|The party, now thoroughly evil, relaxes in town.|
Lots of Wizardry III playing over the last couple of days. I've mapped the first five levels completely and about half of Level 6. I think I'm only a few hours away from winning.
Now that I can see the dungeon in its totality, here's the setup: Level 1 is an introductory level. It's basically for grinding. Levels 2 and 4 are for predominantly good parties and Levels 3 and 5 are for predominantly evil parties. Through experimentation, I found that this means only that more than half of the non-neutral characters need to be of those alignments. You could go with 5 neutral characters and just swap the last one, or you can do what I did and start with an overwhelmingly good party (5/6) and then switch their alignments. As soon as 3 of them went to the dark side, I was able to get on the evil levels.
The primary goal of the good and evil levels are to find the Crystal of Good and Crystal of Evil. There were also elemental artifacts--an Amulet of Air, a Staff of Earth, a Rod of Fire, and Holy Water--found after fixed boss battles. Each of these items casts a useful spell, but I'm otherwise not sure if they're technically necessary for the endgame. Nothing has called for them yet.
After I finished exploring Levels 2 and 4, it was time to switch alignments. The process was easier than I thought. I just roamed Level 1, blowing through easy combats, until I found a friendly group of Garian guards. I attacked them. Two of my characters immediately switched. The next 30-40 minutes produced 3 more encounters with friendlies. In 2 of them, no one switched, but the third one finally left me with 3 evil characters and 2 good ones. This turned out to be enough to access Level 3. Later, I found other friendly encounters that switched the rest of them. In fact, the bigger difficulty was remembering that I needed to attack "friendly" parties from now on, lest I switch back.
This is pretty messed up from a role-playing perspective, though. Think about it. You have a party of pure-hearts trying to help the kingdom of Llylgamyn. But some message in the dungeon tells them that they need to understand evil to solve their quest. So after putting it off as long as they can, they come upon a group of affable guards who wish them no harm. Steeling their resolve, they draw swords and mercilessly slaughter them. Repeatedly. Meanwhile, the poor neutral thief who just joined the expedition to make a few bucks looks on horrified, as he soon becomes the least malevolent person in the party.
Because the game doesn't know whether you'll be starting good or evil, you can access either Level 2 or Level 3 from the castle on Level 1, and the battles on Levels 2 and 3 are pitched about equal. So are the battles on Levels 4 and 5. This means that, having grinded on Levels 2 and 4, I had a fairly easy time with 3 and 5, only to get slammed on Level 6.
|I just thought this was funny. What kind of master ninja are you?|
Scattered about Levels 2-5 are "Ships in Bottles" that you get after random encounters. They don't do anything when "used" and don't sell for anything, but I figured out through trial and error that having one in your possession allows you to cross the moat on Level 1 and access two staircases that go directly to Levels 4 and 5, making late game navigation a lot faster.
A lot of the stairways and key areas were blocked by riddles, most of them quite simple, but there were two that stumped me for a while. One was a simple demand for a password. Earlier, an NPC had said, "Tell them Abdul sent you," so I tried ABDUL as the password, to no avail. Later, I realized that the voice hadn't asked who sent me but rather what the password was. The answer was literally ABDUL SENT YOU.
The other was harder and a little unfair. It blocks the way to Level 6, so you can't avoid it. See if you can get it:
I had no idea what it was talking about. After a while, a tarot deck--with which I have no experience--occurred to me, and a quick Wikipedia search confirmed that a typical tarot deck has 78 cards. Not knowing what any of them were, I did some image searches and scanned several decks before I decided that the answer was probably CHARIOT. The card sometimes depicts two horses drawing a chariot ridden by a king with a crown. Other times, the chariot is drawn by sphinxes, or the king doesn't have a crown, or it's a modern deck that depicts a motorcycle or muscle car or something. Anyway, without the Internet, I have no idea how I would have solved the puzzle, and I have no idea what kids in 1983 did other than hurl insults at their computers.
|Not all of them are as obvious as this one.|
Level 3 was the hardest to map. The middle part of the level consists of a series of concentric "rings" of walls that appear when you move north or east from the starting point. Each of the gray walls in the map below isn't there when you're facing it from the west or south, but when you move, it suddenly appears behind you. The level is also notable for three consecutive squares with messages warning you not to go any further. If you step in the fourth square, you get teleported into solid rock and the entire party dies (and remember, this game has permadeath). You can't even send a new party to retrieve them. In 1983, I would have been tearing apart the floppy disk with my teeth.
