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Friday, December 16, 2011

Wizardry V: Home for the Holidays



Yeah...I'm pretty sure those are bats.


I made fun of Wizardry V when I first started playing it, but now I confess to a certain gratitude for its unchanging nature. It's like coming back to the old neighborhood, or listening to a song that was your favorite decades ago. By periodically revisiting something that hasn't changed, you have a useful lens with which to analyze what has changed. Who hasn't had the experience of returning to the house we grew up in, or an old school, and noticing how smaller everything looks? Or popping in a mix tape you made in 1987 and chuckling at how idealistic and naïve you were then? The Wizardry experience allows me to reflect both on how much the genre has changed and on how much I've changed as a player.

These thoughts motivated me to go back and take a look at my original postings on Wizardry almost two years ago. I generally try to avoid reading anything--on the blog and off--that I wrote more than a day previously. It always embarrasses me with my inexperience and lack of wisdom. In this case, though, I thought it was important to recollect what I originally thought of the game. The first thing I noted was how awful I was at using Blogger back then. For god's sake, I wasn't even center-justifying captions--and I clearly hadn't learned how to use DOSBox's internal image capture yet. Christ.

It was shortly after the beginning of my grand CRPG odyssey, and I had just come off a four-month period of playing Rogue almost non-stop. I blew through a couple easy, quick games, but Wizardry was the first game that had any real depth and length to it. (I'm not sure that I gave enough credit to it, really, for its major innovations: multiple characters, a large dungeon for the time full of special encounters, a sophisticated magic system.) In the postings, I toyed with the idea of quitting prematurely after a few moments of frustration, but I can't believe I seriously contemplated it. At the time, I hadn't stopped playing a winnable game before winning, so I must have been reluctant to break that record.

On the other hand, I'm amazed by how much patience I had. I remember now how many times I had to create characters, only to have them die; how many resurrections went wrong and turned my Level 6 characters to ash; how many full-party deaths I suffered. I remember maintaining a roster three times as large as the party size, rotating among them, just so I'd have relief members to rescue parties that died in the dungeon. I completely restarted the game three or four times, including one time in which I had reached the last level. That weekend I spent with my wife watching Lord of the Rings while I slowly leveled up my characters against Murphy's Ghosts stands out vividly. I can't honestly say that I would do that today.

If, back at the beginning, I had any stubbornness about quitting games before winning, I quickly succumbed after several hours of Wizardry II. I still maintain that I had a good reason for it. My adherence to my rules was such that I didn't even create a backup of my characters, so when I suffered a full-party death on the first level, I was faced with the prospect of returning to Wizardry to create new characters, leveling them up in that game, and then starting Wizardry II again. It was far more effort than I was willing to invest, no matter how fanatical my love of CRPGs. But however solid my justification, I had broken my "won" record, and it put me on a slippery slope of bailing on games after satisfying my six hour rule. Wizardry III was the next to fall--on far less justifiable grounds, since it restarts characters at Level 1. Wizard's Crown and The Bard's Tale II similarly became victims of my impatience and frustration.

More recently, I've been feeling bad about this, and I vowed to try harder to avoid quitting, which is why I still list Wizard Wars as an active game despite it being, quite literally, one of the worst CRPGs I've ever played. For perverse reasons I don't understand, I'm determined to not only finish the game but also my walkthrough.

Enough self-reflection. Let's talk about the game. After my initial posting, I spent hours and hours on character creation. I do like the attribute-generation system of the series, which hasn't changed between I and V (excepting IV, which was an oddity in many ways). Instead of randomly rolling scores for strength, I.Q., piety, vitality, agility, and luck, you get a set of standard scores based on your race and then a pool of "bonus" points to spread however you like. As you start out, your character is capable of being nothing; classes become available when you allocate enough bonus points to the right attributes.

