Prior to the gold box set AD&D games, SSI had Wizard’s Crown, which I heard had the basis for the combat engine for the gold box series. Wizard’s Crown was one of the original true hardcore CRPGs and quite difficult even when you had the game set to the lowest difficulty level (and I believe there was one at the time). It had a very interesting system to say the least, which is why I wanted to do a review.
Now, let me say that I never finished this game. At one point, I believe my characters were killed off in a fight that got me so pissed off, I pulled out the 5 1/4″ disk and hurled it across the room. No other game in my entire life ever pissed me off as badly as this game, so that goes to show just how hardcore a game like this could be.
What made this game hardcore, in my opinion, was its unmerciful handling of character death. If you experience a wipe, that’s pretty much it and you start over. And you will wipe frequently. But it’s even worse when you made significant progression then meet an untimely encounter.
Let me backup though and talk about the game a little more before going into the specific encounter mechanics. For the most part, Wizard’s Crown is a standard CRPG but has a very interesting methodology for character generation. I believe the game only allows for five different character classes, including fighter, priest, thief, mage and ranger. But unlike most RPGs, you could combine them from the start using allotted attribute points, specifically intelligence, in being able to choose a multi-class character. That idea is quite brilliant and it’s not overbalancing because you only get a limited number of attribute points. In theory, you can create the ultimate “all classes” character but the way the game is setup, that character won’t be able to do much ironically because you’re spread too thin.
When you start off, you have 8 character slots, which gives you a lot of opportunities to customize for a party. The way one of the hint books describes this game being heavily combat driven, you pretty much need to at least divide each character with a fighter component. So the suggestion I saw was something like Ranger/Fighter, 4 Fighter/Priests, 1 Fighter/Thief and 2 Figher/Mages. Priests are a must have because you will constantly get damaged and only have a limited number of spells per day.
On top of the attribute customization, you have skills with XXX number of points you can allocate. This game has to be one of the pioneers for CRPGs that I can remember which focuses on skill allotment. I cannot remember if using a skill will guarantee leveling up, but you do have quite a variety of skills to choose from, some of which are meaningless. And like your class combinations, you want people to specialize as opposed to spreading themselves out too thin. Being very good in a few things far exceeds being mediocre in many things in this game.
Most of the game involves a top down environment, except in dungeons. But the town and outdoor areas are top down. Dungeons and combat have a semi-top down view with a little more detail. In dungeons, you can micromanage your characters individually when splitting up a party. For instance, this is good for thieves in exploring certain rooms.
Combat itself is derived in two manners: quick and a turn based system. Quick uses your stats and creates a summary. But in my experience, quick can be brutal as the computer tends to favor the enemies. So you’ll die more often in that manner. Turn based reminds me of the gold box setup where you and the computer roll initiative and take turns battling on a map. This method gives you more chances to use terrain to your advantage and probably can help offset a more difficult encounter as opposed to letting the AI destroy you.
Now, one of the worst parts of the game is the diminishing returns on XP. When you start off, you will gain power rapidly by visiting the slums and fighting off easy monsters. But as your power improves, the amount of experience you gain slowly tapers off to the point where you cannot progress and are forced to advance by heading outside of town or more difficult areas in general. I hated this aspect because it made grinding very difficult, especially if you were not ready for certain encounters.
The thing about this game is that you have to be exceptionally careful about dealing with encounters and making sure you can survive as you progress. You can easily get overconfident then misstep into an area that overpowers you and/or be in a situation where you’re retreating back to town, only to find a random encounter decimates your party as a result of not having any healing power. I think I was in that position on my final play through, which is why I got frustrated and tossed my disk across the room.
I never really had another urge to give this game another crack though. The grind was painful and I found it unrewarding whenever you made a little progress. There’s very little repeatability for what I would consider fun spots to hit because of the diminishing returns on experience. The skills and character classes are far too limited to really have a unique stamp. The only true innovation for me that deserves another glance is how they handled multi-classing. I haven’t seen any other game take this approach to character design and they seemed to be on the right track. I think if the game had the difficulty toned down a bit, removed the experience diminishing returns and allowed for more forgiving ways to regenerate spell power (especially for priests), I would have liked this game a lot better. Beyond that, it remains a very shallow, forgettable footprint in CRPG history.