Review: Wizardry Online

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So after that long trip down the Wizardry memory lane, I’m going to spend a few moments to give my review of the first major Wizardry release in the US since Wizardry 8. Of course, I’m talking about Sony Online Entertainment’s latest Free-to-Play MMO, Wizardry Online.

If you are a frequent reader to the blog, you may know how excited I was for this game. When I first heard that Japan had an online version of Wizardry I was extremely jazzed at the prospects of a western version. I scoured the net for any news I could find. So passionate about Wizardry, was I, that when it was announced that SOE would be publishing a version of the game in English I rushed out and founded the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast. The show ran from June-November 2012. However, upon participating in the closed and open beta tests of the game, I became so disappointed with what I had seen that it killed my spirit regarding the game and I retired the podcast.

Despite my initial disappointment, I decided to give the game another honest chance upon release. I found that while a few of my initial gripes and complaints had been addressed, the game still left me a bit disappointed.

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Sony advertised Wizardry Online as being a triumphant return to the old days of RPG gaming. They tout the game as being for hardcore players only. They point to things such as always-on PVP, permadeath, and player corpse looting as examples. I found this claim to be a bit misleading. While all of these things are certainly possible, most of them don’t actually take effect until much later in the game. In Wizardry Online, when your character dies, you actually do have a chance to resurrect. This chance goes down the older and more powerful your character is. If you happen to fail a resurrection attempt, your character is reduced to ash. If you botch the resurrection of an ashed character… Well, it’s bye bye. It’s important to point out, that you can increase your chances of resurrection by sacrificing items. Interestingly enough, the items that tend to increase this chance the most are items bought with real money in-game store. AKA: The Royal Shop.

Yes, this game features a cash shop. Which in itself is not really an unusual option for free-to-play games these days. However, for a game like Wizardry Online, which features the chance that you might lose your character forever, it certainly changes things. Whenever a cash shop is involved, I prefer to see it filled with things like vanity items, mounts, costumes, etc. While the Royal Shop does feature some costume items, it also features items of advantage. One of the more popular things for sale are medals that protect your items from being looted off your corpse by other players. This is something that I tend to disagree with. An optional subscription is also available that bestows the player with experience perks and beneficial items.

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Pay-to-win controversy aside, I find the game itself to leave a lot to be desired. In a lot of ways Wizardry Online seems like a Wizardry game in name only. The combat system in the game is action based, and as a result success can be somewhat dependent on server stability. At the time of this writing, the game has been open to the public for a little over two weeks. And even today, server lag and stability is a major issue. Upon release, the game suffered from overcrowding and SOE’s servers buckled under the weight. It reminded me a lot of the problems Diablo III experienced upon release. Once the connection issues were resolved, the game suffered from massive server lag. Rubberbanding has also been a major issue. As a result, many North American players have resigned themselves to migrating to the less populated European servers to avoid crowding.

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Whereas cash purchases and twitch combat certainly don’t feel very “Wizardry-like”, there are a few nice throwbacks to be found in the game. The game features the standard core races and classes of the original Wizardry series. (For trademark reasons, Hobbits have been renamed to Porkuls.) An upcoming expansion in Japan will expand on this a bit and will add several of the advanced classes as well.

Character creation will be very familiar to legacy Wizardry players. It features a point assignment system that is complete with a randomly generated bonus roll. I found this to be a nice touch.

For me, the highlight of the game is its atmosphere. The dungeons have a feel and ambiance that are exactly what I hoped for. Things are dark and mysterious. The sounds are creepy and appropriate. The feel and mood are certainly a part of the game that the developers got right.

It’s important to note that success in this game is very dependent on playing with others. It is nearly impossible to solo through this game, especially in later dungeons. Of course, with the game being what it is, one must have companions they can trust. Teaming up with a stranger could result in an ambush. I fear this will be something that will turn many prospective players off. Wizardry Online is so radically different from other MMOs out there that many players will find their friends are simply uninterested.

I’m afraid that I do not see myself spending very many more hours with this title. For everything that it does right, it is overshadowed by everything it fails at. It is my predication that the game will end up with a small but very dedicated following. I only hope that it is profitable enough that the game remains up and running for years to come.

