what your class. Final score: 5.

Spending experience to increase skills.

3. NPC Interaction. Virtually none. There's an old man in a park who tells you different stories, and a girl you can save from some thugs, but your interaction with them is limited to just listening what they say. You learn a few things about the game world from them, but there is no dialog or role-playing opportunities. Most of the game is combat. Final score: 1.

Your primary NPC interaction is an old man ranting about some nonsense.

4. Encounters and foes. There are no real unique monster's in Wizard's Crown that I could see--just your standard D&D fare like goblins, orcs, and brigands. Such monsters are not described in the manual or the game itself, and they're distinguishable from each other only in their icons. There are no opportunities for role-playing in the encounters. There are a mix of random and fixed encounters in both dungeons and surface, which is nice. The surface constantly re-spawns (you never "clear" it), and there's an option to reset dungeon levels in case you want to play them again, which is nice. Final score: 3.

5. Magic and combat. Tactical combat, described in my last posting, is where Wizard's Crown really shines. There are almost too many options having do to with range and direction of attack, but it's hard to complain about the complexity when the game offers a "quick combat" option. You can theoretically role play during combat by having your characters behave in unique ways. The magic system is a little weak, offering a paltry selection of spells for mages (I did finally get these to work by pouring experience into spellcasting) and no offensive spells for priests. If your characters are knocked unconscious or killed during battle, you cannot heal them, which is a bit of a drag. My biggest problem with combat was that I could never do as well in the tactical combat as I did in the quick combat--you would think the reverse would be true. Final score: 5.

6. Equipment. Wizard's Crown offers a wide variety of weapons, armor, and accessories, and it's not too hard to figure out how the items compare to each other. These are generally randomized within the game world, and you even have the opportunity to "customize" items by paying to increase their enchantments. None of the items are described, however, and there are a lot of baffling accessories that either do nothing or I just couldn't figure it out. Final score: 5.

I saw no reason to visit the armory after my first visit.

7. Economy. You get gold for killing monsters, but there's hardly anything to buy with it. You can buy a limited amount of training, but beyond that it's just about increasing item enchantment, which costs way more gold than I ever had. The good news is, because it's so expensive, you never find yourself with too much gold. Final score: 4.

8. Quests. There is a main quest in the game, but it's easy to forget because the game doesn't give you a lot of hints about how to proceed along it. There appears only one outcome to this quest, and no opportunities for role-playing. I counted two side quests, one of which I guess allowed some limited role-playing (I could have let a young woman get beaten by thugs). Final score: 3.

9. Graphics, sound, and inputs. The graphics are mediocre, especially on the character and dialog screens which are text-only. The only sound is the occasional combat effect. Keyboard commands are intuitive enough and easy to grasp, but constantly having to specify a point man when you leave camp is annoying. Final score: 2.

10. Gameplay. The world is so constraining, and it's so hard to avoid dying, that the game feels very linear. It offers no different experiences on replay, and I found that it varied between too easy and too hard: either I won combats in a snap or I was thoroughly trounced. Final score: 2.

Final score: 32. This puts it above some of the worst games on my list, but not as high as Wizardry or The Bard's Tale, which feels right.

Next up: The Bard's Tale II!


  1. I think, if you don't finish it it should not really get a rank or rank separate.

  2. Stu, that's a good point and I thought about that. Maybe I'll do that if I don't finish many more games, but I hope this happens so rarely that I don't need a separate policy to cover it. In this case, I feel that I got enough of the gameplay experience to be able to rate it adequately, and I consulted a walkthrough to make sure I didn't miss any significant gameplay or role-playing elements later in the game. It doesn't appear that I did.

