Currently playing: 7 mages, Drive to Moscow, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet

March 30, 2012

Wizardry VII - Review

I´ve decided to pause my gameplay in Wizardry VII. I´ve played for around 25 hours or more and I think that is enough to give you my review of the game. The reasons for pausing is that it takes too much time as input and much too less progress and rewards as output for the time available for me right now. Besides the game is huge and I don´t see me finishing this until the beginning of summer.

So here is my review

Time played: Approximately 25 hours

Gameworld & Story
The story takes places directly after Wizardry 6. Multiple parties are looking for the artifact Astral Dominae that lies somewhere on the planet Guardia. The artifact holds power over life itself. The game begins with an introduction that tells the player this. The starting location differs depending on wether you imported previous characters or not. Other than that you are free to go anywhere you want. The game is quite non-linear in this way.

During the game it is only when you meet very special NPC:s that the story unfolds further. There are very few books, items or parchments that tells you anything above what you already know. The unique thing of the story and the gameplay is that other NPC parties actually could find the map pieces you need before you get there. I have to give some credits for this dynamic gameplay feature. But that increases the frustration of hunting down those NPC parties when you´ve already cleared out a dungeon or castle and find yourself being too late in the end.

So to summarise. The story itself is quite ok but the lack of enough story enhancing parts in the game makes the story quite useless in practical gameplay. 

Rating: 2


Economy
There are quite many items in the game, including special items and magical items. There are few places in which you can buy them though and most NPC:s have a limited stock of items. The balance between available items and the amount of gold you gather is quite good. I have not experienced that I´ve had all too few golds and yet not as much as to fully equip more than one character at a time. I am not sure if the stock items gets replenished or if new items might be added to the stock later on. You could meet NPC:s in the wilderness with whom you could trade but they are far and few inbetween.

It is very seldom you find good items in the game but when you do it is the more fun.

Rating: 3


NPC & Interactions
As is typical of games from this period, only major NPC:s have something to say. You are allowed to speak with them through an interpreter which is very limited. It means you have to type keywords to get something out of the NPCs. I´ve read somewhere that the interpreter in Ultima 3 is even better than in this game.

While meeting NPC:s you could sometimes trade with them. That is a nice feature since the shops available in the beginning are very few. You might also bribe or threaten the NPC:s but I have never used those options. The major NPC:s are wandering around the map and it is by pure chance you stumble into them.

There are a few places in the game in which you are put into situstions where you have to decide what to do like pulling a lever or using an item or whatever. It is very seldom but they do exist.

Wizardry VII handles NPC:s  at medium or possible above for what was common in this type of game in 1992-1993.

Rating: 2


Monsters & Tactics
There are a lot of monsters in this game. Many share the same kind of graphics. You don´t have the typical range of monsters as found in classical fantasy worlds like elves, dwarves, orcs and goblins. Here they have more unique names like Demented Munk or Rattkin Assassin and a lot of variations of them. Many have special abilities. It could be breathing acid, paralyzing you, terrify you or even to cast spells. 

Since you don´t fight out in any tactical layout like in the SSI Goldbox games, Demon's winter or Dark heart of Uukrul the tactics used are very limited. Monster could be attacking you in up to five different groups. Each containing a chunk of a specific monster type. Your tactic consists of choosing which group to attack (there are no different ranges to enemy groups, everyone could be reaced) and if you are to use a swing, bash, kick, thrust etc or if you want to cast a spell, dodge or run. In that respect, combat is much more like in Dragon Wars or Bards Tale III. It works quite well though. And if you speed up the Dosbox to at least 12.000 cycles you could quickly get the combats over with. If you where to play them through normal speed it would have been very tedious.

Rating: 2.5


Map design
The maps in the game are all irregular. They are of no fixed sizes like 16x16 or 32x32. This makes them more varied but much harder to map. The automap (supplied with the Journal Kit) is very bad. When you look at it you cannot scroll it to see parts of the map that don´t fit the window. That is a major drawback. I can live with the fact that I can´t make annotations though.

