Review: Wizardry II – The Knight of Diamonds

1056924790-00-5B1-5D

The first Wizardry scenario was such a great success that a sequel was inevitable. Thus, we have the Knight of Diamonds, the second scenario in the Wizardry series. By today’s standards, many would consider this to be more of an expansion rather than a true sequel. First of all, the PC and Apple versions require that you have a save-game file from the first game. That’s right, you play with the characters you created in the previous title. Second, aside from the storyline, level design and content, there’s nothing new in the game at all. It uses the same engine as the original title – there’s just a different maze to explore and a different reason for exploring it.

In this game, we are formally introduced to the Kingdom of Llylgamyn. A nation protected from evil by a powerful relic, the Staff of Gnilda. As long as the staff rests within the city walls, no individual with evil in their heart will be permitted to breach the city gates. The one loophole to this rule, is that anyone born within the walls of the city is immune to the staff’s power. Thus, an evil, native-born mage named Davalpus is able to seize the staff and uses its power to slaughter the royal family and take his place on the throne. Little to his knowledge, the Prince and Princess escaped his attack. The prince returns wearing the armor of the legendary hero; The Knight of Diamonds. A great battle ensues between the two and in the end all that is left is a gaping hole leading deep into the chambers underneath the royal temple. The Prince and Davalpus are nowhere to be seen. Their fate is unknown. It is at this time, that the gods speak… Offended by the blasphemy that has occurred, they decree that only way to return divine protection to the city is to return the staff back to its home in the walls of the temple. And so it is up to our heroes to explore the labyrinth beneath the kingdom, ultimately collecting the legendary armor and reclaiming the staff.

wiz2

Since this game was designed to be played with characters that have already completed the first scenario, the difficulty level is on par with end of Wizardry 1. Unlike the first game, which has ten levels to explore, this game only features six dungeon levels. Upon entering the sixth floor, the game is over if you’ve managed to play your cards right. However, once you have completed the game you can return to explore, farm treasure, and take on optional bosses on that level.

Other than new monsters, mazes and challenges, there’s nothing that’s really new to see. The gameplay is identical to the first title.

It’s worthy to note that a version of the game was released for the NES. However, since there was no way to import characters between games, a new party was required. This also means the difficulty level of the game is tweaked greatly in the earlier levels.

wiz22

Difficulty: Difficult – The game starts off and finishes being a bit more difficult than the original scenario. However, the middle part of the game tends to go a bit smoother due to the discovery of the various Knight of Diamonds equipment. These items are much more powerful than other items founds throughout the game. However, in the end, they will be lost.

Story: The storyline in this game is much more refined than in the first scenario. Which is a bit welcome. The first game offered a very basic framework, it seems much more effort was put into this chapter.

Originality: Aside from the new story and a few new monsters, there’s nothing new at all with this game. As I said, it’s marketed as a scenario, so it’s better to really look at it as more of an expansion than a whole new game.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip). The NES version of the game was the first to include music and was filled with quirky catchy tunes.

Fun: This game really only appeals to fans of the original game. The first title really carved it’s own niche at the time, and those who enjoy Wizardry for what it is will not be disappointed.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is a great continuation to what was started with the first title. The detailed story is a welcome addition.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry – Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

wiz1-5B1-5D

With the North American release of Wizardry Online only a few days away, and my playthrough of legacy Nintendo titles at an end, I recently decided to revisit one of my favorite RPG game series of all time: Wizardry.

I mentioned early on this blog that Wizardry was one of the first PC games I had ever spent any real time with. My family didn’t own a PC until I was in my early teens, so originally I played Wizardry on my friend’s old black and white Macintosh. A few years later, Wizardry  and Wizardry II were released for the NES. I spent a lot of time with the NES ports as a teen. However, the NES versions lacked one critical feature that really made these games unique: the ability to transfer characters between the games.

Many years later, a collection known as the Ultimate Wizardry Archives was released. For the first time, the first seven games in the series were bundled into one package and I was able to play through them all again (including Wizardry III and IV – which I missed the first time around).