  3. No sense in you playing a game that you absolutely hate. I'm a horror movie addict, and there is a whole treasure trove of cheap boxed sets of old horror movies that are in the public domain (put out by Mill Creek in sets of 50). I watched the first set (basic horror classics) with a lot of enthusiasm. Subsequent sets were of those movies that declined in quality quite substantially. I used to watch 1 or 2 movies per week but a couple of years ago I asked myself "what the hell am I doing, watching movies that I absolutely hate". With horror, it's hit or miss (mostly miss) and I was tired of going through 10 bad movies in order to find one that was halfway decent.

    If a game becomes an absolute joyless chore to play, skip it. Give it an honest effort, but there's no need to torture yourself.

  4. Thanks, Anon. Good analogy. My rules say I just have to play for six hours, and I definitely put at least that much into "Wizard's Crown."

  5. It was interesting to read about Wizard's Crown, as it was a big influence on Tom Proudfoot's shareware role-playing game Nahlakh (1994).

    Nahlakh is a cult classic and I enjoyed it tremendously. It has a good tactical combat system, similar but more streamlined to Wizard's Crown it seems. It also has a skill system, where you don't have (visible) experience points or levels, but instead the (many) skills rise as you use them. And last but not least, it has a really neat magic system, where spell are cast by forming together three syllables, and I still remember many. "Rakh Ma Fyhr" translates to Throw Medium Fire.. as you can guess, you can experiment with combining different syllables, and it was exciting to stumble upon a new interesting spell that would work.

    It's unfortunate that the game doesn't seem to be on Wikipedia's list, probably because of it's shareware status so it was a little obscure. Still I'm a little surprised that it doesn't seem to even have it's own Wikipedia page..


  6. Wizard's Crown is a noteworthy game in the CRPG family tree. It had more intricate tactical battles than the Ultimas (facing, bleeding, things like that Also, auto resolve!). Iam pretty sure the engine, or parts of the engine, were basis for the Gold Box games. I liked the difficulty but it is really grindy, no question.

    The character development system was interesting if convoluted. It's one of the few CRPGs I have ever played that rewarded multiclassing (a far better choice than straight classing, for the most part. Everyone could do a little of everything, fight, magic, etc). Combat in the game got more interesting tactically as you progressed (especially Ward Pact demons). Also, if you wanted to re-explore dungeons you could just delete the map file, a feature Proudfoot kept in both Nahlakh/Natuk. Pretty neat.

    I would also second Nahlakh. It's really good (also a little grindy).

  7. I'm sorry you didn't get to appreciate this game. It's been a long time since I've played it, but I remember really enjoying it and playing it through to the end. I don't recall it being that difficult. That could be because I had someone with me who was familiar with the game and could walk me through the basics (combat, healing, identifying equipment, etc.) but I've also heard that the DOS version is buggy (I played on the C64).

    Having said that, I can't disagree with your assessment of the game in the different categories. The game was not about characters or an engaging story, it was about strategic combat - somehting which appealed to me but might not be for you (though it's a shame you never got to fight the vorpal bunnies!)

  8. Actually, strategic combat appeals to me a lot. I just think WC was a little too complicated with it. It offered too many options that were fairly useless, and having to worry about the direction you're facing is needlessly annoying. Later games pared down the available actions into a more sensible number.

  9. Great Blog; I jumped ahead to this game out of curiosity. When I was a kid, it was advertised and talked about in a copy of "Family Computing" that we subscribed to, and I would daydream constantly about playing it. Perhaps it was the nostalgia factor that kept me at it when I finally did procure a copy many, many years later.

    Something that stood out was that you had a party of eight characters instead of the standard four or six, and they could multi-class into everything. You could potentially have a party of eight fighter/sorceror/ranger/thief/priests who, once you got them all built up, were basically a team of superheroes. That would have taken a long, long time of patient grinding, though (as someone already pointed out, it took 100 XP to raise some of the stats by 1 point).

