|The game produced some...interesting...enemies.|
When I first started playing Wizardry VI, it felt like a very different game than its predecessors, and I cynically thought that it only kept the title to cash in on the franchise's established name. But now that I'm some distance into the game, I can see how well it evolves, rather than revolutionizes, the earlier game's approaches.
Consider, for instance, how Wizardry I and V offered a town at the top of the dungeon, where you could occasionally rest, buy equipment, and recharge your spell points. At the beginning of VI, it seemed that it offered no comparable "home." However, the more I play, the more I realize the castle serves that purposes. All roads eventually lead back to it, and it has a couple of NPCs who sell and buy equipment and a selection of healing fountains.
The early Wizardry games (aside from IV, which I'll leave out of the discussion for obvious purposes) offered dungeons of 10 or so levels, each subsequent level deeper into the earth. But instead of always insisting that your progress through the dungeon took you farther and farther from safety, the games offered elevators, portals, secret stairs, and other shortcuts to return quickly from lower levels. Similarly, VI keeps offering shortcuts to return back to the main castle. The result is that after a series of expeditions that took me farther and farther from my origin point, I found that I'd ultimately come full circle, and that the next pathway open to me was back where I'd started.
We see the similarities in a lot of small ways: the first-person exploration, the six-character party, the variety of equipment. It's graphics are marginally better, but it essentially replaces monotonous wireframe dungeon walls with monotonous brick dungeon walls. Even some of this game's novelties, like the new races and classes, are just extensions of the themes established in earlier games.
This game's debt to its predecessors is also clear in combat. In broad strokes, it hasn't changed much at all. Enemies can attack in multiple groups of multiple enemies each. Each character chooses whether to fight, parry, use an item, cast a spell, equip a different item, or flee. After each character has made a selection, you execute the combat round and watch the results.
|Analogous screens from Wizardry VI and the original Wizardry.|
Small things nonetheless make the quality of combat a bit different from the earlier games:
- The spell system is entirely re-vamped (a subject I'll cover at length in the next posts).
- The skill system imparts some additional tactics associated with developing weapon skills and choosing the best weapon for a particular combat.
- The ability to dual-wield weapons introduces another tactical consideration.
- There are different classes of weapons, some of which work at short range and some of which work at longer ranges. With the right party order and selection of weapons, every member can theoretically attack in a single round.
- The multiple-attacks-per-round system is different. In earlier games, as the character developed and you got multiple attacks per round, you executed them all at once. In this one, second and subsequent attacks execute later in the combat round from the primary attack.
- There are far more items of different types to use in combat.
Perhaps the most important difference, however, is the way that the game's approach to saving and death completely change the tactical nature of dungeon exploration. Any long-time reader has heard me cover this issue ad nauseum in posts on Wizardry, Might & Magic, and similar games, but I'm nonetheless going to cover it again here, because the way a game approaches combat in many ways defines its challenges and, consequently, how fun it is to play.
Though they're all first-person, multi-character dungeon crawlers with turn-based combat systems, Wizardry I, Wizardry VI, and Might & Magic are all distinguished by slightly different approaches to combat based on three factors:
- The method by which characters can restore hit points and spell points
- The circumstances under which the player can save.
- The consequences of death
(There are of course many other facets of combat that distinguish these games from, say, Pool of Radiance or Dungeon Master, but we'll have to leave such a complex discussion for another time.)
The first Wizardry had the harshest approach to all of these considerations. You could only restore spell points (and, thus, hit points) by returning to the surface. This was also the only way you could really "save," but saving was a bit meaningless in the game since death was permanent. This meant that the player had to think in terms of the expedition rather than just individual fights. You had to carefully decide how long to extend yourself in the dungeon before returning to the safety of the castle to heal, restore spells, train, and rest. It wasn't enough to just win a single battle and throw all your resources into it; you had to be worried about the battle that came next. A party on Level 7 that was victorious but exhausted and wounded was a party that would soon be dead. And then you'd have to restart with new characters at Level 1. Dungeon exploration was mildly terrifying.