The story of Wizardry 1 is quite simple, the evil wizard Werdna has stolen a magical amulet from the kingdom’s overlord, Trebor. Desperate to retrieve it, Trebor is recruiting any adventurers brave enough to accept the challenge. To play, you must create a variety of characters and assemble them into a party of no more than six members. Once a party is formed, they venture down into the depths of Werdna’s great underground labyrinth. The maze is filled with monsters, traps and treasure. The challenge is not to be taken lightly, one wrong move and you might find your whole team obliterated.

wizcharview

The PC version of Wizardry  is actually one of the most inferior versions of the game. The controls are not intuitive. They are actually a bit clunky. But, you do manage to get used to them with time. Also, on the graphics front, the PC games leave a lot to be desired. This version of Wizardry is nothing but a black screen with white wire-frame lines to represent the maze. The only color graphics in the title are used for monsters and treasure chests. It’s important to note that several enhanced versions of the game exist in Japan, but only the NES version has seen the light of day in the US. This is a shame too, as I would absolutely LOVE to experience this game with modern day visuals and ambient sounds.

To play the game these days, a DOS emulator such as DOSBox is required. Luckily, this program is available for free online and a simple Google search for “Dosbox” should bring up plenty of options.

wiz1maze1

Wizardry has the reputation for being an extremely hardcore game. The maze has no distinctive features and everything looks the same. There are traps and tricks to confuse the player, so following a map is a must. Actually, back in my day, I would map my progress on a piece of graph paper. To survive, players must be extremely patient. Progress can be slow at the beginning. Running back to town to rest after every other encounter is almost a requirement. That’s right, aside from healing spells, the only way to restore your HP is to go back to town and rest at the inn. That’s also the only way to actually level up your character. So, there is a lot of backtracking in this game.

If one of your characters does die, you have two chances to bring them back to life. If the first attempt fails, the character’s body is reduced to ash. If the next attempt fails, the character’s soul is lost forever and you must replace them. In the event that your entire party is wiped out at one time, you can send a new group of characters into the maze to retrieve the corpses. However, your new party will need to be strong enough to survive the journey.

While many aspects of the game may seem simplistic, there’s actually a lot here to digest. There are advanced classes for your characters to achieve, legendary treasures to uncover, and of course Werdna himself. Once your party has defeated the evil wizard, they are awarded with a Chevron that appears on their character profile.  ( ”   >   ”  )  – Characters that have earned this honor can still explore the maze in search of better treasure, but they can also be imported into the next scenario.

I spent countless hours with Wizardry as a kid. Despite looking crude and basic, it was one of the most mind-blowing games I had experienced. It left a huge impact that stays with me to this very day. It’s no wonder that it is still considered the Grandfather of all RPG Games.

wiz1fight

 

Difficulty: Difficult – The game is certainly difficult. There’s no doubt about it. However, due to today’s technology it’s quite easy to cheat. Avoiding death is a simple as sneakily restoring a previously saved character file. But you wouldn’t do that…. would you?

Story: The storyline seems quite basic, but the observant and imaginative player can actually glean a few interesting pieces of lore from certain events that occur while exploring the maze. Admittedly, it does seem that the storyline for this scenario is quite weak and serves only the basic purpose of giving players are reason to set foot in the maze in the first place.

Originality: For many, this game was the first taste of an RPG. The first person view of the maze was something pretty new at the time. It’s obvious that the game was heavily influenced by the tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip). The NES version of the game was the first to include music and was filled with quirky catchy tunes. The Wizardry Theme included in the NES version is legendary.

Fun: This game can still be fun today, if you have a good understanding what you’re getting into when you play it. Patience is a must, and you have to be willing to shed the skin of modern games and let yourself go back to a simpler time.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite it’s age and many of it’s shortcomings. This is a classic game and probably my favorite of the original Wizardry scenarios. This is the game that started it all. Without Wizardry, there would be no Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls. The game hooked me a kid, and still enthralls me to this day. Unlike most games today, Wizardry gives you the foundation, your imagination takes over the rest of the way. That is something that is sorely missed these days.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Diablo III

Diablo-III-Box-Art-5B1-5D
*note: For those that wish to find me in-game, my BattleTag is BaconMage#1654
*** THIS REVIEW HAS BEEN SUPERSEDED BY THE RELEASE OF AN EXPANSION ***

After nearly 12 years of waiting, Blizzard finally released the next chapter in the Diablo series. Diablo III went on the market around the same time I started this blog. Naturally, everything else on Earth stopped for me as I dived into the pits of hell one more time.