The number of bonus points is, it turns out, extremely variable. When I first started rolling up characters, I was getting bonus pools of around 7-10. I figured 10 was the upper limit, and I started rejecting characters with fewer points than that. Just as I'd gotten a slate of 4 or 5 party members together, I suddenly rolled a bonus pool of 18. Knowing that was possible, I immediately dumped my previous characters and started rejecting anything less than 18. Rolls of 18 came along maybe 1 out of every 20, and the process of "re-rolling" isn't as simple as it is in some games where you just keep hitting SPACE or something. In Wizardry V, you have to "create" the character, name him, choose a race, and choose an alignment (there are still no sexes) before you find out what your bonus is going to be. Then, even if you don't like it, you have to put enough points into a statistic to choose a class, choose it, and finally say (n)o, you don't want to keep the character.

Thus, you're looking at about 15 seconds for every "re-roll" and, given the rarity of 18s in the bonuses, about 6 minutes per character. That still doesn't sound so bad, and in around a half hour, I had 5 characters who had started with bonuses of at least 18. Most of them had 16-18 in their primary attributes and still had enough left over for good vitality and dexterity.

Then I rolled a 28.


#@$%.


It turns out that bonus rolls of much higher than 18 are possible, but extremely rare. Once I realized that...well, let's just say that practically an entire RPG-playing day passed in the character creation process. I think my highest was 43. But, at last, I had a party of mixed races, classes, and alignments with very high attribute scores among them. I went to add them to my roster and start adventuring.

I had forgotten that good and evil characters can't adventure together in the same party.

#@$%.

A couple more hours of rolling, and I had a good-and-neutral party. I finally gave up and accepted some bonus rolls of 18-20, but in the end I felt I had a solid group.


Until they started to die.


What I had forgotten during this lengthy and obsessive process of character creation is how notoriously lethal Wizardry dungeons are. High attributes make them easier but not easy, and if I'd spent any time remembering my previous postings before I started playing, I would have realized that I'd be creating new characters constantly, especially during the opening stages. You will recall, of course, that full-party death in a Wizardry game does not mean that you can frantically quit and reload from your last save point. Uh-uh. Your party's corpses remain strewn across the dungeon floor, permanently dead, until a relief party can retrieve and raise them.


The game lies. There is no cemetery.


Thus, my current party is only mediocre, attribute-wise, but I'm using them to get accustomed to the dungeon, re-acquainted with the game dynamics, and current with the changes between the first installments and V.

Story-wise, Wizardry V seems to ignore IV; at least, the manual makes no mention of Werdna's return or any of the possible five endings of the previous game. We're back in Llylgamyn, the kingdom that I would have saved in III if I hadn't quit. There was a time of peace and learning following the restoration of the Orb of Earithin, but now a renegade female mage named "The Sorn" has decided that she wants to end the universe and she's created an "unnatural, magical vortex" deep in a dungeon called the Maelstrom. In it, she's imprisoned the Gatekeeper, a demi-god who's the only being able to stop her. The sages of Llylgamyn want my party to get advice from G'bli Gedook, a high priest on the first level of the dungeon, then descend into the depths, kill The Sorn, and free the Gatekeeper.

At this point, I've only explored a bit of the first level, and I haven't found G'bli Gedook yet. I can report with confidence that Wizardry V has not restricted itself to 15 x 15 maps. Even accounting for the possibility that the maps double-back on themselves like in I, they're at least 25 x 25. There also seem to be a lot more "dead" squares in this game, although I'm not completely convinced I'm searching for secret doors effectively. In I-III, you just "kicked" the wall where you suspected one would be, but this game has an "inspect" option, and I'm not sure if finding things is automatic or based upon luck or character skill. I'm also encountering a lot of locked doors resistant to bashing.


I've used this multiple times, but I've yet to find anything.


I can also report that thieves seem to have a new "hide in shadows" ability, and my thief has actually been reasonably successful at disarming traps.


In the first Wizardry, this was the most terrifying part of the game.


