Tuesday, March 8, 2022

WarWizard: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

They need to cut down that subtitle.
United States
MicroGenesis (developer); published as shareware
Released in 1993 for Amiga, 1994 for DOS
Date Started: 30 December 2021
Date Ended: 3 March 2022
Total Hours: 64
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
WarWizard ultimately consisted of a simple formula repeated multiple times:
  • In each land, you must find one or two pieces of the WarWizard's gear.
  • Each piece is in a different dungeon.
  • Most of the dungeons have locked doors for which you must first find keys.
  • NPCs in the various cities tell you where to find the WarWizard items and keys.
  • The most valuable NPCs are usually the rulers of the land, which also may require a key to access.
For the most part, the NPCs are optional. About half the time, I found the necessary keys or items on my own without talking to the appropriate NPCs, or before talking to them. Only at the end, when you learn about the wizard who must accompany you to the final dungeon, is anything an NPC says of vital importance.
Somehow, the key to the Evil One's castle is available for sale in a shop.
When I last wrote, I had just opened up the northern parts of the final two lands, and I had identified several towns and dungeons for further exploration.

I began with the three towns on the western coast: Ordsway, Bear Hill, and Wavewatch. Each was occupied by halflings, but fortunately I had learned halfling in some previous town. The various NPCs directed me to the halfling king in Bear Hill. He told me that the WarWizard's armor would be found in the dwarven kingdom, Thargrim, accessible from a mountain entrance. To get in, I would need a key from the halfling king's chambers, but first I needed a key to get into the chambers. The key shop in Wavewatch sold this latter key plus a key to "the Evil One's front door," which was the fortress at Kaer Maegil.
Wavewatch also sold ships, which excited me because it's on the northwest corner of the land. I thought that at last I might be able to circumnavigate the continent. But alas, the area I could explore was limited. Between this and my previous experiences with ships, I realized there's a hard border around the continent beyond which ships won't pass. Sometimes, the land runs right up to this border, thus preventing you from sailing into the open ocean. Because of this, there were still a few odd bays and bits of coastline that I was never able to explore.
I'm at the southern border of the game here. Since the land goes all the way to the border, I can't sail any further east from this point.
I was able to explore the inland sea that sits between Kraenn and Aladain. It had an island in the center with yet another dungeon called Felkaer. As if that wasn't enough, a teleporter on this island took me to the far east side of Aladain, to the back side of the castle (Gildain) with all of the monsters in front of it. There was yet another town in this area, called Pelthaire. It also sold ships, but I couldn't explore any new places with them. They basically just served to cross the strait and back to the game's starting point in Cara.
A new dungeon!
The dwarven kingdom wasn't hard, as the dwarves were friendly. From the main halls, I had to find the keys to access two sets of mines crawling with pit fiends, which were not nearly as hard as their D&D counterparts. The mines were depicted graphically as having heaps of gold, and occasionally a chest icon allowed me to loot a few thousand pieces.
The dwarf halls had an interesting new aesthetic.
The mines culminated in a battle with a balrog (of course). He attacked with 7 pit fiends but then proceeded to slaughter them all himself with a spell that reflected off my characters. This happened a few times, and I'm not precisely sure what the mechanism was. Anyway, the balrog's death left a chest in his square, which had the WarWizard's suit of armor.
Felkaer was a set of dragon caves, most of them friendly. I had learned dragonish in one of the halfling villages, so I could speak to them. Alas, none would join my party. It was a lot like the dwarven mines, with heaps of treasure.
Heaps of gold and a friendly gold dragon.
There was an odd bit at the beginning of the dragon caves. A large cave had a huge mass of cat-related enemies like lions and tigers. There seemed to be a human figure in the middle of them, and I figured he was some kind of useful NPC, so I fought through the other big cats to reach him. When I got to him, he attacked. The game told me I was facing "black panthers," and at that point I realized that the "humanoid figures" looked a lot like black men with afros raising their fists in the air. The encounter had no other purpose and left me no items. I'm not sure if the developers were trying to make some kind of social commentary or if the graphic artist misinterpreted what he was being asked for. Either way, it ought to be the right fist, I think.
This weird big cat area.

