Saturday, October 9, 2010

Game 27: Wizardry IV (1986)

It could have been worse. It could have been "The Return of Eor."
[Ed. Don't read this entry. Read instead the series I wrote in 2022 in which I offered a lot more detail and actually finished the game. It starts here. Seriously--skip this. These 2010 entries suck.]
Seriously, Sir-Tech? Five years have passed since Wizardry III. People have been telling me over and over how awesome your fourth "scenario" is. "The most challenging CRPG ever created," they say. I've spent months anticipating it, along the way making fun of games like Swords of Glass for their primitive programming. And this is what I've been waiting for? 
The same wire frame dungeons? The same monochromatic graphics? The same spells? The same commands? Sigh...well, what it lacks in originality in gameplay, it makes up in originality in story. Wizardry IV is called "The Return of Werdna." I had this idea that Werdna (the villain from Wizardry I) had returned, and I would have to mount an expedition to defeat him again. Not so. Rather, in this game, you play as Werdna. 
I think maybe I want a long, hot shower more.
In the game manual, Werdna recounts how he craved the magical amulet from the first game, which had been left behind in an episode when gods were screwing around on the mortal plane but were chased away by some more powerful force. Trebor managed to snag the amulet first, but Werdna invaded his castle and stole it from him. He was learning to channel its power when the adventurers from the first game burst into his chambers and killed him...or so they thought. You have now woken up and need to escape a 10-level dungeon. 
Should have gotten a higher deductible on that insurance! Bwu-ha-ha-ha-ha...wait, that doesn't really make sense.
Although the basic look and feel, combat, and commands are the same, there are significant differences from the previous Wizardry games. Some are good, some bad.
  • There's no character creation. You immediately awaken as Werdna, at Level 1, a mage, with all of your attributes set to 9.
  • You control only one character. On each level, there is at least one (maybe only one per level) "summoning pentagram" at which you can summon a variety of monsters to fight with you, but you can't control them or their inventories.
I'm not sure I even want to know what Option A is.
  • There's a "real time" aspect to the game. If you just stand still, you can still be subjected to a wandering encounter.
  • You don't get any experience from combat! The only way Werdna "levels up" is to visit the next level and go to a summoning square. This is also, as far as I can tell, the only way to get healed and recharge your spells.
  • Unlike previous titles, you can now save the game--in up to eight slots!--but saving resets the dungeon and its fixed encounters.
  • The "monsters" you encounter are actually named heroes (Werdna keeps calling them "do-gooders") seeking to slay you.
  • The game frequently comments in Werdna's voice or from Werdna's perspective.
Despite the fact that I have a printed manual, there's lots about the game I don't understand so far. First, the room that you start in has no door, and you essentially have to wander around until one of your summonsed priests thinks to cast the MILWA spell to see the secret door. Werdna doesn't have this spell. Is this intentional? Second, when you kill monsters, they drop weapons and armor, but as a mage you generally can't use them. Since you also can't control the inventories of your summoned creatures, I'm not sure what purpose they serve. 
Not the most imaginative level map.
Tonight, I mapped Level 1 and went up to Level 2. I immediately saved it upon arrival, which turned out to be a big mistake. The encounters are suddenly much harder, only a couple of my monsters from Level 1 survived, and I don't know where the summoning pentagram is. I'm stuck between trying to find it (and getting slaughtered repeatedly) or going back to Level 1, battling back to the starting point, and using the pentagram again. When you die, you get returned to your crypt for another chance, although I don't consider it cheating to load the saved game at this point, since the game gives you the save option. 
So far, this game feels more like a goofy fan mod than something it took Sir-Tech five years to develop. I am pretty determined to win "the most challenging CRPG of all time," though, so settle in for the long haul on this one.


  1. I think I'm having the same reaction that you are... I've heard quite a few times over the years about how great the Wizardry games were, and instead, my main thoughts are:
    1) What's with the palette -- did DOS still only have *that* few colors, or was it an Apple II conversion they didn't bother upgrading?
    2) I don't feel like such a dork for having thought as a young teen in the early 90s that reversed spelling was a good way to name characters. (I'm also curious who Andrew & Robert -- Werdna & Trebor -- were.)

  2. And you know what? Wizardry V has the same wire frame graphics (but, at least, it is easier than IV and, in some way, improved).

    @Xyzzy ... look at the names of the designers in the first screenshot.

  3. Arcanum, I almost wish you hadn't told me that.

    Playing "Wizardry IV" gives me the odd feeling of being retro while in the middle of retro-gaming. It's like "Inception."

  4. Is this the first game in which you play as the ostensible villain of a previous game?

  5. The first I know of. Hell, it might be the ONLY one I know of. Can you think of another game that does that kind of role-reversal?

    1. Coming here from the "year in review", and seeing that comment

      I see another one => Paper Sorcerer, though it is fairly recent

    2. Donkey Kong jr., obviously. And Wario Land might count, too.

    3. I know there's at least one Mario spinoff where you play as Bowser.

      Operation Flashpoint had the "Red Hammer" expansion where you played as a Soviet soldier instead of American, but even people who like ARMA dislike that one.

      Touhou is a strange example since it's a huge ensemble cast and status as a villain or hero changes from game to game, but a large amount of the series' ultimate villains have become playable in one form or another.

    4. At this point there are probably more fighting games that allow this than ones that don't. Or are we not counting those?

  6. BG: TOB

    if I remember correctly "Saravok" (ubg from the previous adventure) can join your party as a PC.

  7. Yes, that's right, but he's just an NPC. His quest doesn't drive the storyline.

  8. Although it's an adventure game and not an RPG, the Legend of Kyrandia 3 also used the "Play as the first game's villain" device.

  9. Wiz4 could also be called "Map till you die, then reload". It has mapping, puzzles, riddles, battles and repetition. I liked it but I couldn't finish it without help. Great blog so far.

  10. Don't forget Donkey Kong Country! :P

  11. Even earlier than that is Donkey Kong Jr., which features Mario as the villain.

  12. In Breath of Fire IV, you play the villain for about half (maybe more like a third or a quarter.. it's been a while since I played it) of the game. That was a much later game, but the presence of the 'IV' in both titles is all the evidence I need to conclude an undeniable link between them.

  13. Ok, I was under the impression that the Wizardry series was held in high esteem. I can't imagine why. They're goofy, ugly and repetitive.

    1. My understanding is they got better.

    2. The Wizardry series is held in high esteem because the first game was a key landmark in the development of RPGs and influenced dozens of others throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The problem is that the game didn't inspire its own developers as much as the makers of Might & Magic, Ultima, The Bard's Tale, et. al., and they kept going back to the same pool.

      Regardless of what I've ever said about the series, I consider the first Wizardry one of only five or six "must plays" for the 1980s.


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