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Difficulty: Very Difficult – MMOs are always hard to gauge in terms of difficulty. But Wizardry Online is a unique exception. This game was designed to be difficult and hardcore. If that was the goal of the developers, they have certainly succeeded. This is not necessarily a negative. There are many gamers out there who are looking for a challenge. And by advertising the game the way they are, SOE is certainly not out to deceive anyone.

Story: This game actually has quite a bit of backstory and lore to be found in it. However, it’s not flashed before the player and one must be diligent to appreciate it. The Wizardry Renaissance universe that this game takes place in has proved itself to be a worthy successor to the old days of the Llylgamyn saga.

Originality: In terms of modern MMOs, Wizardry Online is certainly unlike any other. No one can ever claim the developers just used the tried and true cookie cutter format that most fantasy online games rely on. What makes the game unique is it’s balls-to-the-wall approach of doing things it’s own way. All the while, building off the basic elements of the preceding Wizardry series.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack to the game has several very catchy and appropriate tunes. Several others leave a lot to be desired. I own the official Japanese game soundtrack and I find myself skipping over many of the tracks. In game, they do tend to work better. But it’s a mixed bag.

Fun: The hardcore elements of this game will be a turn off for many players, yet it will also appeal to some. For me, I found the game to such a chaotic jumble that I was turned off by it. The combat system and UI was done very poor in my opinion and the game suffers as a result.

Graphics: This is hard one to gauge. The game doesn’t look bad…. but yet it doesn’t look all that good either. The graphics seem to be a bit on the soft side for some reason. There’s a lot of fog and a lot of bloom used in the game. I feel that these effects may be a bit overused actually. But, overall, the graphics are fitting of a title of this type.

Playcontrol: This is probably one of the games biggest failures. The UI is horrendous and it is not very intuitive at all. There is little to no customization in the game and what is presented by default leaves a lot to be desired. The game uses a variation of the standard WSAD control scheme that most PC games do these days, but the combat is either mouse driven or managed by hotkeys (numerical). The camera doesn’t seem to respond as one would expect and everything feels both loose and clunky at the same time… how is that even possible? I decided to try the game using a gamepad as well, but I was even more disappointed.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I really wanted to like this game and I tried my best to approach it with an open mind. I can honestly claim that my disappointment with the title is not due to it’s deviation from it’s original Wizardry roots, but rather I just feel like it’s a subpar game. There’s a lot of potential here. But I worry that it’s going to go unrealized. I think the biggest thing that’s going to hurt the game here in the west is it’s publisher. SOE has a notorious reputation for being a money-hungry company that takes a good game and drives it into the ground. So far their ignorant attitude towards server issues and customer complaints seem to validate these fears. Time will tell. I fear that the glory days of Wizardry may be behind us.

Currently Available: Free Download from www.wizardrythegame.com   —-  UPDATE:  SOE HAS DISCONTINUED THIS TITLE

Other Reviews In This Series:

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Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Wizardry Online – Beta Test Opinion

I’ve been putting off this article for some time. If you’ve been following the blog, you may remember my excitement for the upcoming North American release of Wizardry Online. Being a lifelong fan of the Wizardry games, I was extremely excited to finally get a chance to play this long awaited MMO.

Several years ago, I hosted a fan-page dedicated to the Wizardry series. It was one of the few on the net at the time and quickly became one of the biggest Wiz sites out there. I prided myself on being such a big player in the community, that I decided to launch a podcast in preparation for the English release of Wizardry Online. So, in July 2012, the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast was born.

To help lend some credibility to the cast, I launched the first episode by interviewing one of the founders of the series itself; Robert Woodhead. As the podcast progressed, I spent some time discussing all of the various games in the series, both western and Japanese titles. Finally, as the details regarding the game started trickling in, things got hectic.

I was accepted in the closed beta, and around the same time I was contacted by SOE and provided with several beta keys to distribute. Suddenly, my podcast subscriptions went from single digits to triple digits overnight. It was everything an aspiring podcaster could ask for. There was just one problem… My experience with the closed beta was… well… awful.