The overland map is huge with no loading parts. It just stretches hundreds of hundreds of squares in every direction. You could at least follow a paved road that leads to major locations on the map but other than that you either have to map out everything yourself or rely on your luck with the automap.

Dungeons and other places are quite well mapped out and there seems to be some logic to the design of maps.

Rating: 3.5


Character generation
This part is one of the games strongest part. You have different races, each with their own characteristics like resistances and such things. You have the different attributes which are random but you have to go through the whole character process in order to "re-roll" them. You have different professions that decides which skills you get and which weapons and armours you can use. For spell-casting users it decides which of the several schools of magic you will have your spells in. Also, you get a random pool of skill points divided between weapons, physical and academia skills. All this together makes for a lot of different combinations. This is a very fun part. But as always, before playing the game for the first time, one never knows which attributes or skills are essential to start out high with.

Later on you will be able to - at any time- switch profession as long as your current character reach the required prerequisities for that profession. What happens then is that your characters attributes are reset to the  base requirement of that class but you will have all your skills to use from your former class and will rise quickly from level 1 and upwards. One should note though that you cannot use higher lever spells from a former class in a new class unless you reach high levels again.

 In any event,, character generation and variety is one of the strongest parts of this game.

Rating 4.5


Graphics, Sound & Interface
The graphics in the game uses standard 256-colors VGA. It is funtional but nothing to write home about. The framerate are horrible in standard settings in Dosbox and the animations are so few so everything moves very blocky. Increase the CPU cycles in Dosbox and the gameplay gets much more smooth and enjoyable. 

The character screens was hard for me in the beginning to understand. It took awhile until I knew how to look at each members skills or experience points or even to understand that each spell school had its own pool of mana. You could burn out your spell points in the fire department but still have a lot to use for water-based spells for example.

The overland graphics looks the same no matter where I´ve been so far and the dungeons as well. The starter dungeon had the same graphics as the Orkogre castle dungeon. The cities look the same also. Only the monsters differs.

The sound is almost non-existent. I´ve not heard anything better than what you get from built-in pc-speakers. As you understand you would do the best to turn it off altogether. The speed during combat increases with that too.

The interface is clumsy but funtional and you soon learn how to use it. It could have been done much more smoother. Casting spells requres you to select the spellbook, then the character to cast the spell, then select the spell school, pick your spell and powerlevel, cast it and select a target character. There is no such thing as readied spells or any shortcuts to use if you want to repeat the same spell again.

To use the auto-map requires several unneccessary clicks. The combat interface works ok though, but when finding items you can only take one item at a time and for every item you have to select which character to receive it. You cannot leave the items behind easily either without first selecting each item and click on the leave button. 

When trading the interface is even worse. If you speak with a NPC you have to select the Trade command. When there you could buy, sell or pool your gold for the active character but you cannot switch trading character or buy/sell items for other characters. You then have to leave the negotiation and then enter it by another character. This takes time and is just an idiotic way of handling trades. 

It is the interface that drags this game down a step. Even in 1992 other games was much smoother in this department. Graphics and sound aren´t that important for a game like this afterall.

Rating: 2

Manual
The manual to this game is thick and excellent. It is easy to read and try to convey all information you need. All races, professions, skills and spells are listed and described. That includes combat, lock-picking, negotiations and magic. It even tries to explain the differences for gamers coming directly from Wizardry VI. I can only give this kind of manual a high grade. Take a look at the manual for Wizardry Gold (not complete with statistical tables that could be found in the original manual but still good).

Rating: 4


Gameplay
So then we are down to the most important aspect, the gameplay. It started out well, as most games do in the beginning. Everything was new and my group levelled up quickly. I´ve said it before. Wizardry VII is a game that requires a lot of time and dedication. You cannot rely on the automap so you have to map out parts of the game yourself. If you have the patience and time for that the game will be rewarding but in my opinion it might be a little too big and long without much variation between places.

