|Fighting the Gryns brothers at the top of a mountain, which suspiciously looks just like the inside of a castle.|
For a while, I thought that the entirety of Wizardry VI might take place in the confines of the castle. Yes, I'd heard in various places that the game takes "200+ hours," but I've learned to regard such estimations with skepticism, or at least inflated by all of the hardware and software headaches that early players had to endure. When booting the game takes 10 minutes, reloading means swapping disks, and maps have to be made by hand on graph paper, that really pads the time. So I hear something like "200 hours" and I figure subtract for 40% for publisher's hyperbole, cut the remainder in half to account for today's better efficiency, subtract a third of whatever's left given that--let's face it--I'm a pretty experienced player, and you've got basically a 40-hour game.
Thus, when the 20-hour mark came into view, my characters were 2/3 of the way to their max levels, and I was still messing around with castle doors, I figured this was how it was going to play. It wasn't a crazy idea. The castle consists of about 1,500 squares, or roughly half the size of the first Wizardry. The developers had done a pretty good job making it feel nonlinear while still restricting access to certain areas until I solved certain puzzles. I had just discovered a kind-of sub-basement that promised to open up into a larger area. And, after all, the manual's back story didn't promise anything but the castle.
So I was surprised when I followed a route in the castle's dungeon that led me into an enormous area fully of twisty passages and at least four levels of mines with several dozen up and down stairs. It was then, just for curiosity's sake, that I rapidly flipped through the pages of the hint guide JJ sent me--not to look up any spoilers, but just to get a sense of the scope of the game--and I saw like a dozen more large maps. I guess my estimation was a little optimistic.
|The game had me follow these mysterious "black women" to the new location, but then I never heard from them again.|
The remainder of the castle had very much the feel of an adventure game in which a solved puzzle led to an item that allowed me to solve another puzzle, and so on, all the way to the castle's exit. In reverse order:
1. To get out of the castle dungeon, I had to cross a chasm with a rope and hook.
2. The rope was only available from a locked room in the castle belfry, the key for which was found in a secluded part of the basement.
3. To get into the secluded part of the basement, I needed to go down some stairs that were behind a locked grate on the castle's main floor.
4. To get the grate to open, I needed to perform a ritual at an altar in the living chambers involving something called the "Book of Ramm."
5. To get to the Book of Ramm, I needed to open a door and solve a puzzle in the castle's lowest level. The door only opened with a gold key.
6. The gold key was in a hidden area near the king's bedchambers.
I had to follow a similar flowchart to get the hook for the rope & hook, involving translating a diary with a decoder ring to find out where the Captain buried his treasure (Giant Mountain), give the location to Queequeg for the password to the Captain's Den, and enter the Captain's Den to find the corpse of a pirate with a hooked hand.
|"Giant Mountain" is the mountain right outside the castle so, yes, I guess you should have known.|
The culmination of all the effort was to find myself in the new area: a land full of chasms in which I had to thread my way carefully lest I fall to my death (which I did repeatedly by just mashing the wrong key).
|In real life, I think it would be hard for six people to "accidentally" walk into a chasm.|
This area was dominated by a mountain in the center and a series of "mine" entrances on the east side. The mines are multi-leveled, they feature several areas of darkness that you have to map by bumping into walls, and they're connected by a series of maze-like stairways that took me a long time to map. At the bottom of the mine, a wizard is imprisoned in some kind of giant diamond, and the manifest goal of the area seems to be to get him out, though I apparently don't have all the tools for this yet.
One major puzzle here involves the repair of a catapult, which I needed to block a pit so I could proceed to one side of the mountain. To do this, I had to collect several rubber strands from "rubber beasts" in various mine rooms and use the "merge" option in the inventory screen to braid them together into a rubber band. (I'm not sure the author of the game understands how catapults really work.)
|"Merging" items in inventory. Two merged strands make a braid, two merged braids make a band.|
I also needed to take a broken sprocket to a smith, found in one of the mine rooms, and have him repair it. Finally, I had to scale one side of the mountain (an annoying process because each climb carries the risk of falling for heavy damage) and slay a mountain giant to collect his boulders.
|Funny how the "face of the mountain" looks just like a brick wall.|
Throughout this process, the game has occasionally provided a role-playing choice. When entering the Captain's Den, I had the option to challenge the rogue leader to a drinking contest or just attack him, and in the mountain area, I had the option to pay a troll to cross his bridge or just kill him. I fear that I chose violence in both cases. The game hasn't been full of these types of encounters, but they're welcome when they happen.
|In real life, I would have taken him up on it, but in this case, my party is all women.|
|"I yare?" How do you not kill this guy?|
The game continues its dedication to vivid textual descriptions of the areas, which almost but not quite makes up for its lack of any variance in the graphics. I mean, the graphics in the Gold Box games are sparse, but at least they try to simulate different textures appropriate to the areas. This one has the same brick walls whether you're supposed to be looking at a castle, cavern, mine, or mountain. In this sense, the game is hardly more advanced than the wireframe graphics in the first five Wizardry games.