Level 5 contained a large and pointless area of darkness, full of trap squares, and the only way out was to pay Abdul $5,000 or find the one teleportation square. The area wasn't only dark but also magic resistant, which really helped when I encountered large groups of necromancers, but not so much when I needed to cure poison or paralysis. Mapping in the dark isn't so hard until you lose track of where you are, or aren't sure that the keypress for the last turn actually registered, and then you're hopelessly screwed up.
|Level 5 with its areas of darkness and the Fung Priest temple to the west.|
"Abdul" showed up as an NPC several times throughout the levels, usually offering a quick trip back to the castle for $2,500 or $5,000, and I availed myself more than once when things looked grim. He also appeared on Level 5 to sell me the Rod of Fire for $25,000.
Oh, but to get to him, I had to pass through the "Temple of the Irascible Fung," which included numerous fixed battles with "Priests of Fung." The level had been relatively easy up to this point, so it seemed a little unfair to suddenly face multiple parties of multiple enemies, each capable of casting BADIAL (massive damage) and BADI (instant kill) spells. There are 6 such battles in the area and at least 4 are necessary to progress to Abdul and buy the staff. If there was only 3 groups, it was technically survivable: I had my lord and priest cast MONTINO (silence) on two groups while my mage cast MADALTO (mass ice damage) or LAHALITO (mass fire damage) on the third. But a fourth group, or an unlucky roll of the dice, meant instantly-dead characters.
|ONE group of these guys might have been fair.|
After several trips back to the castle with dead party members and a couple of reloads from my save disk when party members got turned to ash during the resurrection process, or when my whole party died, I resorted to a worse sort of cheating. When you enter an encounter, Wizardry saves your location to the save disk. Once the fight is over, the game saves the results to the disk. If you kill the game in the middle of the fight (once you realize it's going badly), you can reload and "restart an out party" from the "utilities" menu to get back to your pre-encounter state. The danger is that you immediately re-enter an encounter (a random one) and, once that's over, then face the original encounter again. If you have to do it multiple times in a row, you run the risk of your party getting weaker and weaker while still having to kill the same enemies that caused you to resort to such cheating in the first place. But sometimes you get lucky and get fewer enemies, or better rolls of the dice. Using this method, I limped through the area. I'm not proud of it, but the alternative--grinding for 300,000 more experience points until I got a TILTOWAIT (nuke) spell--didn't seem like something I'd do.
While I'm thinking about that, here's a major complaint about the game: while leveling is relatively rapid in the early stages, it tapers off very quickly after Level 10 or 11. Even on the higher floors, there are hardly any encounters that deliver thousands of experience points. (Those Fung priests should have been worth like 10,000, but they were only around 1,200.) My mage is currently Level 11 and has 164,132 experience points. To get to Level 13, where he'll finally get Level 7 spells, he needs 439,874. While I've been patient about grinding, there is simply no way to grind that much in this game and retain your sanity. That means I'll never get MALOR or find out what the "wish" spells do. By the way, the wish spells are stupid. You get HAMAN at Level 11 but you're not allowed to cast it until Level 13, by which time you have MAHAMAN. What possible reasoning is behind that?
Anyway, at long last I made it to Level 6. I soon discovered DUMAPIC doesn't work, but that's fine: I'm an old pro at mapping blind. Only two doors into the level, I encountered the dragon L'kbreth, who immediately attacked me. None of my attacks would hit him, all of my spells were "neutralized," and soon I was dead. A couple of reloads, attempting to use the elemental artifacts, produced no better results.
|"Surprise" didn't really help with this foe.|
I then took to messing around with the crystals for a while. I discovered that if I invoked the Crystal of Good, the character turned to ash, but if I invoked the Crystal of Evil, it fused the two crystals together into a Neutral Crystal. With the Neutral Crystal in hand, L'kbreath stopped attacking and told me to "go forward in peace."