By tomorrow, I'm hoping to finish mapping level 1 and perhaps stabilize my party at character levels 3 or 4. By then, I should have a stronger grasp on what's changed. My long winter break started a bit later then I'd hoped, but I'm finally home for good, and it's nice to have a challenging dungeon crawl to play by the fire.

27 comments:

  1. Nice to have you back Addict. Looking forward to your upcoming posts as always!

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  2. Great to see you back!

    It's odd how they spent a time updating the individual graphics of the Wizardry games (compare the treasure chests from the first game to this one), but did absolutely nothing with the dungeon itself. Even CGA dithered walls might have been an improvement, but eh, effort. Apparently.

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  3. Welcome back.

    I'm interested in reading your Wizardry walkthrough, but I think I'll pass on playing it myself. The 3 Bard's Tale games, now, they look awesome and I'm going to try playing them.
    Good Luck with Wizardry 5. Part of the reason I'm passing is the difficulty just seems too extreme for me.

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  4. Luckily, the next Wizardry title changes this formula and flips it on its head. Five games of the same kind of dungeon is a little much.

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  5. So, are the Wizardry games (except for 4 of course) like "lucky jetstream grinds." I mean, you made a party you thought had awesome stats but were floored by a monster right off the bat. Does this mean you must first wait for the game to give you a stream of easy monsters to grind on before you are powerful enough to do anything tactical to beat far more powerful foes than your party, or could you have survived that initial encounter?

    I was just wondering as you have said many times that the first Wizardry has the best tactical system you ever played (with PoR beating it out in best overall battles and strategy I think?).

    Oh, and so glad you are back. I hope life has not been so rough on you.

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  6. Man, rolling and rolling and rolling characters to try and get a "decent" attribute pool. Man that takes me back. Coming from a tabletop background I remember being shocked that some (many) CRPGs had no rolling mechanic to generate your character(s).

    Anyway, nice to see you back posting.

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  7. Geek, I'm trying to remain positive about the series, but I agree. Raifield, I have noticed that some of the individual graphics are better. Perhaps someone with more knowledge than I about video game graphics could shed some light.

    Giauz, the problem is that at the first level, you have virtually no tactical options. Mages have about two useful spells, priests one. The first three characters, who can fight, have basic swords and no usable objects. It gets better later, but yes, at the beginning, you're largely relying on luck--luck that the game will send you a stream of easy opponents until you get to level 2.

    I don't think I gave W1 quite that kind of superlative. I might have said it was the most tactical system up to that point, and indeed it remained so for years, but both Wizard's Crown and Pool of Radiance beat it easily, and even Dungeon Master and Ultima V would give it a run for the money.

    Duskfire, BT2 and BT3 are two of the most excruciating games I've ever played. As much as I've ragged on W5, I'd much rather be playing it.

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  8. Welcome back! I am looking forward to follow you posts although Wizardry IX is the only one I´ve played.

    I can just nod affirmatively when reading your description of creating characters, trying to get the best rolls. I almost always get stucked in that hate-and-love moment. It´s a dangerous part of the process. On one hand you realise its crazy to re-roll endlessly to try to better the outcome, but on the other hand one is so eager to try to get the best party possible without cheating so one could just sit there for hours. The worst moment is when you go into some semi-conscious state that you hit space a little too fast and saw a great roll saying goodbye.

    While others buy the game, install it, roll characters for 5 minutes and then begin playing the game, I always spend at least one evening just rolling up the characters, the next reading the manual or whatever before actually start playing and then it was Monday again :-)

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  9. I guess I should at least try the early Wizardry games, then. I don't doubt the difficulty of the BT series, but after seeing a site that showed pictures of all the monsters in the first game, I just was very impressed with how cool they looked.
    If I ever do complete any of these, I'll have to send screenshots or something as proof.

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  10. Saintus, I talked about that phenomenon--when you get in such a repetitive model of hitting "reroll" that you blow by a good set of stats--just recently. There ought to be a term for it.

    Duskfire, are you the one who told me a while back that you've never won a game?