There are no side-quests that I´ve found after 25 hours of gameplay and I think there is a lack of direction. You might go where you want but you don´t really know why. The only thing you could do is to explore new territories on your own. Sure, I did get back to Orkogre castle which seems to be meant as the first stop. But after that I had no clear goal for my group and no way to easily and fast travel between already visited places. Things would have been much easier if you would have the help of teleportations places or spells. Now I only found a teleporter from New City to the T'rang city which is good but not enough for this large game. 

The spells seems varied at the beginning but after awhile you have a few that you use over and over again without bothering to try out new ones. That goes for most games though. Combat is relatively fun though. You have many types of approaches and the ability to summon creatures to help you out is very good. You could quite easily reload from combats if you tire to walking into random fights with huge groups of monsters. That´s how I moved quickly in the wilderness.

The atmosphere below ground is much better conveyed with descriptions for many of the rooms or places you discover in the dungeons. The cities above are quite boring frankly. You have to walk around the whole city and try to open every door. The character level increases is really the highlight of the game. You could really see how they improve over each level by gaining more attacks and making more damage.

If you can spare the time needed this is a solid game but not if you are a casual gamer who wan´t something to play for a few weeks.

Rating: 3


Total rating: 26.5

March 26, 2012

Wizardry VII - Orkogre Castle and beyond

Last time my party got the mission to checkout the Rattkin ruins by the T'rang leader. On the overview map that is bundled with the game I am at Nyetalinth in the northwest and the Rattkin ruins could be seen east of that.


We moved from the T´rang city eastwards to look for the Rattkin Ruins. During the trip we fought our way forward through numerous encounters until we finally hit the walls of what I believe was the Rattkin Ruins. The problem was that there where no way in. We circumvented the whole place. The main entrance was blocked by strange trees. I searched around with both the spell detect secrets and with my fighter's scouting skill without finding any hidden entrance.

After awhile I was sure that I will not get into these ruins so we changed objective back to the first one. To follow up on the note given to us by the released prisoner in New City. We therefore backtracked into the Orkogre forest for hours until we found a glade with a ladder going down.This turned out to be the entrance to castle Orkogre.

At this point I was quite tired of loosing hours just wandering around the wilderness without having progressed in any way in the overall story. Now things where to change. When going down into the castle, we found ourselves into a classical dungeon. My pencil and drawpaper come to use once again.


This castle turned out to contain three to four small levels with a lot of keys, levers and hidden buttons. This was the first true dungeon crawl so far and it was quite fun. There where some puzzles to solve and interesting items.

Amongst other things you met a monkey in a caged area that had access to a lever. To let the Monkey actually pull the lever for you, you had to find some bananas far down into the dungeons. That wasn´t very hard though. The other puzzle was. That was a door that wouldn´t open. In front of it was a pool of blood, dimly lit by the light from a crack in the ceiling. So what does that mean ?

Well, it turned out you had to find a polished breastplate and put into the floorl to let the light reflect on this piece of armour to the locked door who then would open. Logical ? Not very. The rest of the puzzles was more about finding hard too see buttons to press or trying the right kind of keys found.

One of the first room we found was the armoury in which we found a lot of items. Not better than what we already had but we could get some to sell later on and make some money.


After having found some keys, pressed the right buttons and/or levers we finally met the Gorn King. He was very sad and lacked all enthusiasm. The war was going bad for him. Yet he gave me the key to a very valuable possession of his.


When we found his chest it was already empty and plundered. It seems there are other NPC parties out after exactly the same item as I am and since i have been running around much before coming here and also rested a lot my time had run out. I suppose I will get the item later on when I meet these NPC:s.



Anyway, our exploration of the castle gave us some interesting items and a lot of experience points. We left the area and headed for the first city called New City to sell the stuff we didn´t need. 

Wizardry VII is quite advanced on the aspect of carrying capacity. You could carry more than your limit but you will gradually degrade your combat performance. That is depicted by change of colours of the value of your Carrying Capacity (CC).