You decide.
After about an hour exploring the caves, I found Ferenath, Lord of the Evil Dragons, guarding a door. He attacked alone and thus was not very difficult. (I guess I could have used my dragon-slaying arrows but I never did.) Beyond the door was a treasure room with the WarWizard's sword. I now had all of the gear.
That missing icon really screws up this image.
The fortress of Orogan was just another mountain-pass-blocking fortress. There was nothing to do there. Once I cleared out a few enemies, I could pass through it at my will. I chose to approach Gildain from the west (thanks to the teleporter) rather than fight all the enemies piled up in front of it. The town was still occupied by good forces; I guess the idea is that the enemy icons are all laying siege to the place.
Ignoring the besieging enemies, I approach Gildain's back door.
It was in Gildain that I learned of a wizard held captive in the tower of Talakir. It was said that only he knew the spell to break through the barrier in the Evil One's fortress. As I mentioned last time, Talakir is the name of two towers fairly close to each other, and I think whichever one you enter, you exit the other. It was a confusing multi-leveled place full of teleporters, but I eventually found the wizard in question, Genethar. I had to dump my own wizard to accommodate him to the party.
Genethar comes with a single memorized casting of "Wizard Portal," a spell not found in any books nor even among Genethar's own known spells. So if you're frigging around and happen to cast it, you're out of luck--it's walking dead from that point forward. 
Genethar is a pretty powerful wizard. My WarWizard, ironically, never leveled as a wizard at all.
Before assaulting Kaer Maegil, I made one final circuit of the cities, buying any attribute-boosting potions I'd missed before. I managed to get almost everything up to 25 or 26. Then I headed for the endgame.
Kaer Maegil begins with a locked door that you need the key from Wavewatch to open. After that, you cross a lava bridge and enter a hall with two demonic statues and two force fields. The second one won't let you pass until you have Genethar cast "Wizard Portal." I don't know the purpose of the first one. I thought it might be to stop you if you don't have all the WarWizard gear, but I tried dropping some of the pieces, and it still let me through. Frankly, I'm not 100% sure that finding all of the gear was necessary. It was better than regular equipment, sure, but nowhere was it crucial. I never even used the bow and arrows.
We strolled through the first force field; Genethar got us through the second.
I ignored side passages and drove the party down the center hall. There were fixed combats with flesh golems, green dragons, plains giants, black dragons, balrogs, and a dragon king before I came to the Evil One's throne room.
The Evil WarWizard attacked with six dark masters and dark lords. As a mirror of the WarWizard, he had a set of powerful attacks and defenses, but he was vulnerable at the neck. I forgot about the dark whatevers and focused on him, using healing spells just about every round to keep from dying. Genethar did die, but we killed the Evil WarWizard in the fourth round, and after that it was just mop-up. Once the battle was over, I got the message at the top of the screen. I could keep playing, but no one had any new dialogue.
The Evil WarWizard looks a lot like me!
Let's just go right to the GIMLET:
  • 4 points for the game world. The backstory was fine, but there were some missed opportunities here to make the various kingdoms come alive with history and lore. We get a broad sketch of each kingdom in the manual, but nothing that makes you particularly excited to explore individual towns or dungeons. A game of this length should have tried harder with the narrative.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. Unfortunately, this is another weak part of the game. The creators' disdain for traditional leveling means that you spend most of the game feeling like you're getting no development at all. In 64 hours, my main character went from Level 0 to Level 2 with his primary weapon and armor. The major improvements come from inventory and attribute-boosting potions. And there's no creation except for a name.
  • 3 points for NPC Interaction. Another missed opportunity. The game doesn't even give names to most of the NPCs, even key ones like kings and queens. They info-dump some hints on you but have no personality. The "Bribe" button is used two or three times; I never found a use for the "Threaten" button. It's cool that so many diverse NPCs can join the party, although by the end I felt I could have taken on the enemies by myself.
A rare NPC who requires a bribe.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are D&D derivatives. Some of them (like most undead) are severely lacking in any real power, but among them are a mix of enemies with ranged attacks, melee attacks, and spells. 
  • 4 points for magic and combat. There's a seed of a good system here, but it needed refinement. For instance, a tactical grid is most useful when there are terrain considerations and obstacles. The whole "body part" system was too simplistic to be effective, and there are only a few rare items to use in combat. Most disappointing was the spell system; having only five spell slots and requiring an inn to restock them greatly limits the importance of spells, and I never explored more than five or six of the several dozen possibilities the game comes with. Offensive spells often didn't work and were nearly impossible to target.
A shot from the final battle.
  • 5 points for equipment, one of the stronger parts of the game and one of the primary mechanisms of getting stronger. I like that you have so many equipment slots (including 10 ring slots!), and with four characters you're almost always on the verge of an upgrade. Tying experience levels to particular weapons and armor was a good idea that would have been better if you gained more than two levels in 60 hours. The big problem here is that there's no indication as to what most wearable magic equipment does--for instance, how an elven cloak +3 differs from a magic cloak +3, or what an Amulet of Force does and how it differs from a magic collar or a Necklace of Force.
  • 6 points for the economy. With expensive items, potions, ships, spells, and resurrections, the economy remains relevant for the entire game. The whole business by which shops would "fill" and thus not let you sell looted gear got old fast, though.
  • 3 points for a main quest in multiple steps. Still, a game of this length really needed some side quests.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I give the game some credit for some effective sound effects (including digitized voices). The graphics are not the best examples we've seen even in tiled games, and the interface really needed some more work. The whole "key" fiasco could have been avoided with a more intuitive interface, and while the authors at least tried to make use of the keyboard as well as the mouse, there are too many inconsistencies in keys and too many times that the mouse is the only option.
This screen has way too much going on.
  • 4 points for gameplay. It gets some points for nonlinearity (although there's an obvious path) and I suppose the right average difficulty, although it's extremely variable throughout the game. It's not replayable and it's far too long.
That gives us a final score of 38. That's where I wanted it to be. It deserves to nudge a bit into "recommended" territory. In some ways, it's a remarkable achievement for a pair of independent authors, and it's certainly better than most shareware offerings. 
WarWizard comes with a preview of its sequel, WarWizard 2: Into the Domain of the Dark Gods, originally scheduled for a 1995 release. Some demo versions apparently made it out on shareware CDs. It's a nice-looking game. It has continuous movement across an axonometric map, with combat occurring on the same screen as exploration. The interface is significantly simplified, and specific body part damage was retained. The game makes good use of the mouse for mouse-specific things, like clicking on things to activate them or dragging items to and from inventory. It seems to owe some inspiration to Ultima VII, but it's too late in the chronology for me to detect all its influences. I put it on my 1995 list to see how far I could get in the demo.
The interface really emphasizes the hell out of those ring slots.
As we know, WarWizard 2 brought the programming team--Brad McQuaid and Steve Clover--to the attention of John Smedley, an executive at Sony Interactive Studios America. He convinced them to forget about it and come work for him building what would eventually become EverQuest. I've never played EverQuest, but based on videos I've seen, it seems to draw nothing from the WarWizard games. Certainly, the team got over their dislike for leveling. I guess it has a food mechanic, but so do a lot of games. Apparently, McQuaid's in-game character had the unique class of "WarWizard." McQuaid died in 2019 at the age of 50. I tried to reach Clover to talk about WarWizard, but either none of my messages got through or he didn't feel like responding.
I'm glad I was able to finish WarWizard, but I wouldn't have minded if it had involved four pieces of gear and thus lasted half the time. Time to shake off the dust and start making some progress.