Might & Magic's approach was less harsh. Although you could only save by returning to an inn--imparting some of the same considerations as to how far to extend yourself--death was not permanent. Moreover, you could restore hit points and spell points by simply sleeping wherever you wanted, usually with no risk of attack. To compensate for the relative ease that this approach offered, the game made individual encounters and combats much more deadly. You might have thought you were doing well after winning six battles with orcs and elves, but suddenly you'd hit a square with seven dragons and lose 45 minutes of progress. The player learned to ask "how much do I want to risk the next step?" But if he could survive a single combat, he could restore all his hit points and spell points immediately and get himself to relative safety. The game thus became about the difficulty of individual encounters rather than the accumulation of encounters, and the worst you faced was the loss of some adventuring time rather than the entire character.
Now we come to Wizardry VI. You can save literally anywhere and without much effort. Death of an individual character means the use of a "resurrect" scroll or an Amulet of Life, neither of which is scarce, with no penalty. Death of the entire party means a reload from the last save, likely only minutes before. Restoring hit points and spell points is a matter of sleeping. Although it doesn't restore both instantly as in Might & Magic, there's no penalty to sleeping multiple times, and generally speaking if you can survive a battle, you can heal yourself to full strength afterwards. Thus, like Might & Magic, the game's combat challenges are about individual combats and not the accumulation of combats, but unlike Might & Magic, there's no penalty for losing even individual combats. Every new combat against a boss-level creature or unfamiliar enemy can be regarded as essentially a practice round.
The end result is to make Wizardry VI's combat, for all its additional tactical considerations, a bit boring. When encountering a party of 6 undead pharaohs, I can meticulously plan my tactics, carefully selecting the right combination of attacks and spells, or I can just hold down the ENTER key and breeze through default attacks. The difference might mean that I end the combat with 33% of my hit points instead of 50%, but since restoring them is just a matter of casting and resting, that's no difference at all. I would never have dreamed of holding down the ENTER key in the first Wizardry.
When I last blogged, I was stuck on a couple puzzles in the mountain area, but they didn't last long. I freed the wizard Xorphitus from his diamond prison with a few strikes of the miner's chisel from the right locations. Upon achieving his freedom, he went into a long speech before expiring from old age.
The gist of his speech was that the titular "bane" of the Cosmic Forge (a magic pen) is a curse placed upon anyone who uses it while not standing within the "blessed altar" from which Xorphitus and the king stole it. Xorphitus used the pen to write of himself, the wizard who would "know all things in the universe," including how to defeat the bane. The universe responded by granting what Xorphitus wrote, but then rent him into two beings, each with partial knowledge. As this Xorphitus's spirit departed the world, he told me of his insane other half who would know the "where and when" of the pen, and he bade me seek him out.
Nearby, Xorphitus's apprentice, Mystaphaphas, lurked in a caged room. He had accidentally turned himself into a giant snake by using the Cosmic Forge to turn himself into someone who would be "dashing" and "attractive" to the queen. Little did he know that the queen had a fetish for snakes. He also had written that he'd be "safe" from the queen's wrath, a prophecy that worked itself out when the wizard locked his new "pet" in the room for 120 years. I fiddled around with various things to see if I could dispel his form, but I couldn't figure it out.
Based on clues form Mystaphaphas, I was able to use the Wizard's Ring--I found it somewhere in the caves--to open yet another door back in the castle, into an area full of treasure, which ultimately re-connected to the caves. Lots of short cuts like this open up as you play the game. I had to fight a "Demonic Hellcat" to get through, and it provided one of the more interesting animations in the game as well as one of the more challenging combats. He was capable of spitting fireballs and "blinking" in and out of attack range.
The wizard's lair in the castle also held his journal and a "spire key." Reading the journal filled in more of the back story associated with the castle's denizens. Apparently, the castle's vicar fell in love with the king's mistress, Annie, engaged in an affair with her, and fathered a child named Rebecca. I'd previously found a message that the king and queen had purchased the child for 100 gold pieces. Anyway, things apparently didn't end well for the lovers because the wizard's journal discusses his experiments on their bodies. He was able to reanimate Annie's corpse, and he locked it in one of the spire rooms. I had killed it ages ago, so it was interesting to know more of the story. With the vicar, he was able to capture his spirit and imprison it in another spire room, which the spire key opened.
