The latest set of journeys through Wizardry VI have taken me through a river and Hall of the Dead, both full of various object-based puzzles, culminating in a series of encounters with the main NPCs. The game is fleshing out its plot in interesting ways. At the same time, it is also fleshing out other things. I don't have any particular objection to nudity in a game, but I don't like participating in some developer's juvenile self-gratification, and that's what this game's approach to female NPCs and enemies is beginning to feel like.
The river--based on the River Styx, I guess--was cleverly done. It consisted of a long north-south map that wrapped back on itself, with a series of islands and special encounters in the middle. To start, I had to blow the Horn of Souls, which I'd found in the vicar's room in the castle, to summon Charon the Ferryman. Charon would only ferry me to one other island, but that island had a boat that took me to a third.
|So I guess I'm going to the Land of Death.|
At one point, I encountered a group of sirens--they were nude, of course--but I'd previously found a book that gave me the proper response to their song. In reward, they gave me a pair of "water wings" that allowed me to travel the river and its environs without relying on Charon.
|If I hadn't known the answer to their riddle, I wonder if their charms would have worked on my female characters.|
There was a series of puzzles that was challenging enough to leave me satisfied. An NPC named Bugbrains was looking for a hookah that he'd lost somewhere. I'd encountered some kind of weird "storage facility" in the midst of the river--run, quite naturally, by a nude woman--so when I suggested it to him, he immediately recalled that's where he'd left it, but he didn't remember the code to retrieve it. To get the code, I had to use the "Bottle Oracle"--a place in the river where you could drop a question written in a bottle and retrieve the answer downstream.
|I mean, if you were running a storage facility in the middle of the River Styx, why would you wear clothes?|
Bugbrains gave me the note to put in the bottle, and I finally found use for a wine bottle I'd been carrying since the castle's basement. I merged the note with the bottle and a cork, dropped it in the river, and picked up the code. When I returned and used the code at the storage facility, some weird stuff happened that I didn't fully understand, but I got out of there with the hookah. In return, Bugbrains gave me some magic mushrooms that I'm sure will come in handy later.
While I liked the puzzles, I wasn't enamored of Bugbrains himself, who--as a giant, hookah-smoking caterpillar--unpleasantly recalled some of the excessively goofy NPCs from Wizardry V, like the Duck of Sparks and Thelonious P. Loon, Master of Time and Prophet Extraordinaire.
Ever since I didn't buy the "mystery oil" from Queequeg in the castle basement and had to trek all the way back to him when I needed it, I've been sensitive to purchasing any NPC offerings that sound unique. In Bugbrains's case, that was a stick of incense. It came in handy quite quickly. On the Isle of the Dead, I returned the urn of a warrior to an alcove, burned the incense there, and got access to the Halls of the Dead.
In the midst of the river area, most of my characters started to hit Level 11 in their primary classes, and I decided it was time to dual them. Dualing comes with advantages and disadvantages. The primary disadvantage is that all attributes are reset to the minimums necessary for that class. You lose level-based resistances and multiple attacks. And Wizardry VI isn't like Dungeons & Dragons where when you exceed the original class's level, you get all your abilities back again. A character who duals from a samurai to a ranger never gets to use samurai equipment again.
The primary advantages are that you get to keep any spells that you've already learned, as well as the associated spell points. You also get to keep any skills you've developed. Since dualing starts you over at 0 experience points, you regain levels quite quickly and soon end up with a character as high a level as the original with lots of extra spells and skills.
|I had wanted to make someone a "Lord," but no one had the right attributes.|
I probably didn't make some great choices in my selection of second classes. I rather liked some of my existing classes--valkyrie, samurai, and ninja in particular. I decided to "keep" them by just swapping them about. Though I appreciated my bard's musical abilities at the beginning of the game, I was finding less and less use for her, so I decided to make her a full mage. My bishop had already achieved some good mage spells, so I decided to make him a pure priest (yes, it would have made more sense to start him as a pure mage and then dual him to a priest). Finally, I was getting annoyed at always having to find extended weapons for my fourth-position character, so I decided to create a ranger to specialize in bows.
These were the changes I decided to make:
- Nysra: Valyrie to Ninja
- Paisley: Ninja to Valkyrie
- Lashi: Samurai to Ranger
- Selky: Monk to Samurai
- Harquin: Bard to Mage
- Nofri: Bishop to Priest
(I haven't actually dualed Paisley or Nofri yet, as I'm waiting for them to hit Level 11 in their primary classes first.)
One of the primary reasons to switch classes is to get access to new spellbooks, so I didn't do so great in my choices with the last three characters, all of whom stuck with spellbooks that they already had. But neither Nofri nor Harquin had the stats to dual to one of the fighting classes, and I found the psionics and alchemy spellbooks a bit underwhelming.
Unfortunately, I picked a really bad time to have a set of characters with low resistances and single attacks. The Hall of the Dead, which I entered shortly afterwards, featured four extremely difficult combats with high-level opponents: a valkyrie, a fighter, a ranger, and a samurai. After dying a few times, I returned to an area of the river where two fountains stood side-by-side. One restored health and stamina and one restored spell points. I spun in place there for a while, drawing enemies to me, using the fountains after every fight or two, and soon had my dualed characters at Level 5. This made the Hall of the Dead battles easier, but not easy.
|One of the tougher battles in the game. Robin is listed as a "Drow elf," which I didn't know existed in this world until now.|
All this dualing was, of course, accompanied by a massive reshuffling of equipment. I don't love the game's approach to gear. Almost everything that you can find or buy is aspected to particular races and classes. You can determine who can use an item by "assaying" it in the inventory screen, but you can't really determine what it does--damage, associated magic powers, resistances--without casting "identify" on it. Fortunately, two of my characters have that, but going through a lot of equipment means shuffling items to those who can identify it and back again. The inventory screens themselves are a bit cumbersome, with each character's holdings divided between a main screen and a "swag" bag. You cannot equip items one-by-one; every time you choose "equip," you go through a process of re-equipping everything. All in all, dealing with equipment involves a few too many keystrokes.