This title resumes twenty years after the end of Diablo II, this time the player assumed the role of “The Nephalim” a hero who arrives in the town of Tristram to investigate recent reports of a strange meteor. In Diablo III players can choose to create a character from the following class options: Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk and Demon Hunter. As the plot unfolds, the player explores environments such as dark dungeons, disease infested sewers, war torn strongholds and even heaven and hell itself.

799px-Diablo_III_Character_Classes

The play style is similar to the previous games. Crafting of new gear is done via NPC, and items can be purchased on a community-stocked auction house. Skills are handled much differently in this entry in the series. As players level up, new skill runes are unlocked which grant new abilities. This allows for quite a bit of customization. This enables players to experiment with different builds to find a fit that’s right for them.

One of the more controversial aspects in Diablo III is the “always on” internet requirement. Having a constant connection makes teaming up with friends extremely simple. However, for those that wish to play solo, requiring a broadband internet connection seems a bit silly. In situations where internet connectivity may be an issue, the entire game is unplayable. This is the real pain point for many. During release, the game servers encountered massive congestion, thus leading to queued timers and frequent game crashes. Players that simply wanted to enjoy the game on their own were understandably frustrated. Further controversy erupted over the announcement of an optional real-money auction house. Simply put, players can sell items from the game to other players in exchange for real-world currency. The argument has been made that this provides wealthier players with a strategic advantage over others.

Diablo-III-Screenshots-1600x1200-2-5B1-5D

Graphically, the game is beautiful. It’s without a doubt the most visually appealing entry in the series. The audio and score for the game is equally lovely. This is another example of a title best played on dreary, rainy days, or in a dimly-lit room in the dead of night. Content-wise, I have no complaints. The random levels, quests and encounters make for a unique experience each time you play. On a few occasions, I found the levels to be a bit longer than I’d like, and wished that the area was a bit smaller and less redundant. But this was not something I encountered enough to really be a problem. Overall, I found the environments and enemies in the game to exceed my expectations. Many of the boss fights are very well done and create a great feeling of suspense and awe.

In the age of Internet gaming, it’s easy to forget that this is primarily a single player title. The online connectivity makes for a very unusual hybrid type of experience. In a sense, it’s sad to log in now, four months later, and see my friends list filled with people who have not logged in in over 100 days. Once beating the game, many players have simply moved on. Which, for a single player title, is not at all unusual. Despite this, Blizzard is still planning new content for Diablo III such as PVP combat. So perhaps, in the coming months an update of this review will be in order. Overall, however, I have to proclaim to be Diablo III to be worthy of a purchase. Especially for fans of the series.

diablo-iii-screenshot-big-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Varies –  Again, several difficulty levels are unlockable as you progress through the game. A hardcore mode also exists as it did in Diablo II, giving you only one life. For those that like punishment, have fun trying to play the game on Inferno difficulty with a hardcore character. There will be tears.

Story: The best of all three games. Twelve years of development really gave Blizzard the time needed to create a storyline of epic proportions. Not to give anything away, but the character of Diablo does make a return, and the way this comes to pass will not disappoint. There’s a lot of nice throwbacks and easter eggs for those that are familiar with the older games.

Originality: There’s no mistaking this is a Diablo game. However, with the new skill and companion system, there’s enough fresh ideas in the game to keep things from getting stale.

Soundtrack: A beautiful score that is very fitting. In my opinion much better than the first two games. I actually have a copy of the soundtrack and find myself listening to it when writing or when I’m trying to get my creative juices flowing on some type of fantasy project.

Fun: The game can definitely be fun. At release a large number of issues caused a great deal of frustration. I was excited to the get the game home and play, only to find the servers down due to congestion. This, along with a few early bugs, really put a damper on things. Of course, now most of these issues are ironed out. Aside from the occasional gold farmer spamming the world chat window, there’s not too much to complain about. This title was designed with re-playability in mind, and if definitely succeeds.