When we came back to the New City we sold of weapons and armours that my current party member was unable to use. Here I met the NPC leader Lord Galiere. He had a Dragon Map he wanted 10.000 gold for. I had 15.000 gc and bought the map of him. It seems my mission in the game will be to collect all these maps in order to proceed into the main story. I have no interest to try to lookup these NPC:s later on in the game since they are roaming around certain territories and it is totally random if you encounter them there. 

When we came back to New City I thought to try out all places that was either locked or too strong for me to enter the first time. First of all it seemed I had missed the Bank. There was a room with a small button that opened up a secret compartment with a chest. The chest contained a dead man's hair, a poisonous dagger and some sort of shroud. The two latter things turned out to be cursed, revealed by my priest who identified them. The dead mans hair is probably a special item that I will save for later use somewhere.


Another place led to some sort of forbidden zone. There was a tough fight to get in but this time around I could manage it. I found a door that clearly required some item to open it. I tested all my different items and found out that the Control Card could open it. Right behind was a very tough fight with Savant Controllers and Savant Troopers. They have the ability to paralyze you in which case the fight is over if all you your party gets paralyzed. However on my third attempt I defeated them, my priest raised a level and we were all happy. 



The room contained a strange machine with which I could try to talk to or use an item on. I have no items that seemed to work on it so I had to leave it.


At the clerics quarter there where a statue in the middle of some water. The first time around I could not swim over to it but now I could. I searched the base of the statue and found a moonstone. As always it will be put into the backpack for later use.


I couldn´t think of more things to do here right now.  I bought some better armour and switched my thiefs baselard to a cutlass. I was ready for my next task. I decided I would check out the Rattkin ruins once again and went there. When I arrived I entered through the clearing in which I´ve entered before as far as I remember but this time I could move forward a few more steps. I was surrounded by man-o-grooves, treemen. They are quite hard but I managed to defeat them. What I wasn´t prepared for was that this was only the first wave of attackers. With no ability to rest, three separate combats - each with several groups of enemies - occurred. By the third part, one or more of my party members where already dead. I think I tried for four or five times before I gave up. I have to return here later on but it is too difficult for my level 10 party right now. Unless I wan´t to resurrect several characters which I don´t. There are always some penalties for that.

Ok. so where too now ? The only other way to go is to continue past Munkaharama city to the east. I did so and met new strange types of creatures on the way. My target is the city of Ukpur as can be seen on the map above.

I am feeling like I am moving through syrup. Everything goes so slow. I also fear this talk about other NPC groups (read races) which you could learn about by choosing "Lore" in interactions. They always say which NPC has which map and where they where last sighted and so on. I fear I have to move around the whole world in the end to pursue them and their map pieces. Something which I am not very eager to do when thinking of how much time it will take to travel back and forth on the huge map.

I am not sure I will continue with this game. It sucks up all too valuable time which could be spent in another more rewarding and shorter game. Wizardry VII is not bad, but it requires huge amount of invested times, requires you to write down keywords to ask NPC:s about and lacks a decent automap feature. These three things keep you from playing it in a casual manner.


March 24, 2012

The lack of printed manuals today

I have to complain a little about another thing that irritates me in todays gaming market. The lack of proper paper manuals.  It´s not as much about the quality as of the lack of a printed media I am talking about. There are several reasons for it.


  • It is convenient to have a paper manual to be read anywhere, anytime without having to sit in front of the computer. I have read countless of manuals to/from work, in the bath, before going to bed etc. It won´t be bad for my eyes.
  • Proper manuals should be exhaustive and well written. Examples of good manuals where the ones supplied by Microprose once in a time (Gunship,F-19 Stealth Fighter, Pirates, Civilization etc). They add great value to the game. I was quite frustrated that Civilization V was the first game in the series that was not supplied with a paper manual.
  • To have the paper manual is also one reason to buy the game and not get a pirated version. That was always my standpoint in the 80s/90s. Advanced and good games are worth the money if not for the game itself but for the manual supplied. There was this added value in having a fine box with a thick manual. Today you get a sheet or four language leaflet for most games. 
  • I could rationalise away thick manuals for lighthearted games and FPS/Cinematic adventures etc but not for strategy- and roleplaying games. 
  • Even though digital manuals does not incur printing or distribution costs they could still be very short even though one thinks they would have all the space available to describe spells and skills or give complete descriptions of mechanics etc. I don´t want to have to look up dev journals to get that kind of info.