  1. Glad you managed to break through to the end on this one, it definitely had a bit of 'game archaeology' feel in this case.

  2. The black panther fight feels like an intentional joke rather than an error or meaningful social commentary, since you mentioned it was in a cave of big cats, just along the lines of "Wouldn't it be funny if instead of a literal black panther this enemy was drawn as a member of the Black Panther Party?" Other RPGs you've covered seem to have bizarre jokes like that often enough that it'd be my assumption.

    1. Yeah, seems like a pretty standard pun-style enemy. Seems like something you would find in a Might & Magic game.

    2. Killing black panthers? Maybe the game was made by FBI agents.

    3. A bit poor taste all considered but I agree, a joke made by people who didn’t really think it through

    4. I might not have been clear about this, but the dungeon is a DRAGON dungeon that just has this random cave of big cats. So the cats don't even work thematically. As a joke, it feels forced. They had to set it up to make it.

    5. Wouldn't this be an easter egg? Albeit, one that probably shouldn't have been easy to find, in order not to break with the tone of a game that's otherwise unlike M&M.

    6. To me the guy looks more like he's performing a 70s disco dance than an aggressive gesture.

  3. So this game has 16-colour graphics with double-tall pixels? I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Many double-wide pixels on Commodore 64 and Japanese computers, but never TALL.

    1. This is where someone usually comes in to remark that I set something up wrong in DOSBOX.

    2. No, there are definitely a small subset of games that use that exact same setup. The first Warlords is another example. It's never not weird.

    3. Double-tall was a thing on the Amiga - it could run 320x256 with lots of colours, or 640 x 256 with fewer. Obviously the latter was more designed for business, but it was also used for strategy games such as Civiisation.

    4. PCs with EGA offered 640x200x16.

      NTSC Amigas offered 640x200x16 (60Hz); PAL Amigas supported 640x256x16 (50Hz).

    5. Don't a lot of EGA modes for VGA games do that? The only actual examples I can think of are VGA games with CGA modes that use the big B&W setting, but I admittedly don't mess around with graphic modes very much these days.

    6. No, not a lot of EGA modes for VGA games do that. Most EGA modes for VGA games use the same resolution (i.e. 320x200) with fewer colors, because that is much easier on the programmer.

  4. Congratulations!
    I don't think many people have completed this one.

  5. "It's not replayable and it's far too long."

    Thought so...

    1. A curse that still persists in many games nowadays.

  6. Glad to see you saw it through.
    Seeing the rather bland ending screen makes me wonder, have (so far) any of these non-professional games had an ending that wasn't disappointing in some way? Granted, that's a problem that plagues professional RPGs too, but it seems to hit the amateur ones particularly hard.

    1. Chet gave Questron bonus points just for the ending:


      (Questron was published by SSI but it was developed independently by an amateur.)

  7. Reading about WarWizard was an enjoyable adventure as a reader, thanks! Definitely won't be playing it, though I think I might have attempted it when it first came out.

    Never a good sign when there's an egregious spelling error in the final/winning text...

  8. Congrats on making it through!

    "Somehow, the key to the Evil One's castle is available for sale in a shop." -> Hehe, this is a new variation on the many tropes about big baddies being careless and some things being senseless in CRPGs, in line with e.g. hints scribbled on dungeon walls and other such helpful conveniences.

  9. There is a contemporaneous review of the unregistered, i.e. not full version, in an Amiga reviews newsgroup in October 1994:

    It also complains e.g. about the interface and save mechanism and even has a short GIMLET-style rating at the end.


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