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Old Game Reviews: Wizardry 6 Bane of the Cosmic Forge

Although Wizardry was a long running franchise, I only played 5-7. And of the three that I played, I only finished 6. But for me 6 certainly was the best of them because it had a great character development system that pretty much was one of the closest to the ideal that I wanted in a game.

I never really got into the lore behind Wizardry and that never compelled me to try and acquire earlier releases. But in truth, you could start from 6 and not really worry about any other games as the story was good enough on its own. The game is a classic dungeon crawler with a first person, turn based perspective. The graphics were a generous step up and it took advantage of some sound abilities despite mostly having annoying beeps outside of combat.

Probably, the most frustrating aspect is the character creation process. It uses classic random number generation with slight augmentation based on the race you choose. Because of this, you may not immediately get the class you drastically desire to play. If you get poor rolls, you’re still forced to go through this painful selection process before having to start over. For some classes that require high starting statistics like Lords and Ninjas, you could easily spend hours running through this nonsensical process before even getting to see your class show up.

However, if you’re able to persist and generate your ideal party, then you have to survive getting through a few encounters and saving constantly. The game is extremely brutal at the starting stages because you have little to no money and a random encounter containing overwhelming odds can essentially wipe your party out. You won’t have access to a temple for instant healing like in other games and there’s no way to swap characters once you’ve begun. Also, the merchants in this game are very few and far in between, quite often selling useless trinkets rather than equipment that help you upgrade your character over the course of the game.

But gear really isn’t the be-all, end-all of this game. Certainly, it helps augment your character but what empowers you over the course of this game is the ability to gradually gain access to all spells and skills through changing classes. One of the coolest aspects of the game that made me fall in love and stick with the game for so long was this trait. Once you reach a minimum prerequisite for a new class, you’re given the option to switch over, abandoning your old class, but retaining your hit points, skills and spell points.

If memory serves me correctly, the immediate downsides are 1) dropping your attributes to the minimal standards of the new class; 2) becoming level 1 in that new class; 3) not being able to access certain skills until you overtake your previous class’ level. Now, despite sounding harsh, the thing is that if you split your class at the appropriate time, you can depend on your fellow party members from preventing this character from getting insta-gibbed.

For myself, my favorite technique in the game was to get every character to switch into a class with ninjitsu. Now, I’m guessing that there was a bizarro bug in the game where hiding in the shadows (ninjitsu) allowed your character to eventually become permanently stealthed once you stayed hidden at a maxed out skill level. For the final encounter, my entire party was hidden and the boss couldn’t kill me despite tossing all types of spells at me. With that, I was able to backstab and reciprocate spells that nuked my enemies down while I remained safely tucked away in the darkness.

Speaking of spells, spells and ninjitsu are what rule the game. The game has an interesting mechanic where you have different schools of spells that contribute to their own pools of spell points for that school. For instance, you’d have fire or air. When you level up, if you chose a spell in a particular school, you would gain a few more spell points in that school. Doing this allowed you to become a specialist and overtime build up huge tanks of spell points that allow you to cast high powered area effect spells that could wipe out large groupings of mobs.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the way skills are handled. Many skills can be increased by using them. So the ninjitsu example previously would go from 1-100 based on you allocating points during leveling up or if you used it in combat consistently. Weapons and a few other key skills acted in the same way. Spells and skills like kirijitsu (the art of killing/critical hits) required that you manually assign points into that skill. As a result, you would save up points that require manual assignment for those skills while anything else would be raised through usage.

Leveling up is a very interesting and simultaneously painful event. It provides you with a random number of automatically allocated increased attribute points as well as a random amount of points that you can assign to your skills. One trick was before leveling you would save your game prior to an encounter. After the encounter was finished and you’d level, you could restart the game if you were unhappy with the point allocation.

The game is primarily focused on combat or mapping. Combat is turn based and is similar to other turn based RPGs where you assign an action before a round. They attempted to throw in some strategic differences like diversifying melee attack types to with thrust or slashing. Depending on your equipment and the mob type, the attack type could be more efficacious or flat out ignored. None of the combat was visual outside of spells and missile attacks. You’d get a few nice explosive noises when you hit (or were hit). But for an old school game it was pretty decent given the technology.

Unlike other games, Wizardry 6 did not have a fixed map size, even though you could map every level by hand. There are some puzzles in the game and without a hint book, you potentially could get jammed at a certain point. In my case, I hit a point where I was unable to pass a section of the early game for the longest time. But I found a small area where I could fight higher level monsters and increase my capabilities. Eventually, I bought a hint book and was able to move forward but by that point I had been able to overpower every encounter in the game.

For me I enjoy the grind and the leveling methodology. I felt that there was always something to look forward to when progressing in the game and never felt hindered by lacking proper gear. Of course, a huge reason for this was having a good group setup and maxing out my characters before the game got difficult. But that was a slight oversight by the game developers. Being able to change classes and utilize all my previous classes’ skills are mechanics I wish more RPGs would employ. Also, the high level concept of using skills to improve them is an idea I’ve been fond of (like Wasteland). Given the right implementation, it can be very rewarding to see yourself improve throughout the course of a game.

Now, the real bad parts of this game is the learning curve from when you start. I feel that the character creation process and near hardcore style play the moment you’re tossed into the dungeon will prevent new players from ever enjoying the atmosphere of this wonderful RPG. And it’s kinda silly how that aspect was implemented considering you would be able to truly maximize yourself in switching classes over and over. So why make the character creation aspect so painful?

I think this game attempted to target the hardcore CRPG crowd by pulling together a lot of familiar concepts, a huge bag of classes, races and skills and creating a setting that got to the core of CRPG dungeon crawling. The only problem with Wizardry is that I always felt their products were too niche and outdated compared to other game studios who were pushing the boundaries. But Sir-Tech did seem to understand the underlying desires of the elements in a solid RPG.

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