    One feature I would have included would have been to name the multi-classes; for example, the fighter/priest would have been a paladin, the fighter/sorceror a swordmage, etc. In that vein, a thief/sorceror would have been a "bard", who could have raised the party's moral while camping out in the wilderness. That was the "annoying-est" part of the game, having a full compliment of spells, full hit points, but having to trek back to the town because the moral dipped enough to make the next fight impossible. Maybe it's the munchkin in me, but I enjoyed the grind. I didn't enjoy the clunky controls, however, so anytime I try to play it again, I give up pretty quickly.

    Did you get to the easter egg area that contained the rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Tough fight, if I remember correctly, but lots of XP.

  10. I probably should have given it more time. When you're playing for blogging, instead of just for fun, it's hard not to feel the crush of all the future games and want to get through some titles as quickly as possible.

  11. And again, thanks for refreshing my memory! Forgot about this one too, I recognized not the title but one of the first screenshots of the outside of town. I wholly concur with you packing it in, just additionally imagine playing this game without a manual or internet access as I had to do. Playing cracked games was the only way I got to play any in my country at that time and finding your way in them without any other clues than the screen before you was essentially a kind of meta-game in itself which I was totally used to. I sometimes had to press random keys to see what they did and figure it out from there.
    I'm having so much fun reading your blog! It's a caffeinated rush into memory lane (which is a totally true comment I nicked from somewhere else to be honest.... :-)

  12. I want to play this game so bad - few sites 'say' they host it but want my credit card...I am way too paranoid for that. Anyone know any emulators out there that allow this to be played? email me if not too inconvenient.. and thanks in advance.

    For me..I loved loved the game when I was 13 and have always wanted to play it again. I am sure I will have my head examined if I ever do get a go at it again though..

  13. i dont know if they ported it to dos or not, and if not you can find it on c64 but there is a sequel to this game called eternal dagger, and it is vastly improved compared to wizards crown, which quite honestly i had a hard time playing and never beat. the plot line is better written, there is more of a backstory, the combat interface, while still quite similar (facing, bleeding, injuries) is more polished and easier to grasp. the dungeons look and handle better also, and you can set a point man and his distance so you dont have to choose it every time you leave camp. shops are also useful. its just a well done game.

  14. Unfortunately, ET didn't have a DOS version, and I didn't play it for that (fairly lame) reason.

  15. well just thought id throw that out there for you in case you didnt know about it.

  16. I played the DOS version, and exploited a bug that allowed us to become the superheroes that Cavalier mentioned. I admit that the plot is seriously thin, but I found the ruined thieves guild, the mansion with the golems and the final castle atmospheric enough.

  17. to the op - shame you didnt enjoy this game, but each to their own.

    i loved this game when it was released and am about to relive my youth and go for it again,again with ultima 7 and x-com.

    i'll come out of my room in a few months!

    1. I would have tried harder with the game if I'd known then what I know now. It was early in my blog and my decisions to quit games were based more on whether I was having "fun" than whether I thought it was worth cataloging the game for posterity.

      --"The OP."

  18. Really great blog you got here, thanks! Well written, insightful and personal. It's just like looking over the shoulders of someone playing, as in the old days. Today, nobody wants to look at 8-bit graphics anymore, unfortunately :)

    I've always wondered about whether Wizard's Crown was as hard and complex as it is described, and it seems it is...

    I've had a similar experience with Knights of Legend, an Origin game from 1989 (I guess). I bought it when it came out, but abandoned when my first battle against a bunch of lowly orcs took about two hours. I hope it's on your list!

    Cheers, FD

    1. Thanks, FD. Good to have you on board. KoL is actually coming up soon, in about 15 games.

    2. Knights of Legend. Talk about preserving games for posterity; I have a hard time believing anyone has ever legitimately succeeded at that game, but if anyone has the skills needed it is you.

      I feel like I already told the story about the hilariously entertaining bug I found in the game that game me a super weapon ... but Knights of Legends' attention to weapon skill detail meant that none of my characters could wield it well enough to reliably hit. Five rounds of missing, then instantly killing a huge enemy in a single hit, and then five more rounds of missing before being defeated (by my party passing out from lack of stamina, not from being injured). Good times.

