I had first heard of Wizardry Online from a friend who had loathed the subscription model. He suggested that we try Wizardry once it became available to us and I was drawn in by how fantastic the trailers of both the Japanese version and the then-upcoming US version were. Who could not stand in awe as the Demon tore the hapless warrior asunder? It was something that simply ingrained itself into my memory. A lot of people were excited to try it out, and I was among the very first that took to it when it launched.
I consider myself very patient with games in general, biding my time before I throw in my verdict, and my patience in Wizardry was no different. During my first day, I had already noticed some very awful elements; however, I decided to shrug them off, thinking that it was just launch-day sickness, overly-expecting what really should not be. But then, day after day would pass, and I would increasingly find myself wondering why I even wasted any of my already precious time on quite a lackluster game. A month in and I simply could not take it anymore. I apologized to my friend for flaking early and went on to other games.
Then the year passes and I hear that Wizardry was already closing down shop. I was saddened, but not surprised, as I had predicted it would end early for the fledgling MMO. But then, I could not, for the life of me, remember how and why I was excited and bored at this game. I decided to revisit it a few months before its closing, so that I could at least say goodbye to a tender footnote in my MMO career.
The Good, The Bad, And The Really Ugly
Once I created a new account, I remembered all there was that attracted me to Wizardry Online in the first place; its ambiance. Barring all sorts of comparisons people have had with Wizardry through the year it’s been on the American market, I think that it perfectly captured the feel of a proper dungeon-crawling, dark fantasy. I love the feel of moving through the dank underground of rotting walls paired up with the various refuse that accompanied you on your adventures. It gave the feeling of obscene helplessness that I could not find in any other game, save for a few that should not be mentioned here.
The music struck the right chords at the right time as your character trudged through the mud and slop of monster and demon filth, seeking out gold and glory. Even when you get to the two towns that serve as your main hubs, the ambience is still quite surreal. Ilfallo is just as poor and dilapidated as you would expect of a nation in trying times, giving more of the feel that survival is the top priority of the citizens and adventurers alike in this unfortunate place. I remember the days when I would find myself just interacting with the few regular players that hung out in different places in Ilfallo, role playing to some degree and laughing about how silly we must have looked. The ambience is just that infectious.
However, the pleasing aesthetics end there. In complete contrast to my praising of the environment, the character models in this game just went right out the window. Knowing that this game was developed in Japan, it is understandable to have some of the character art styles leaning towards that of the mainstream anime, however, it seems like that they went a tad bit overboard. It really does ruin the game when you give your all to defeat this boss and then, prancing around you, a cutesy Gnome or Porkul. The stark dissimilarity of the dark fantasy styled environment to the anime character stylistics makes the whole experience seem disingenuous. At some point, I wasn’t exactly sure if I was still playing Wizardry Online or if I had accidentally subscribed to a new Phantasy Star. To be fair, the character models are really well done if you consider everything about it. They’re quite attractive, in general, and those Porkuls could easily make any pre-teen or neckbeard squeal in delight due to their kawaii-ness. But again, it’s completely out of place, and would have been better if they were in a game that had the same theme.
The ambience, as I noted earlier, is also a double-edged sword for Wizardry. Because it is so effective at evoking the grand helplessness and danger that most dark-fantasy would entail, it became a fault of its own, making the dungeon crawling seem more like just crawling. A dungeon or three is fine, but then when you realize that you’ve been through too many to count, but everything looks almost exactly the same, it sullies the admiration it had first received. The crawls of mass expanses and, repetitive rooms and tunnels are featureless, save for a few npcs and guardian statues you may encounter, along with the multitude of regular mobs that, for some reason, take more mashing than actual skill to die. At that point, it becomes a pointless hack and slash that leaves little to be desired, making me wish to exit or finish the dungeon as soon as humanly possible.
Distracted by my concentration on character and environment, I recollected quite late why I couldn’t remember much about this game. The User Interface is just horrendous enough to addle you from any other aspect of Wizardry. I figured that after a year, SOE would have remedied the trashy UI with its immense amount of unnecessary information that could, would, and have overwhelmed any new player. Even now, despite me being familiar with how the game works, I still found myself dumbstruck at how, where, and why some UI elements are, eventually urging me to turn off every unnecessary element and flat-out ignoring everything else under my radar.
Leave Me Alone, I Drop Nothing
I have always been an avid PvP fan, storming through battlefields, battlegrounds and the open world alike with every game I play. However, Wizardry Online’s very mandatory PvP is just very atrocious to the senses. Getting ganked by a bunch of jerks, intent on taking your stuff, spawn camping a linear path by a guardian statue made for a very uncomfortable experience and one of the memories that I do not like remembering. Wasting hours of your time trying to finish this one quest but impeded due to griefing is a battle of attrition; a form of combat I loathe.
True, as most customer support would tell you, “apply the PvP solution”, would be the most prudent, but four against one isn’t really going to let you apply that solution as effectively as most would hope, and being a lowbie being tripped on by much stronger players isn’t exactly and ideally equal situation. Wizardry presented no alternative to it and simply went with the idea of it being “hardcore”, and leave players to their devices. I’m not quite sure how the Japanese version of Wizardry handles this, but the western one did little to provide an opportunity for budding players to have a fighting chance. Indeed, towns had guards that would come to your rescue in case you were attacked, but most of these events happen in the dungeons where no one else could help you but your own friends. I remember the countless of hours I had wasted just waiting for those “hardcore” players get tired and move on to someplace else, fearing for my life as I was usually alone and had little left to drop. I also didn’t like seeing my cutie Porkul dying for stupid reasons.
But when I returned to the game a few weeks ago, it was saddening to find out that there was basically no one else playing but me. All the dungeons that I used to frequent and get ganked in were empty. Whenever I would expect some extremely red fighter rush at me from a corner, there was nothing but stale, stone textures. I then realized that the game itself was banking on complete human interaction with those kinds of events, thus giving reason for the dungeon crawling to be bland. It just seems to me that Wizardry cannot survive with all its components together and it cannot survive with its components separated as well. Not the best structure, indeed.
A Game That I Used To Know
Wizardry Online was fun for the first few days it launched, but then it spiraled downwards to a pointless game of hacking and slashing with its ineffective UI and its imbalanced need for chaotic human interaction to be entertaining. It should have been good as there is a lot of potential within it, but execution, much like many other games, failed in most aspects. It tried too many things all at once, but raw to its very core. In its entirety, it failed to be a remarkable piece despite being a rare gem in the form of its IP, becoming but a distant and long forgotten memory for those, like I, who had tried it with but a smidgen of interest and curiosity. So, farewell, Wizardry Online, I hardly knew ye.Related: Fantasy, MMO, Shut Down, Wizardry Online