Friday, October 25, 2013

Wizardry VI: Cry Me a River

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: Valkyrie 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.

Right. "Gaze."

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.

Four 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.


  1. Oratory does not affect the spell power in any way, it only reduces the chance of fizzling or backfiring (which can really be a pain in the ass with mass-damage spells) your spells. The magical skills, like theology or alchemy, do only unlock new spells. You want these skills at 98 or 99 to unlock the possibility to learn the best tier spells.

    1. Note also that some of the magic schools (alchemy at least, maybe psionics too?) do not depend on oratory. This also means that they are immune to silencing effects.

    2. Heh, I got a nasty surprise first time I met a group of Drow Elves, cast Silence on them, and they still nuked my party with Alcehmy spells...


    Penalizing the game for not telling you equipment stats in-game without using Identify is a bit unfair, given that I can't think of any CRPGs prior to Baldur's Gate that give you *any* way to see stats in-game at all. I remember noting at the time how novel it was that you could do this in Wiz 6.

    Regarding traps: There is no danger in having your whole party inspect a chest for traps. They will generally each add at least one letter's worth of hints, even if they don't have the skullduggery skill. I would suggest having your skullduggery characters inspect last, though, as your non-skullduggery characters are more likely to get things wrong.

    1. The gold box series showed attacks, damage, and AC on the status screen. If equipping something and seeing the stats change counts, then there's lots of games pre-BG.

      I assume what you meant was individual item tooltips. - Something wiz6 did, but the implementation was cumbersome.

    2. I would also suggest that after having all the characters guess that you make use of the identify trap spell. It won't disarm the trap, so your character will still get all the glory for successfully disarming it.

    3. I only finally got that spell towards the end of the game. I didn't like the idea of wasting a spell selection on something that all the points I'd been pouring into "Skullduggery" should have been able to accomplish.

      HunterZ, where did I indicate that I was "penalizing" the game for that? I don't have any problem with requiring the player to cast "identify" or to pay for identification. The problem I have is with the unnecessarily cumbersome system for trading equipment about so that can happen.

    4. You prefaced that section with "I don't love the game's approach to gear," so I guess I misread everything that follows as a laundry list of gripes :)

    5. Didn't Might and Magic have all the stats in a big table in the manual?

    6. Two year belated response--no, it was in the clue book.

  3. Bugbrains seems to be taken straight out of the Alice in Wonderland Disney movie:

    1. He also appears in the original book. I'm surprised Chet didn't recognize him. He's not exactly a subtle character, and he's shown up in every major adaptation of Alice in Wonderland I can think of.

    2. I mentioned the Disney adaptation specifically because it looked like the closest visual match, at least Tenniel's illustration looks a bit different. But that's of course just a guess.

    3. I never read Alice in Wonderland or saw any of its adaptations, so I'm only familiar with a few of the characters and themes (e.g., one pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small). Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Well, strictly speaking, characters like the Amazulus aren't, in fact, naked. There are a lot of bare breasts on display in this game however. :)

    1. Technically speaking, "naked" has multiple definitions, one of which is indeed "not covering up the breasts, anus, and/or genitals."

    2. I don't see anything offensive or weird in depicting (fantasy) characters from various sources how they are usually pictured: Amazons, mermaids, succubus-type demons... they all seem to be majorly depicted (half-)naked in folkore and tales. I fail to see how this has to do with a certain infantility of the designers.

      Instead, it is acutally good that there are developers who do not take part in the usual bigotry that can be seen in some parts of the world where you can show gallons of blood and loads of gore but, oh noes, not a single bare breast or even a little skin.

    3. This goes back to that thing about the author getting in the way of his own work. Nudity isn't a bad thing in itself, but it gets incredibly creepy when it's done seemingly just to titillate the author and provide fan service.


    4. I think in Wiz 6 Bradley was trying to capture some of the mood of classics like Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness and probably more "baroque" books that I haven't read. HoD had native, spear throwing (and probably not wearing much clothes) savages. Not Zulus, though, but most people know what Zulus and Amazons are, so "Amazulus" (instead of something wholly original) is something you have a reference to.

      Also, the story is much more subtle than just about any other CRPG of the DOS era - NPCs actually lie to you without it being obvious. Contrast that to Champions of Krynn, for example, where it's painfully obvious that Skylah is a lying, conniving bastard.

    5. I think BelatedGamer summarizes my feelings nicely: "incredibly creepy when it's done seemingly just to titillate the author and provide fan service." Petrus, you're not going to convince me that numerous depictions of unnaturally full, bare breasts deserve credit for adhering to some kind of thematic authenticity.

      In regards to your last paragraph, I finished the game earlier and got the impression that the queen's ghost had been lying, but I didn't catch that from other NPCs. Were there others that you had in mind?

    6. Not from NPCs, I don't think, but there's items you find that make you believe that contradict her story, iirc?

  5. The samurai battle is where I got stuck. I had fought varying strengths of minions but never saw him by himself. Now I know that's possible I'm very tempted to go back and give it another go - especially since I killed him a few times only to be taken out by his troops.

    On the other hand, I think I'm getting as much satisfaction from your walkthrough as from actually playing.

  6. I had to do this fight 8 or 9 times and i always got the Haiyato, 6 Samurai, 3 Ninja - combo. Finally managed to beat them with the Nuclear Blast spell.

    Btw: you don't need to defeat the samurai (or valkyrie or knight or ranger) to win the game. It's optional, though you get excellent equipment after defeating them.

  7. Great read as always, I find these older games really interesting to read about, all the little tricks and secrets that you can find is something that modern games are missing!
    While they usually have a steep learning curve, after you get used to them it's a pleasure to play.
    keep it up!