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  11. I just rolled characters on the newest Wizardry game for the PS3 and had a similar experience, but it's a lot easier to spam the rolls. Still took about 30-45 minutes to get 5 characters with 20 bonus points, which I think is the max. It's more difficult to get past the anime character portraits and voices. Basic game is the same, though.

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  12. Addict -
    I don't think that was me who said I'd never won a game. I haven't played any of the classics at all until very recently. Most of my early game playing was on consoles (Genesis and Playstation), so although I heard about all the great RPGs, the only ones I really played (and did complete) were the 2 AD&D Ravenlofts (Strahd's Possession and Stone Prophet) and Diablo 1 and 2 (both completed).
    The only early game I played but never completed was Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos.

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  13. Repetitive Re-roll Syndrome? No that doesn't fit because you're not aways re-rolling.

    A common one I experience is in RPGs when you are talking to character, they have a long dialog and then you accidentally talk to them again. You desperately try to skip quickly through the dialog only ending up to talk to the character AGAIN!

    I'm sure there is a german word to describe this somewhere...

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  14. Okay, sorry, Duskfire. One of my frequent commenters said once that he has started dozens of games but has never seen one to the conclusion. I mixed you up with him. We really need to have little faces next to the user names here.

    Speaking of user names, Tk, is yours just a placeholder until later? (Journalism joke.) It's not a bad suggestion, though I'd rather come up with a term that references a game in which it's particularly prominent.

    If someone ever made a video about how common CRPG scenarios would play out in real life, the one you cite would be pretty fun. "How's the family?...Crap, just asked that...Great...Sure...Okay...Yep...Gotta Go...Yep...Really gotta...How's the family? Aaaagh!"

    Syntertia, until reading your comment, I had absolutely no idea that Japanese companies were still churning out games under the Wizardry brand.

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  15. The Japanese have created more Wizardry games than the US has, actually. The latest incarnation on the PS3 is, unfortunately, fairly bland. It's more or less Wizardry I with prettier graphics. There are a few modern touches but that's it. It's an absurdly grindy game. I mean, it's just insane. E.g. welcome to level 5. Your fighter doesn't have a bushido blade? Don't worry, he'll be useless. Don't be surprised to spend 4 hours grinding for one on level 4. Etc.

    The other game to get released stateside was Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land on the PS2. It was actually decent. It featured a spell system where you could increase the power of a spell by using a special rune stone (this is how you learned spells too; and there was often a tradeoff as you could find a rare - for that dungeon level/strata - stone and have to decide which spell to learn from it), though the interface for doing this was designed to make you hate the designer. It also featured "allied actions", special moves using 2+ party members that had a variety of effects, giving you some interesting (but occasionally and unfortunately mandatory) tactical options to employ.

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  16. I could look it up, but were there any non-console Wizardries after 8?

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  17. What baffles me is that Wizardry could continue as a series for so long while changing so little in regards to its difficulty and general simplicity/style. I mean, we have seen many better games in the meantime, so there was no necessity to play this. But apparently someone has, or it would have vanished.

    On another note: It seems as if Wizardry tries to uphold the spirit of Rogue. At least regarding the re-rolling odds, the possibility of losing your whole party when trying to resurrect them, and the difficulty of the dungeon delve itself it looks to be in the same vein.

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  18. Wizardry 8 was the last "American" Wizardry, alas. There are quite a few huge mods for Wizardry 8 but I couldn't get it running on Windows 7 x64. Actually, I just built a new machine and may try again. Since you'll get to that eventually, you might consider trying some of them once you've gotten away from it.

    First person party based RPGs are under-represented in Indiedom, alas. There's some intriguing titles in development (Grimdark, e.g.), and there are a few decent titles out. But none of them are quite wizardry. Frayed Knights is probably closest but features a 4 person party and more intimate tactical battles as a result. Underworld is a Might & Magic (I!) like game.