Now my antagonists will say...


  • You have to think about the environment. Do you know how many trees is required to ship a manual with every game around the world ?
So what ? If the game is advanced and complex enough to deserve a proper manual it should be there. In paper. Should we close down all bookstores as well with the same reason ?
  • The game would be more expensive with the manual. This is a way to keep down the costs.
I am ready to pay 5-10 dollars more for a printed manual. Games like Civilization V are proably played by older gamers with more money anyway.

  • You get the PDF manual of the game included. Stop complaining!
See my reasons at the top.

  • You just have to print the included digital version!
That is expensive and you get it in a bad A4 format. Why should I be content with that when games up to the first years in 2000 always included proper manuals ? I am used to them. 

I understand the companies wish to cut costs, to be able to fit the manual in simple DVD-cases which is the same for all platforms. That advanced games could never be released on the consoles and therefore obviate the need for a manual. But still I will support companies that offers two versions. Instead todays Collectors Edition includes every useless junk except a proper manual. They could include figurines and trinkets. Art book etc. Who cares about that except small children ? Game music on CD is appreciated and those that supplies proper manuals.

That was my thoughts about this issue. Proper manuals was always supplied to the belowed CRPGS.



March 20, 2012

Why I play old CRPGs

One could wonder how it comes that I - in my late thirties - could even think of playing old CRPGS created 20-25 years ago with its extremely bad graphics and sound compared to todays standard. Add to that your friends or familys wrinkle of their eyebrows when they see the games in action. 

For me, it all begun in januari 2011. I had no games to play at the time. I stumbled upon Freegameempire, a site which had old CRPGS downloadable and bundled with a selfstarting Dosbox environment from within your browser. Just Click´n & Play.

I started out with Ultima Underworld, one of the first realtime 3D RPGs released in 1992. Despite the horrendous vga graphics there was something that hooked me immediately. Perhaps it was the vulnerable spot in which you start. No weapons or equipment and confined into a dungeon with no way of escaping. Or maybe it is the dark atmosphere or graphics that accompanied the game. Or the lack of todays handhelding with arrows pointing you to your objectives ? The feeling of owning nothing and having to aquire everything you need and learn what you need to do makes the game more accessible in the beginning.  Compare it with a modern game like Drakensang that has these cartoonish-like colours for kids. Even the manual for Ultima Underworld helped build up the atmosphere required.

I have played a lot of roleplaying games released during the last decade. Many of them are great like Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. Add to that Gothic 1-3, Witcher 1-2 and a few others coming behind. And yet, It is clear where the RPGs are going. The last couple of years have had me more and more irritated of the development of modern roleplaying games.

  • Recent RPGs gets more and more easy on the "normal" difficulty level. Classical RPGs are much, much harder and unforgiving. Today you not only get easier fights. You are handheld all too often. You either have direction arrows for your objectives or the fights are easier, more cinematic with great graphics and a story that almost never let you get stuck anywhere. There are seldom any puzzles, hidden levers or anything that slows you down on your quest. 
  • All the numbercrunching and stats are hidden, if they exist at all. Look at the development between Morrwind - through Oblivion - to Skyrim. The stats are gone. You have fewer skills etc. Look at Neverwinter Nights vs Dragon Age or Dragon Age vs Dragon Age 2. Things gets more streamlined and cinematic. Every game should be immediately accessible and give instant satisfaction. If you are not able to fight a fire-breathing dragon within 5 minutes they fear you will drop the game (Witcher 2 is a perfect example of a breathtaking intro that is done to capture the player).
  • When did you last find a secret door, lever or hidden spot in a modern RPG ? When did you miss out this magical and hidden item by exploring parts of the world in which no one had ventured before ? Most of the modern games are either very linear with few hidden things to discover in its enourmous worlds. Even though they might give your the feeling of going everywhere how often can you come across places which really hides useful items or treasures ?
  • How often do you have to backtrack because you meet an opponent or obstacle so tough that you have to level up a bit before taking it on in modern RPGs ? Grinding is a concept totally unknown for todays players. I am not saying countless of grinding hours is fun but the fact that you need to do your homework before tackling the real challenges should be natural. Where are the patience and perseverance required and rewarded ?
  • The lack of any useful manuals. There are not even ingame manuals in all games. Most rely on tutorials or ingame encyklopedias - that while good - lacks the developers written enthusiasm for their games which could be felt when reading the designers notes or introductions in the old manuals.
These are just a few things that I feel is lacking in current RPGs released. What is the reason ? I have two theories. One is that most games are done for several formats. The console market hosts in average younger players. They cannot be bothered to read thick manuals anymore (hey, there are almost no manuals printed at all anymore. That´s another topic!) to understand pros and cons of choosing different races, professions, learn what the statistics mean etc etc.They just want to play straight on. That leads me to my second point.