Being under NDA, I couldn’t express my concerns publicly. Several localization issues about the game irked me and the user interface and game controls boggled my mind, and I was not alone. Many users in the beta forums echoed my sentiments. Other aspects of the game seemed severely flawed as well. I was left to wonder, was the current Japanese version of the game so… crappy? Or was SOE giving us some type of modification of the original vanilla JP release?

With the end of the closed beta, and the launch of the open test. The game received a much needed patch. Several of my complaints seemed to have been addressed. But, something about the game still felt… broken. It’s very hard for me to get into specifics because, I can’t really place my finger on it. There are many things about Wizardry Online that are indeed very “Wizardry-like”. However, there are so many other aspects that seem completely out of place. The things in the game that do seem to honor the roots of the series, such as randomly assigned skill points at character creation, seem out of place for an MMO. While, things from the old series that would thrive, such as advanced classes (Samurai, Lord, Ninja, Bishop) are absent.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to the point where I could no longer offer my support for the game by hosting a community podcast. Rather than make a big scene about it, I just quietly retired the podcast and vanished into the night, as some might say.

Many of my real-life friends who were also jazzed for the game have also expressed their discontent of the title. I am very sad to have to admit it, but my disappointment with the title has been vast.

Now, I realize the game is still in beta. But I would be extremely (and pleasantly) surprised if the title receives enough polish between now and release to win me back.

On a side note, before ending this rant. I do want to point out that one thing the game really seems to get right is ATMOSPHERE. The dungeons and even the town create a very good sense of adventure and danger. However, the combat mechanics, user interface, and clunky controls just overshadow everything else.

Being a Free-to-Play title, I certainly have no plans of uninstalling the game and I do expect to give an honest chance upon release. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think this is going to be a very profitable title for SOE. The worst thing about that is, if this game fails, the chances of any other JP Wizardry titles being brought to the US drop significantly.

A Look Back: Final Fantasy XIV (Original Release)

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I’m going to really shake things up with something straight out of left field. As you might have surmised, I tend to review games in order because I enjoy watching franchises mature, etc. This time, due to an interesting set of circumstances, I’m going to break form and discuss the latest entry in the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy XIV.

Now this is not a review, but more like a discussion. I’m doing this for two reasons. First, FFXIV is an online title. Thus, it is a never-ending game. If I waited until the game was “finished”, under normal circumstances, I’d be waiting forever. However, in this case, the game did end (at least temporarily). Second, since the game has ended, this allows the perfect opportunity to look back on it.

If you’ve been following this blog a while, you’ll know that I’m a HUGE fan of both the Final Fantasy series as a whole, but especially the online games. In fact, the first real MMO that I put any time into was Final Fantasy XI. I spent several years playing that game and I had many wonderful experiences with it. Needless to say, when Final Fantasy XIV was announced, I was more than excited.

XIV holds an interesting place in the world of online games. It was one of the biggest failures in MMO history. The game was released way before it was ready and its reputation suffered greatly as a result. The game was plagued by everything from lack of content, to a laggy and unresponsive user interface. In fact, the game was so poorly received, that Square Enix suspended the monthly billing for the game for close to a year.

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During that time, most of the original development team was fired and a new producer took over the helm. Upon completing his assessment, he deemed that in order to make the game successful, it would need to be completely re-designed from the ground up. At which time, SE began the unheard of task of both fixing and supporting the current game, while rewriting a entirely new version.

I’m happy to say that over time, the game did improve. Vastly so. In fact, I found it to be quite enjoyable for the last year or so. To keep players hooked and to help preserve the storyline, SE announced an special in-game event for this transition period. A live story that would carry players over from version 1 to version 2.

Everything finally came to a dramatic conclusion on 11/11 with a giant meteor descending from heaven and a great cataclysm. As I write this, FFXIV is currently offline and testing for the alpha version of 2.0 is underway. Expected to be released sometime next year, loyal followers such as myself eagerly await to see what is in store for us…

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As I mentioned on this site before, I have kept an in-character blog of my time in FFXIV. For those reader interested in what they may have missed during the original release, I urge to check it out: