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.