Graphics: Absolutely lovely looking game. This one area where the game shines. Everything from the character sprites to the dynamic light looks stunning. This title is a huge improvement over the other entries in the series. Now…. if only they would redo those games on the new engine…

Playcontrol: Very similar to other titles in the series. Occasionally, during high energy battles and boss fights, I found it difficult to select the target. But aside from some occasional frustration, I found nothing to complain about.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Due to its troubled launch, and what I feel is a little overly-complex skill system, I cannot give this game a perfect score. It is a title that I certainly recommend, but I do feel that there was a bit more that could have been done to add some polish. I wish the game had an offline option, although I understand what Blizzard was trying to achieve with requiring connectivity. I’m not a fan of the real-money auction house, but it’s easy enough to ignore unless you live for online play. All that being said, Diablo III is an excellent title and well worth your dollars. It is a nice capstone to the series, and I hope to see an expansion of some sort in the future. At this point, I still feel that Diablo II offers the definitive Diablo experience. However, due to it’s age and inaccessibility it is hard for many new players to get started with it. I am looking forward to playing through Diablo III again with the release of the upcoming 1.05 patch.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Review: Diablo II

Diablo_II_Coverart-5B1-5D

Four years after the original Diablo was unleashed upon the world, a sequel was produced. By this time, I was already living with my future wife and I appropriately warned her ,”You will not see me for about a week, once this game comes out.”

Diablo II is a worthy sequel to the original game. Everything that was right about the original Diablo is here, and just about everything that was wrong with it has been addressed. The game is familiar to anyone playing the original, but contains a slew of new features. Players are able to customize weapons using the new “gem” system and combine various pieces of gear in a magical “Horadric Cube”, there’s a community lockbox for players to place items so they will be accessible across various characters. The character classes are a bit different this time around, now featuring the following options: Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorceress and Paladin.

diablo_2_classes-5B1-5D

Gameplay between this and the original are very similar is many respects. However, instead of being confined to a dungeon players now find themselves battling in rocky highlands, vast deserts, and strange exotic jungles. Instead of constantly saving your progress like the original game, this game is separated by chapters. Quitting the game and resuming resets all of the monsters and explored areas. However, a new ability is available to warp to various checkpoints. This prevents a great deal or backtracking when loading a saved game.

diablo21-5B1-5D

In this game, you find yourself in pursuit of the “Dark Wander”, the hero of the last game, who has become possessed by the spirit of Diablo. Eventually, your ultimate goal of defeating the Lord of Terror is once again made clear. Despite being a huge success, many players found themselves feeling a bit unfulfilled. Luckily, not long after the initial release of Diablo II,  the add-on: Lord of Destruction was unleashed for players to devour.

In the opinion of many, LoD really completes the original game. It integrates itself into Diablo II perfectly, adding two new character classes, the Druid and the Assassin, new items, as well adding a whole new final chapter to the original game. I am one of the many that tend to look at Diablo II: Lord of Destruction as inseparable from the basic game itself.

In this expansion, the lead character pursues Diablo’s stronger brother, Baal in hopes of defeating him for eternal peace.

As I mentioned before, Diablo II takes all of what was great with the original and expands on it in a masterful way. This is a fine example of a company that took their original creation and actually improved upon it rather than just slapping on a new coat of paint and hoping no-one notices.

DiabloIILODc-5B1-5D1

 

Difficulty: Varies –  Like the original, there are various difficulty settings for the game, ranging from normal to insanely difficult.

Story: Diablo II features a much richer story than the original. Cutscenes exist between each chapter. Also, banter with NPCs is more frequent and is often more integral to the story.

Originality: If you are familiar with the original Diablo, you will feel right at home here. However, Blizzard added enough new and original features to keep the game fresh.

Soundtrack: Very similar to the the original Diablo. Great songs that seem to fit in very well with the environments throughout the game.

Fun: Even better than the original! The scenery changes enough so as not to be repetitive. However, I did find myself wishing that the seemingly endless jungle levels would just hurry up and be over. My favorite part of these games is seeking out new shiny weapons and armor. There no disappointment for treasure hunters.

Graphics: Released at the dawn of 3D acceleration, this title boasted Glide and Direct3d acceleration. These days, no one has a Voodoo card so, you’re stuck with D3d. In my opinion, on a modern system, the 3D graphics are a bit muddy. In some respects, I feel the the original Diablo is actually a bit more polished visually.

Playcontrol: Excellent play control via mouse and keyboard. No real issues worthy of mention

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – This is the essential Diablo experience. A classic game brought to perfection with the Lord of Destruction pack. You can’t go wrong with this title.

Available today through Blizzard’s online store.