Goats or rams have emerged as a major theme. I found several artifacts "of Ramm" in the castle, the altar ritual involved goat symbology, I found a goat head's mask in a treasure chest (it seems to drain my hit points, so I just put it in a sack), and I hear bleating behind a door I can't enter. As a little side note, until I was about 30 years old, I thought that goats were male sheep. In my defense, you always see them together and they kind of make the same noises. Yes, I'd heard of "rams" and yes, I'd heard of "goat's milk," but I thought they were different names for the same things, like bulls and steers and oxen and whatnot. Irene and I were at a state fair when I said something that made my ignorance apparent, and she explained things after a good laugh. Anyway, I finally have it straight, so this game needs to get its act together on whether it wants to use ram or goat symbology because it's screwing me up again.
|A goat's head mask and a "Dagger of Ramm" in the same chest. Make up your damned mind!|
There are some other bits of lore that suggest the game might be developing a story. The logbook that described the location of the Captain's buried treasure also had a long account of a party's demise on Giant Mountain, describing the giants but also "dwarf men" who were building the mines and "digging for something" (my guess is the trapped wizard). I've encountered the dwarf men, and they're not friendly. I assume the wizard is either the king or his ally who disappeared more than a century ago while fighting over the Cosmic Forge. I like the idea that a narrative might be building here; I hope the game doesn't disappoint me.
|A bit from the logbook. I don't know if this heralds things to come.|
In this last session, I've encountered far more trapped chests than before. The game's system for handling traps is reasonably interesting and fun. Just like the first five games, the traps can consist of poison needles, noxious gas clouds, prismatic sprays, and so forth. When you "examine" the trap, it doesn't tell you what the trap is; instead, it gives you a few letters of the trap's name. You have to use those letters to deduce the name. So if it says "ON" on inspection, it could be a "poison needle," but it could also be a "noxious gas cloud." If it says "NOX," then you're certain to pick the right one when you go to disarm.
The letters are basically the game's way of simulating the process of examining a trap and trying to figure out its nature from its "components." It's a fun and innovative way to do it. I just wish my bard was better at it. I've jacked her "skullduggery" score (which covers lockpicking and trap disarming) up to around 40, but she still typically identifies two or three letters at best. I set off as many traps as I disarm.
I also wanted to mention the game's secret doors. Unlike the previous installments in the series--or, really, almost every other dungeon crawler--you don't have to go bashing headfirst into every wall surrounding an unmapped square. There are secret doors, but they don't work that way. Instead, you open them by finding a button to press, or through some kind of puzzle-solving, like using a miner's pick on a recently-built wall. The "scout" skill occasionally clues you in to the presence of such puzzles.
|Good thing I found a shovel nearby.|
In playing games like this, my normal strategy is to map as far as I can go in a particular direction. Then, if a locked door or puzzle defeats me, I mark it on the map with a yellow square, head back, and try a different direction. Almost inevitably, I'll collect some item (like a key) that will cause me to return to the yellow square, solve the puzzle or open the door, and move onward. I figure as long as I still have open paths, I'm doing all right. But I start to get nervous when I leave too many yellow squares too far behind me, and in my case a couple of them are back at the castle. Here's my full list right now:
- In the castle's main hall, the portcullis leading back out the way I originally came in. I assume that it's just closed permanently until the end of the game.
- There's a stairway from the main hall of the castle that takes me up to a small corridor ending at a locked door. Behind the door, I can hear bleating. I don't have a key for this door.
|Goats bleat, right? Goats?|
- In the dungeon level of the castle, there's another stairway that goes up to a locked, grated door. (For those who really care, the stairway is about five squares to the east of a room where searching some bones produces an undead enemy who laughs at you. It's exactly two squares north of another stairway that goes to the main hall.)
- On the lowest level of the castle, consisting of a long corridor, there are two doors I can't open: one grated door (the first you come to), and a door at the end with a mask on it that seems to want a pair of jewels.
|The obvious thing would be to find the jewels, but I haven't encountered any yet.|
- I found the "king's journal" in the castle, but it's encrypted and I haven't found any way to decode it.
- Near the mountain, there's something that says "drawbridge control panel," but I can't open it because it's rusty.
- On the first mine level, there are two locked, grated doors beyond one of the areas of darkness. They don't open with the only key I've discovered here (the "Key of A Miner"), which seems to open all the other doors I've found.
- The wizard trapped in the prism. A "miner's chisel" seems to have some effect on the prism, but not enough to destroy it completely.
- At the top of the mountain--the area that I went through all the trouble to fix the catapult to access--is the "Guardian of the Rock." He takes one of my boulders and happily munches it and lets me talk to him, but he won't contribute anything useful and if I tell him I'm there to "take the rock," he engages me in combat and absolutely slaughters me.
|Calm down, bro. No one said you weren't.|
If any of these locations seem like something I should have been able to get past based on my location in the game, a very light hint would be appreciated. But I'm not in any way "stuck"; there's still an entire area of the caverns, labeled "Wizard's Cave," I've yet to explore, as well as some stray passages near the mountain.
|My current map of the mountain area.|
As I close, all of my characters are Level 8, and development has slowed considerably. I can understand why people start looking forward to changing classes.
The next post will be my big combat and magic review, but due to some business, I might not be able to play again until late in the week. In the meantime, if I can find time to clean it up, you'll get a post on another old game.