Back to the Hall of the Dead. In this area, in addition to the tough combats, I encountered three of the game's key NPCs: the king, the queen, and Rebecca, the demon child. Speeches from each of these characters helped fill in mysteries in the game's back story.
The old king was first, and I found that he'd been transformed into a vampire. When I encountered him, he attacked me and ended up charming most of my characters. None of my characters were able to even hit him, let alone do any damage, but he took off after a few battle rounds anyway, leaving me (for some reason) with the key to the queen's burial chamber.
|The old king's reaction when I told him what I was looking for. I still don't see what's so funny.|
Most of the exposition came from the queen's ghost, who was desperate for revenge. She chronicled her husband's rise to power, his greed, and his lust for power. It turns out that he kidnapped Annie, the vicar's mistress, and forced her to sleep with a demon from hell, begetting the demon child Rebecca. (The vicar apparently died believing the girl was his.) When the child came of age, the king discarded his wife in favor of her. When the king asked his new lover what she desired, she asked for the execution of her mother and her vicar lover.
Ultimately, the queen was also killed by Rebecca, who became pregnant with the king's child. About this time, the king got hold of the Cosmic Forge, but the "bane" of the pen resulted in his vampire transformation. The queen gave me a key to Rebecca's chambers and a silver cross and begged me to "not listen to their lies" and destroy them.
Rebecca confronted me the moment I entered the chambers. She was a proper half-demon, with a tail and wings, and it will come as no surprise that she was nude except for some leather boots and a belt. She asked if I was there to kill her, and I said "no," for some reason. (I guess I wanted to hear both sides of the story.) She asked if I'd accompany her to the king, and I said yes. Despite my cooperation, she gazed at me and hypnotized my party anyway. She led me to the vampire king, who feasted on each of my character's necks before recoiling at the last character, my priest, who was wearing the cross.
Everyone fell unconscious. I woke up in a jail cell after a brief vision of the other half of the wizard Xorphitus. Now I have to figure out how to get out of here.
|So I guess we're not going to be friends.|
I promised I'd talk about spells briefly, the one major aspect that was entirely revamped from the previous games in the Wizardry series. Briefly, there are four spellbooks: mage, priest, alchemist, and psionics. In addition to the four "pure" classes, each spellbook is also available from at least one other class.
|Choosing a new spell upon leveling up. Note that Paisley has some small ability in all realms.|
In addition to the four spellbooks, each spell is classified by one of five "realms": fire, water, air, earth, mental, and magic. (I feel like they could have come up with a better term for that last one, since they're all magic.) Each character has a number of spell points associated with each "realm." The maximums for each realm increase as you level up, but they don't start increasing until you take a spell in that realm, so I've found that it makes sense to try to spread out your spell selections among multiple realms as early as possible.
When you cast each spell, you get to determine how much power to put into it. For instance, "Fireball" has a base cost of 6 points, but you can choose to use 12, 18, 24, 30, or 36 points instead, with of course more points causing more damage. For buffing spells, more power means greater duration. For some spells, it's unclear if additional power has any consequences--"Identify" is a good example.
|Choosing to cast a more powerful version of "Fireball."|
Casting success and power also has something to do with the number of skill points you've put into "oratory" as well as the skill associated with each spellbook (e.g., "thaumaturgy" for mages). Actually, I'm not sure if the spellbook skills have anything to do with power; they may just define what spells you're able to learn.
As in almost any RPG, you find yourself using some spells far more than others. In my cases, I've been under-using buffing and defensive spells, mostly because I don't see a palpable difference when I do. I tend to over-use mass-damage spells like "Fireball" and "Magic Missile" (which, in this game, affects every monster in a group). "Heal," of course, is vital quite often, and fortunately four of my six characters have it. There are certain utility spells, like "Direction," "Knock-Knock," and "Detect Secret," which take the place of skills that do similar things.
I'm going to try to experiment more with spells during the rest of the game, particularly defensive spells. As to how much is left to the game, I'm not sure. I don't have any unmapped squares or untaken pathways right now, so unless my escape from this prison cell leads me to a brand new area, I'll have to start re-exploring to find what I missed.
Two more notes:
- When you encounter "boss" creatures, there's a lot of randomness in how many supporting allies he has. Sometimes, when I lost a battle against one boss and seven of his friends, I'd reload, return, and find him there by himself. This makes a huge difference in the likelihood of success.
|Which of these three groups would you rather face?|
- Despite jacking up my "skullduggery" skill as high as possible, I'm having a miserable time with traps. My bard only figures out a few letters per trap, often not enough to identify it form among the possibilities. Now that I've dualed her to a mage, it's probably even less likely that she'll be useful.
- I just realized that in addition to changing my characters' classes, I probably also need to change their portraits.
- Something I forgot to mention about combat the other day: fighters can target a group of enemies but not a specific enemy. This is a little annoying when, say, you've put a group to sleep. Since striking a slept enemy awakens him, it would be better if you could concentrate your attacks on a single foe until he's dead, leaving the others asleep. I don't know how the game decides which enemy you're attacking, but it seems to spread the attacks out. Perhaps it always targets the enemy in the stack that still has the highest number of hit points.
Aside from the significantly reduced difficulty and the unnecessary exploitation, I think I like this game better than the previous Wizardry titles. I'm having a lot of fun with the NPC conversations and the slowly developing story. I look forward to seeing how it ends.