Wizardry 8 Review

Wizardry might just well be one of the longest running series in computer gaming.  The 8th installment in the series comes in a 3D graphics wrapper, but at its heart it is true to its classic role-playing roots.  While many of today's RPGs tend to be action/role-playing hybrids, Wizardry 8 harkens back to the RPG old school of phased combat and saving rolls.

Wizardry VII veterans will be pleased to find that they can import their characters right into Wizardry 8.  Newcomers can create a new party of six characters by choosing from 11 races and 15 professions.  In addition to such traditional professions as fighters and mages, players can choose from a variety of imaginative professions including bards, ninjas, and gadgeteers.  This last profession can use 'modern' weapons such as rifles and combine pieces of technology into new devices.  The appearance of technology at this point hints that Wizardry 8 is not set in your typical high fantasy world, but more on that later.  After selecting a race and profession, the player is given bonus points to spend on the newly created character's attributes and skills.  Attributes are pretty much the standard strength, dexterity, etc. found in RPGs, and skills reflect how proficient a character is with various weapon classes, schools of magic, and the like.  This bonus point system is a nice way to bypass the tedium of re-rolling a character over and over again until one is generated to the player's liking.  Once the skill points are spent, all that remains is the naming of the character and the selection of a character portrait and voice.  During the game, the characters will provide information to the player using the selected voice.  The character voices are a nice touch, and players can select from a variety of personality types and accents as they feel best befits their character.

The game opens with the player's party crawling from the wreckage of a downed spacecraft.  The party was hired to escort an alien resembling a Wookie to the planet Dominus, the resting place of an ancient artifact that will give its holder the power to transform into a god-like being.  As can be expected, such an artifact attracts a lot of attention, and several alien races (as well as the mysterious and malevolent Dark Savant) have come to Dominus in search of it.  It will be up to the player's party to locate the artifact before any of the other interested parties do so.  This is definitely not a storyline out of a purely high fantasy world, and players which are very particular on the construction of their fantasy worlds will cringe at the appearance of androids, computer terminals, and starships in a fantasy RPG.  Most players will appreciate Wizardry 8's unique world, though.  The technology does not dominate its world, but appears as much a part of it as the other schools of magic available.  Wizardry 8 manages to create an interesting fantasy world that stands out above an endless stream of Dungeons & Dragons clones.

Once in the game, play proceeds in real-time, with players moving around Dominus by using the arrow keys.  Players are given a first person view of the world, and can select from a couple of screen configurations which display ever increasing details about the party at the cost of the size of the world view screen.  As the player moves around Dominus, he/she will come across various NPCs, hostile monsters, and hidden special items.  In order to help the player locate all of these things, the game provides a small radar which distinguishes friend from foe and will point out the location of any special items in the vicinity.  This is a nice addition as some of the items are very difficult to distinguish from the background and would easily be overlooked otherwise.  The radar also can aid the player in choosing when he/she would like to pursue hostile creatures and initiate combat - a very good thing considering that the party spends a lot of time licking its wounds from the numerous and ferocious attacks in the game.

Wizardry 8 features a lot of combat, often with several groups of different types of monsters or NPCs.  Players are advised to save their games often as their parties can find themselves overwhelmed with surprising frequency.  When a battle begins, the game switches to a phased combat mode where players can give commands to party characters at the beginning of each round of combat.  A round of combat then ensues, with party members and adversaries attacking in turn in an initiative-based order.  The game also supports a continuous combat mode, but this is still basically phased combat that allows the player to add character orders at any time instead of only between phases.  Enemies are fairly intelligent, and will maneuver themselves into the best position to attack the party.  Since the party is often outnumbered, this usually results in the party being assaulted from all sides.  Wizardry 8 allows players to position their party members into different formations to allow weaker and ranged members to be protected by burly fighter types, but the formation is only advantageous when attacking a very small number of enemies.  With the AI's propensity to surround the party, every character spends a lot of time on the front lines.  One nice touch in Wizardry 8 is that the combat does not occur in a vacuum.  Nearby NPCs often will join the fracas, helping the player to eliminate the enemy.  As an added bonus, the player's party will receive experience points for the monsters killed by the helpful NPCs.  While these additional allies can be a big help in inflicting additional damage on attacking monsters, the monsters themselves seem to largely ignore them and focus on the party.  They'll walk away from the NPCs hacking at them in order to position themselves to attack the party, so the NPCs can't be relied on to take a few hits for the team.