    There's nothing that hit's all of Wizardry's points: first person with medium sized+ party (6+), abstract battle system where you can face dozens of foes, "tiered" class system, significant exploration component.

    Dark Delve for XboxLive is a great investment for a couple of bucks. But it's also 4 person party and smaller battles (and it has a Breath of Death VIII inspired character advancement mechanics; not a bad thing).

    Actually, that's another thing that seems to have disappeared from indie CRPGs (much longer ago from AAA games): "medium+" party RPGs period. Knights of the Chalice has a 4 character party. Vogel switcehd to 4 person parties in Nethergate (made sense there) and hasn't looked back. Tom Proudfoot left gaming (I *think*) so Pirates of the Western Sea was never finsished and it's been ages since Natuk's release.

    This is a bad thing, because having larger parties offered a different but interesting gameplay experience when the battle and advancement mechanics were interesting.

    Ahhh, I'm rambling.

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  19. Rambling a bit, but still good information. Frankly, I'm not sure that 4 wouldn't have been a more ideal party in these earlier games, though. 6 (or M&M II's 8!) allow you to have every character option in the game. I'd rather the game made me make some tough choices. Demon's Winter is one of the few that does.

    I look forward to playing these indie games as I get into the era in which they're more common.

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  20. Wizardry 8 is worth playing IF you like the skill development system where your characters gain skill through using abilities. The movement and party positioning system is quite innovative and it's possible that the game is worth playing simply to experience that. The plot is average and sort of cheesy. Sleep and stun abilities are overpowered. Magical damage spells are nearly useless. It's a fairly well-balanced game, and is far from easy especially early on.

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  21. Yes, Wiz 8 was a lot of fun. They got rid of the stuff where you could take each character through a bunch of different classes and make him an optimised superman - I hated that about previous Wizardrys. The tactical combat was great and the difficulty just about right. The puzzles were toned down a lot.

    The biggest problem was the really long battles, often involving plants. I think though a lot of that was at its worst early in the game between the main town and Trynton, and got better later on. The very worst thing was when you were involved in a long battle and saw some other enemies just far enough away that you just knew they'd be ready to join in just as the first lot of enemies died...

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  22. I just rolled a 48 in Wizardry 2 while aiming for a quick party of 18's. WOOOOO!

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  23. Never mind. Turns out the SNES port changed the game to make it a Lv. 1 campaign so I have to start over on DOS ;(

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  24. So, the SNES port is easier? That makes my job easier.

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  25. Yea, the SNES is a port of the NES version, which couldn't do character transferring so they changed the monster stats to make it a standalone game. Unfortunately, I'm now trying to figure out how to import some Lv. 1 characters on the DOS version and it's not happening. Only solutions seem to be to buy the Wizardry Archives set which fixes this, or borrow a PC and hope the fanmade character editors can create new characters.. Either way I've wasted an entire day of free time, 3 sets of character rolls (including a 48!), and I still can't get started yet :(

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    1. Oh, I thought you were talking about Wizardry V. I missed the part where you actually said Wizardry 2 above. It'd make sense that the console ports would need to be stand alone. I wonder though if the Famicom Disk System allowed importing.

      In any case, I see below you've worked it out. Have fun.

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  26. Wait, I just figured it out! For anyone who has the same problem:

    1. Get the Wizardry Archive versions of Wizardry 1-5. It is very hard to find the individual games on the internet without getting the whole Archive, but they are out there.

    2. Each game should have 3 files instead of the 5 included in the 80s abandonware versions. You should have 'SAVEX.DSK, WIZX.COM, and WIZX.DSK' (X is a variable, so the filenames would be 1-5 depending on the game). Put them all in one folder.

    3. On any OS (yay!), run WIZ1.COM in DOSBOX. Go to 'Utilities -> Move', and do that to all your characters that you want to export. Close and reopen DOSBOX.

    4. Run Wizardry 2, and go to 'Utilities -> Move' and repeat the process. Your party is now deleted from Wizardry 1 and imported into Wizardry 2!

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