When I opened the door, the vicar's demented spirit launched into a long speech to Annie, expressing remorse for breaking his vows and engaging in the affair. He indicated that he thought that the daughter was evil because she was "conceived from sin." At the end, he blew a horn around his neck and entered "the light," leaving a "Horn of Souls" behind.
|This was a little sad.|
The next major adventure took me to the pyramid of the Amazulus, the vaguely-African women whose portrait leads this post. The pyramid consisted of three upper levels and two dungeon levels and a whole mess of buttons and pits to navigate. The amazulus themselves came in several classes and they were pretty tough, using poisoned spears and arrows and casting fireballs and other high-level spells.
The women were the same "black women" I'd seen earlier from a distance. I don't know quite what to say about them. The nudity was a little unexpected (or would have been, if commenters hadn't spoiled it), but the graphics aren't good enough for anyone--not even the most Internet-deprived teenager of 1990--to find them seriously titillating.
|Judge for yourself.|
There were some discussions of racism in another post, but I can't really find them offensive. As a fusion of Amazons and Zulus, they don't really embody any particular world culture, and it would be absurd to argue that any depiction of non-Caucasians in a game is inherently racist. But I admit if the graphics were better, it would be vaguely uncomfortable, for role-playing reasons, to slaughter a bunch of nude women.
An encounter in the lower level of the pyramid drew from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the second-best of the trilogy, with a stone idol on an altar. Knowing my pop culture, I realized that I needed something to replace it with when I snatched it. I'd found an empty sack somewhere in the pyramid, and I remembered an area of corridor that ended in a pile of sand. Returning there, I filled the sack with sand, went back to the idol, and was able to deftly exchange it for the sack.
|This worked out better for me that Indiana Jones.|
The idol opened the way to the top of the pyramid, where I encountered the Amazulu queen and her high priestess. The first time, they immediately asked me if I was there to take the rock, just like the guardian at the top of the mountain. I said "yes," the queen demanded that I be sacrificed, and I entered combat with her, the high priestess (named Kuwali Kobona), and a bunch of other Amazulus.
I won the combat, but the queen's poisoned spear left half of my characters dead. Poison is odd in this game. It seems to have different levels of potency depending on what delivers it. That potency effects both the number of hit points you lose per round and how long it takes to wear off. In this case, I couldn't get it to wear off no matter how long I waited, and I didn't have any "cure poison" spells.
So I reloaded and tried the encounter again, this time saying "no" in response to the queen. The next question she asked is whether I'd brought her an offering, and I said "no" again--and was again attacked! But this time it was just the queen. I defeated her without taking more poison damage and took her spear for myself.
|A moment when the priestess's shield does its own censoring.|
Her high priestess, meanwhile, showed up as an NPC after the queen was dead. That was awfully understanding of her. She had a few things to trade and treated me with a little conversation.
ME: Who are you?M: Sorry about the queen.
KUWALI KUBONA: I am Kuwali Kubona, high priestess of Mau-mu-mu!
KUWALI KUBONA: I am Kuwali Kubona, high priestess of Mau-mu-mu!
K: That's very interesting...
M: Tell me of Mau-mu-mu.
K: Mau-mu-mu lives in the pool of fire!M: Fire? Yikes.
K: But first you must prove yourself!
M: Prove ourselves how?
K: By entering the pool of fire!
M: Put some clothes on.
K: I don't know about that...
Behind her was a long platform extending out over an abyss. It was full of fire, but some "foot powder" sold by Kuwali Kubona protected me. I reached the end and killed Mau-mu-mu on the other side, ultimately getting away with a ruby gem.
|This is the same game series that produced the god "La-La-Moo-Moo" in the last edition.|
At this point, I had two gems and I returned to the skull door in the basement of the castle. The gems opened it and led me to a new area with a horribly-animated river.
|What do you bet the Horn of Souls comes in handy soon?|
A few more notes:
- I found a chest at the top of the mountain. When I opened it, I found a note from Queequeg indicating that he'd already been there (following my instructions) and cleaned it out.
- My characters are now Levels 9 and 10 and I'm starting to think about changing their classes.
Still struggling to find adequate time this month, but I hope my postings pick up after this coming weekend.