|"Worthy?" You don't know what kinds of crimes we've had to commit to make it here.|
Not too long after L'kbreth, I ran into a statue holding a crystal sphere. It took my Neutral Crystal and gave me an unidentified Orb. Thinking this was the Orb of Earithin, I joyfully started hunting for the exit (the way back to the stairs had closed behind me in L'kbreth's room). Level 6 is a classic maze, and the enemies are a lot tougher than Level 5. (They include archdemons, hydras, cyclopes, and a samurai-looking warrior called a "Mifune," which I assume is an homage to Toshiro Mifune, the Japanese actor famous for The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Rashomon). But I was mostly only interested in mapping progress, so I didn't mind so much if the party died. I just reloaded, reacquired the Orb, and mapped a new direction.
|The famous "6 samurai" dismantle my party.|
Eventually, I found a teleporter back to the stairs and joyously returned to the town, only to find upon identification that I had an Orb of...Mhuuzfes. I thought that seemed too easy. Thus, I think what I have to do is re-visit the levels that have the Crystal of Good and Crystal of Evil, re-acquire them, fuse them again, and explore the top level a little more carefully. There must be another encounter somewhere that results in the real Orb of Earithin. Or maybe something that converts the Orb of Mhuuzfes into the Orb of Earithin or trades one for the other. I still have about 1/3 of the level to map.
A few closing notes:
- I generally like the spell system in the game. You get an increasing number of castings per spell level with each character level, up to a maximum of 9. At Level 11, for instance, my priest can cast 9 Level 1 spells, 9 Level 2 spells, 7 Level 3 spells, 5 Level 4 spells, 6 Level 5 spells, and 3 Level 6 spells. The limitations on the slots preserve the tactical challenge of the game, as they're only replenished when you return to the town. At the same time, there are some deficiencies. The mage has increasing levels of mass-damage spells (MAHALITO, LAHALITO, MADALTO) but lacks a good single-enemy spell. The priest gets some cool damage spells, but you basically have to preserve all her slots for the various healing spells (DIOS, DIAL, DIALMA, MADI), cure poison (LATUMOFIS), and cure paralysis (DIALKO), since tons of enemies cause the latter two conditions at higher levels.
- Here's another riddle. I tried DIE and DICE to no avail before realizing the more obvious answer.
- Even at the top level, the best weapons and armor my characters found were +2. The one exception is an "ebony blade" that I have in the hands of one fighter. I assume it's good.
- I forgot about helmets and gloves until very late in the game. The store sells them. I could have enjoyed -1 or -2 to my AC for the entire game.
|One fighter's character and equipment late in the game.|
- Unlike most games, including previous Wizardry titles (I think), when you look at teleportation squares straight on (without stepping into them), they show you their destination rather than their origin. You know there's a blank wall in front of you, but the square shows a massive room. It's pretty cool.
- It's not often that a game makes me laugh out loud with its monster names, but this one did:
- On the other hand, I'm not sure it's concept of a "vulture" is very accurate:
- At one point, something got corrupted in my inventory, and I was unable to use one of my slots. When I viewed that slot in Boltac's Trading Post, it turned out to contain an "**ERR**" that sold for $5,170,000. It took a lot of willpower not to take advantage of it.
As I play Wizardry III, I'm reminded how much I like the process of mapping old RPGs. Mapping is really a sort of puzzle--especially when you have to deal with tricks like teleporters, dark areas, and no-magic zones--and every room or corridor feels like a small victory. I've learned to treat mapping as its own "progress," irrespective of what's happening to my characters, and more than once my party has become so battered that I think of them as being on a suicide mission--just map as many more squares as possible until you (inevitably) die, so I can reload with a fresh party. This wouldn't be possible, of course, without the leeway I'm allowing myself to save every 30 minutes. Back in Wizardry, I would desperately cling to any hope of life.
I'm guessing one more post on the game, including the final rating, but do let me know if I'm off track with the Orb of Earithin. I know I should get back to MegaTraveller soon, but the problem with both it and Hard Nova is that I simply can't muster any interest in them. I'm not saying they're bad games--I haven't played long enough to assess that one way or the other--but for some reason they just leave me feeling blah. I'll try to rally myself nonetheless.