    3. I completed Knights of Legends about a year ago:

    4. BTW, I did use a DosBox version with save states function in order to preserve what's left of my sanity. KoL and Might&Magic 1 are the only games for which I've used the save states version.

  19. Just finished playing it myself. Wanted to add a few things.
    First, while WC had a lot of excellent innovations, ease of use and detailed documentation were NOT among them.

    You can find yourself having to figure out what some of the skills do, because the manual does not at any point list the skills and how they affect things.

    There is also a very rough spot in the leveling right about where it sounds like you hit. Until you get two or three magical (not +#, storm/death/etc.) weapons, and some +# protective items, it's kinda rough. If you do not have someone with high search and someone with a high score in the identify skill (forget the name of it), it is painful to get to that point.

    Commands take a lot of getting used to.

    That said...
    Once you get used to the combat options and tactics, all that facing, shield bashing, 3 types of attack and aim and such actually make for a VERY rich combat experience if you know where to use what.
    No single tactic is as broken as exceptional strength backstabs in gold box, but they make a huge difference.

    As this blog is one of VERY few information sources (other than a walkthrough which focuses on the larger stuff and not the details), I have included below what the POINT of most of those combat commands is, as well as some other information that will make things MUCH easier for anyone who wants to try WC.

    D/A/K - Attacks, Defensive if you are about to get wailed on, Killing if you're not. A is your in between. Practically, if you are defending a choke point, Killing attack them dead, and have someone (G)uard to stop the next enemy from beatingo n you for it.

    A - Aim. VERY situational. Ignore it for now.

    Z - zigzag. Known to most of us who played final fantasy anything early as "defend". Same uses.

    W - Whois. Get tooltip style info on the bads to figure out who to beat down first.

    Shield Bash - move into the enemy, be wearing a shield, have some shield skill. Bowl someone over then have the rest of your party beat on them when they are down. Good for really tough enemies who are NOT physically massive.

    P/C - Pray/Cast. Priest prayers and sorc spells.

    G - Guard. Pretty much essential to NOT get flanked. Anyone who comes within range, you smack them upside the head with your weapon, their turn ends, and they become 'engaged'. What is 'engaged'?

    Engaged status: You can move 1 square. Happens if someone hits you, including from "guard" command.

    < > - Facing: You smack them in the back of the head, it hurts more. They smack you in the back of the head, sucks to be you. Also, you can't move backward, so brave sir robin will need to bravely turn his tail before he can flee, usually resulting in epic smackdowns.

    Hide/scan - you hide, you are invisible on the combat map. Scan tries to find people. Hidden people tend to smack people in the back of the head, which is unhealthy for them as previously mentioned.

    Weapon types and Life/wounds/bleeding:
    Life: Decides how serious of wounds it takes to knock you out. Also, if it falls to zero, you die.
    Wounds: Reduces your skills, contributes to you passing out when it hits your remaining life.
    Bleeding: Makes you slowly lose life.

    Bashing weapons:wound more, bleed them less
    Cutting weapons:bit of each
    Thrusting weapons:bleed them more, wound less
    Also, each ward pact demon (nasty late game monster) can only be affected by one (randomly determined) damage type.

  20. Advantages to different weapon types:
    Close Combat - low xp to learn, small item, low str. required, all classes can use. - Thrusting
    Mace - Low xp to learn, weapon for every strength level. Mostly suck. - Bashing
    Sword - Low(ish) xp to learn. LOTS of sword loot drops. - Cutting/Thrusting (varies by sword type)
    Flail - Ignores shields. Great to (G)uard with. - Bashing
    Axe - Breaks shields. Great to (G)uard with. - Cutting
    Spear - 2 range, low Str. required. - Thrusting
    Bow - Ranged - Thrusting
    Crossbow - About as useful as a NERF crossbow, which is to say, not very. You can only fire them every second turn, and they do not do enough damage to compensate.
    Happy gaming.


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