  8. Wizardy 6 has multiple endings and because of something you did above, you already made a decision on them.

    And, if I may add, while you still have 2 possible endings available, you have already discarded the best one.

    However, regardless of your choice, the story masterfully makes you believe you've made the right decision, and that's the best part of Wizardry 6.

    1. Yeah, I was trying to figure out how to warn him about that without spoiling it, and I couldn't figure out how.

      Now that you're past it, Chet, can we spill the beans?

    2. Dropping the Silver Cross before meeting Rebecca and the King brings the best ending. If the story proceeds like that, it is proven the Queen was crazy and trying to set up the King and Rebecca. You later befriend Bella and get the best beginning on Wizardry 7 plus an item that becomes important on either Wizardry 7 or, if you don't use it there, on Wizardry 8.

  9. Well, about the nudity, I think it was the norm for 80s fantasy from what I recall, so nothing special there from the author that wasn't also seen on fantasy art for some hard rock/heavy metal bands, comics, etc.

    1. Personally I think it's only natural with females like tropical savages, mermaids and succubi being topless/naked. I think "chain mail bikinis" and the ultra formulaic scantily clad prepubescent girls of anime artwork are more problematic.

    2. So did I. Wonder why Chet seems so jumpy about them. It's not like these creatures exist in our world and adhere to our social norms.

    3. "Liberals" have a tendency of imposing the norms and values of their own time and place to everything. So even if something is perfectly natural within the invented or historical period depicted in fiction, be it on matters regarding slavery, sexuality, class, gender, nudity etc, the "liberals" will complain about "racism", "sexism" etc, and look for it with a zealous righteousness.

    4. In my experience "conservatives" are the ones that seem to be the most prudish about nudity...

    5. That depends. The current discussion is more characteristic of the "leftists" - postcolonial guilt, sexploitation, etc, etc.

    6. That used to be the case some decades ago. At least in my neck of the woods.

    7. Ninjaed by VK. My reply was to HunterZ. I agree with VK.

    8. Sorry, do we really have to turn this into a political debate? I think this is a blog about RPG and not cons vs. liberals, right vs. left etc....

    9. Everything turns into a political debate eventually - that's the bane of democratic societies )))

    10. VK - lol :) Actually, Clausewitz would agree with you to some extent...war is an extension of politics by other means, and in many CRPGs involve a lot of fighting to change the political nature of a world.

      If any of the more popular games that I know the story arch of so far was going to turn into a political debate, I would have placed my money on Ultima V. I haven't read all the comments on that game and I haven't personally completed the game, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that at a minimum, the beginning of the game is painting a relatively grim picture of the idea of people giving minimum amounts, with the government as a pass-through, to certain other groups of people. That notion of legislated state-run and state-enforced morality was undoubtedly one of the great evils in that game world.

      (Wow, I really need to be more careful...accidentally did a completely new comment instead of posting on this thread the first time.)

  10. It wouldn't surprise me if Harquin was also naked beyond the bounds of the portrait frame.
    Also, what's up with the dice on the spell screen?

    1. The dice are the number of points you channel into the spell--literally the number of dice that the game rolls to determine damage and other factors.

  11. Hmm...I think I now understand some of the reverence this series enjoys among the "hardcore" rpg players. The series was never about looks, but always difficult and dark. On the one hand, if you enjoyed the gameplay you were forgiving about its old-fashioned looks, maybe even defensive about them. On the other hand, the story here was pretty dark, defnititely not for children. no, directed at adults. And the nudity fits in there. It's a feverish, demonic atmosphere. That's maybe a bit different from the seriousness of the high difficulty of the previous Wizardries, but the games always presented themselves as a challenge. There were designed to appeal to "serious" players.

    Anyway, about the nudity, to my knowledge there are no "mainstream" CPRGs that feature male primary sexual characteristics. It's always women with the scant clothing.

  12. I have fond memories of this game, but it showcases several poor uses of randomness in game mechanics.

    1. Character Creation - The number of bonus points you get when creating a character is random (and high values are rare). In order to create characters in the elite professions, like Samurai, Ninja, Lord, Valkyrie, you need pretty high bonus points. The game (or at least the hint book) encourages you to invest lots of time to get good rolls (saying "It's common" to spend two hours creating characters and encouraging you to "get a cup of coffee" while you wait). What an awful bit of "gameplay" to put right at the beginning of a new player's quest! It's simply an exercise in patience and how much time the player is prepared to waste.

    I would prefer a design that give you a fixed number of bonus points to allocate as you see fit.

    2. Leveling Up - This game has an unusual amount of variability in stat increases at character level up. Sometimes you get no stat increases and sometimes you get tons. As the Addict noted, after leveling up, if you go back to an earlier save and level up again, you can get a totally different result. This creates an incentive for the player to keep reloading after getting level ups to get a good number of stat increases. But why is that a good mechanic? If the game insisted on having such randomness in level ups, it would be better if it was deterministic (by using a random seed set at character creation) so that reloading and re-leveling would always produce the same result.

    3. Boss Fights - Perhaps the most indefensible! As the Addict notes above, the type and number of enemies in some of the fixed Boss fights varies dramatically across reloads. Isn't the point of a Boss fight to present the player with a fixed challenge where if they fail they need to rethink their tactics or make their characters stronger to overcome? What purpose does making the difficulty random serve? It encourages you to just keep doing the same thing when you lose and hope the Boss shows up with no allies.

    It's still one of my favorites, but I don't get what they were thinking on these aspects (apart from wanting to pad the playtime spent in character creation).


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