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III – Reaper of Souls

Review: Diablo

Diablo_1_box

Today, I’ll be taking a change of course for a bit. One of the first PC games I ever purchased with my own money was Diablo. With the recent release of the long-awaited Diablo III, this is a franchise that really needs no introduction.

In the summer of 1997, as a highschool graduation present, my parents gave me the funds required to build my very own personal computer. Oh, I remember it well. It was a Pentium 166 MMX, with 16 megs of RAM. I loaded it with the OEM version of the OSR2 release for Windows 95 and it ran like a dream.

One of the first things I did after building my system was catch up on a lot of great PC games I had missed over the last few years. I gobbled them all up. Duke Nukem, Quake, Heretic & Hexen, to name a few. Then one day at Media Play I came across the Diablo box and I was enthralled. Here was a game I could actually play online for FREE. I snatched it up and brought it home.

Diablo appealed to me almost instantly. It was a modern take on the classic dungeon-crawl games I loved so much. Essentially, there is a giant dungeon under the town filled with hordes of evil monsters and demons. But among those dangers are riches and spoils beyond your wildest dreams.

When creating your hero in Diablo, you can choose between a Warrior, Rogue or Sorcerer. Each had their own advantages and disadvantages. I felt right at home.

Diabloscreen-5B1-5D

The game was unique in that when donning a new suit of armor, or equipping a new weapon, you could actually see it on your character. That was a new, but welcome concept for me. Also, in a way, you never played the same game twice. The levels were created at random every time you started over. There was a bank of quests or tasks that would be shuffled out when you created a new game, so no two games were exactly alike. It was revolutionary and I was amazed by it.

Eventually, your character ventures down to deepest levels of the dungeon and discovers the shocking truth behind the terror that has enshrouded the town above. The game ends with your character defeating Diablo, one of the very Lords of Hell.

The multiplayer portion of the game never appealed much to me. I found it extremely difficult to play with friends using a modem connection, and attempts to play on Battle.net were fraught with lag. Not to mention that Battle.net was filled with cheating players. Ultimately, I enjoyed Diablo as a single player title. But for many, “online” was a favorite way to play.

Even today, I feel that there’s a lot to be offered by this now classic title. The game has a lot of atmosphere. The visuals mixed with the ambient soundtrack match the tone of the game perfectly. This is one you’ll want to play on a nice autumn night with the lights out, perhaps with only a candle burning on the desk. So, If you enjoyed Diablo III and want to see where it all began, or if you’re new to the series, I do recommend this title first. Not to mention the lore and myth that is the Diablo story, gets it start here.

diablo1-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Varies –  This title has a fairly accurate difficulty setting. Occasionally, you may find yourself swarmed by monsters, but there’s never much you can’t overcome on the standard setting. But on some of those harder modes… God help you.

Story: The storyline is revealed as you progress through the dungeon. Those players that skip through most of the text are missing out on quite a bit. For those that are willing to take the time to read and listen, you will certainly be rewarded.

Originality: Diablo really set the stage for a new type of dungeon crawl. It redefined what a hack and slash game based in a fantasy world could be. When first playing it, I was reminded a bit of the classic arcade game Gauntlet. But the similarities soon faded.

Soundtrack: Amazing. Simple, yet elegant ambient music. It really sets the mood for the game. The soundtrack is a work of art.

Fun: This game provided me with many hours of fun over the years. It’s a title that I’ve often found myself turning to again and again. I recently played through it a few months in anticipation of D3‘s release and was surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. If you like dark scary dungeons and demonic monsters, this will be right up your alley.

Graphics: At the time it was released, the graphics were really top tier. There’s no 3D acceleration or dynamic lighting, so it certainly looks dated by today’s standards. However, it holds up quite well. Modern Vista, Win 7 and Win 8 systems experience a color issue when first booting the game, but there are work arounds  available to correct this.

Playcontrol: Point and click. It couldn’t be easier. I admittedly burned through a few mice over the years playing these games.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  3 Stars – Diablo is an excellent game. I do feel it had potential to be a bit more than it was. The network issues and online cheating became a large problem for many players. Many of “gaps” in the game were filled by the semi-official expansion known as Hellfire. But despite it’s few shortcomings, Diablo was a game changer in the PC world. Recommended.

Available today through Blizzard’s online store.

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls