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.

Gilgamesh’s Tavern

**UPDATE**
Due to my general dissatisfaction with the game, I cancelled the podcast several months after the initial launch.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Wizardry franchise. In fact, writing that post had me pining for the glory days of Wizardry again. So much so, that I began researching the upcoming Wizardry Online game rather heavily. I must say, I’m very impressed with what I’m seeing. My love for Japan has been established on this site. So has my love for the fantasy genre and dungeon-crawling type adventure games. The old Wizardry games were rooted very much in the classic Dungeons & Dragons vein of “fantasy gaming”. Which is perhaps why I found them so appealing.

As time went on and Wizardry declined in popularity, Final Fantasy seemed to quench my thirst for fantasy games well enough. Between the Japanese style art-direction and a swords and sorcery element.I was hooked. But, over time, Final Fantasy evolved into it’s own genre. I’d call it high-fantasy. While I still love the series, it’s easy to say that it is no longer rooted in the classic “knights and dragons” western ideal of fantasy gaming. In short, there is little to no Dungeons & Dragons left in Final Fantasy.

The Japanese takeover of Wizardry did not mirror  this trend. If anything, the Japanese developers of Wizardry are very careful to stay true to the material that inspired the original games, and from what I’ve seen, this has carried over to Wizardry Online.

This excitement has lead me to undertake a new project. I’d like to announce the beginning of both my first-ever podcast, and the first English language Wizardry Online podcast: Gilgamesh’s Tavern.

The first episode is already available on iTunes, with new episodes coming bi-weekly. I felt that, being a first-time podcaster, I needed something big to give myself a little credibility. Therefore, I sought out one of the original creators of Wizardry, Robert Woodhead and conducted a 30 minute interview about the origins of the game, and his thoughts and memories of Wizardry over the years.

I hope that over time, as Wizardry Online is released and grows in popularity, my podcast becomes one of the first places Wiz Online fans turn for news and community.

Links to the show in iTunes are provided below:

 

With that being said, now that the podcast project has been launched, I will again be able to update this blog with much for frequency and begin building a nice site for those you out there that share my passions.

Wizardry

wiz-mac

One fateful summer night in 1989, my friend James suggested we play a computer game on his dad’s old black and white Macintosh. After a few rounds of Chess, I spotted an interesting looking icon in the games folder and pointed it out to James. “Oh no. That’s Wizardry,” he said. “It’s not very good. It’s too hard.”

Despite his protests, I kept bugging him and eventually he relented and let me play it. What I discovered was a mysterious labyrinth filled with dangerous monsters at every turn, cryptic messages scrawled on the walls left by less fortunate adventurers, traps, hidden doors and dead-ends. I was enamored.

“Hurry! Cast a healing spell!” I screamed as a band of Kobolds nearly killed the Fighter leading our party.

“I don’t know which spell is what!” James screamed. “They are all written in Latin or something!”

Moments later, the entire party was defeated.

“Oh no! My dad is going to kill me. This was his group, and I’m not supposed to play it. He’ll be so mad!” James gasped.

There was only one thing to do. I had to save James from what was sure to be a WHOLE WEEKEND of lawn mowing and car washing. We had to find a way to bring his Dad’s characters back to life. To accomplish that, we needed to create our own characters, send them into the dungeon to find and return the corpses of his father’s fallen party to the city where they could be resurrected.

It was truly a slumber party of epic proportions.

As I mentioned above, the game was Wizardry, and at the time it was the most fantastic thing I had ever played. It was the first game that really opened my eyes to world of swords and sorcery. If it wasn’t for Wizardry, I would have probably never taken an interest in other fantasy role playing games or even tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. In Wizardry, you create and control a party of six characters. Their mission is travel to the bottom of a ten-level maze to recover a magical amulet stolen by a powerful wizard. There is no in-game map, so it’s wise to chart every step you take on graph paper. If you don’t, eventually, you WILL get lost – and that was bad. Very bad.

For a time, I could only enjoy the game when I’ve visit James. But a year or so later, I was able to get my hands on a copy of Wizardry for the Nintendo. The NES version was an upgrade of sorts, instead of being monochrome, the maze was colored a muddy orange. And there was actual music that played in town and on the title screen. Thanks to this port of the original classic, I was finally able to complete my quest to recover the amulet, thus completing the game.

When the sequel was ported to the NES, I purchased it and loved it just as much.

Wizardry-Knight-of-Diamonds-The-Second-Scenario

I knew that three more games existed in the series, but until the release of Wizardry V for the Super Nintendo, I was left out of the loop (my parents did not own a personal computer at the time).

Eventually, the information age hit my household and with the purchase of an IBM compatible PC by my mother, I saved my allowance and ran to the software store at the local mall. Sadly, too much time has passed and the older Wizardry titles were nowhere to be found. But the latest entry; Wizardry VI -Bane of the Cosmic Forge, sat shrink-wrapped on the shelf ready for me to take home. Even though it was now over a year old, this game was still a hot seller.

This was first title in a new direction for the Wizardry series. Released in 1990, the game features detailed graphics and outdoor environments. Bane was actually that start of a three game trilogy that wouldn’t come to a conclusion until 2001, with the release of Wizardry 8.

Wizardry-2520VI-2520-2520Bane-2520of-2520the-2520Cosmic-2520Forge_1
Bane of the Cosmic Forge

wizardry8-2   Wizardry 8

With the release of Wizardry 8 on the horizon, there was a enough renewed buzz around the series that a compilation was released of the first seven titles. The Ultimate Wizardry Archives. Finally, I was able to sit down and play all the games of the series that I had missed. It was delightful to watch the games progress in quality from title to title. Plus, finally being able to get my hands on the PC versions, I now had the ability to import characters from game to game.

As I dove into the series, I was surprised by the lack of information on the Internet available for Wizardry at the time, so I decided to create my own Wizardry fanpage. From 2001 to 2003, Kyler’s Wizardry Den was the largest source of Wizardry information on the net. I can boastfully say that my contributions to the Wizardry community live on this day. Even though my website is no more, the exclusive maps that I created can still be found floating around the web. At one point, I even boldly elaborated on the original background plot for Wizardry I, adding some colorful commentary and ideas to the scant three-line background found in the original manual. Before going bankrupt, Sir-Tech soft included my rendition of the Wizardry story on their website, officially making my ideas canon. I was honored.

Since the release of Wizardry 8 and the bankruptcy of the founding company, things here in the west have been quiet. Many young gamers have never even heard of the series. This, however, is not true for Japan.

Once Wizardry was released on the NES, the Japanese audience went wild. The first 7 games were made available on the Famicom, Super Famicom, and Sony Playstation (Japan only of course). At some point, a Japanese publisher bought the rights to the franchise and number of Japanese-exclusive games were made for handheld systems as well. To date, most of these Wizardry: Gaiden and Wizardry Empire titles have yet to see release in the US.

One exception was the release of Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land. This title, known as Busin: Wizardry Alternative in Japan, did see a North American release on the PS2. While it did not sell very well at the time, it is long sought after by gamers like myself, and I highly recommended it. I have to admit, the Japanese “get it”. They understand what Wizardry is really about. If I may be so bold as to suggest, Tales of the Forsaken Land actually makes a better sequel to Wizardry V than Bane does. To me, it seems to be more of a natural progression. Sadly, the direct sequel  to Tales of the Forsaken Land never saw the light of day outside of Japan.

Wiz 6, 7, and 8, while great games, often times feel like RPGs from some other franchise. The Japanese titles, seem to stay very true to the roots of the series.

Tales of the Forsaken Land, was the our last taste of the Japanese Wizardry series until the recent release of Wizardy: Labyrinth of Lost Souls on the Playstation Network.

main-game-screen

What a surprise this was! I am in love with this title. It is classic Wizardry with a nice modern polish to it. All of the original elements that made Wizardry unique are there. Yes, the Japanese have certainly put their own spin on the art-direction of the series. But, being a fan of Japanese art and culture, you will not hear any complaints from me.

I’m taking my time with this title, not wanting to finish it too fast because, believe it or not, the next chapter in the history of Wizardry is about to manifest here in the US with the release of Wizardry Online.

Yes! You read that right. Imagine, an MMO with the look and feel of the classic Wizardry… A maze crawler that features permanent character death, friendly fire, and always-on pvp. Brutal! The mere idea of it is an instant turn off for most western players. In games these days, if you die, no big deal. Just run out to your body in spirit form and resurrect with little to no penalty. Not with Wizardry Online. No sir! And we’re actually going to see a release here in the US. I still can’t believe it.

Just thinking about it, I am reminded of that night in ’89. Crawling through the uncharted dungeon trying to find Jame’s father’s characters…  I can’t wait to relive that magic moment again.