Today the competition is so fierce so you cannot afford to make a game too much of a challenge and risk the player getting tired of it and move on to another game. You have too keep up the interest at all times. So you lead the player in a very graphically beautiful, cinematic story with mostly quite easy obstacles and focus on a strong interactive story instead.

Compare that to the old CRPGs. They came with thick, atmospheric creating manuals. The boxes bragged about the features of the games like the number of monsters or spells, the amount of dungeons, classes or professions. How many modern RPGs is advertised in that way ?

The classical CRPGs are much harder and unforgiving. Some of them are even to the extreme and make bad examples but in the end of the day I will always choose to play an RPG which is a little bit too challenging than the other way around. The enjoyment of gaining a level, getting the final gold needed to upgrade your equipment or having enough gold to get the spell needed to defeat a tough opponent is irresistible.

There are of course a lot of old CRPGs better avoided, but take a modern game like Gothic 4 for example. The expectations where skyhigh. The game was so unchallenging and easy, so empty and with so bad NPC:s and dialogue that you wondered if it was meant to be played by children alone. This must be my worst example of modern RPGs. Then you have Risen, a perfectly balanced game, true to the ancestral lineage from the Gothic series. Very hard at times. Yes, there are examples of good modern RPGs but they are getting fewer and fewer inbetween.

Lastly I will admit that a great part of my fondness for classical CRPGS are of nostalgic reasons. When you are young you literally suck in all the emotions from these games and they stick with you for all these years. It is very seldom this feeling comes back in modern RPGs.

There are also three other reasons for me playing these old CRPGs. One is that many of them are abandonware today and while you are waiting for new mainstream games like Skyrim or Risen 2 you could always spend some time with these golden oldies. The other thing I was about to say was that since they are turnbased they don´t force you to be active in front of the computer all the time. You could pause whenever you want and get interrupted by the surroundings without spoiling anything. Besides, these games work splendid on small netbooks or other old laptops you might have lying around.

One game company that have seen this problem today is www.basiliskgames.com who have produced Eschalon book 1 and 2. Two excellent RPGs true to the charm of old roleplaying games. I can highly recommend these two games. They are worth every penny. Check them out.

So, readers out there, why do you play old CRPGs like me ?



March 16, 2012

Wizardry VII - Where are the quests ?

Last time we had just found the city of Munkharama after a long trek in the forest. The city felt abandoned and deserted. There where very few houses and no inhabitants at all. Well, apart from the hostile encounters, that is. We looked through the town very carefully and found a few special places.
  • There where only four doors in the corner of the city, each leading to another door that seemed to require some sort of key or object to open.
  • We found a well with a riddle. Actually I thought it was a downstair ladder at first and left it for last to examine.
  • In the four corners of the city there where some strange urn or markings. I have no idea if I am supposed to do something with these.
  • In the middle of the city was an island surrounded by water. The water poured in from open tunnels in the citywalls.


    I did my best to figure out the riddle but with no success. After having tried my best for five minutes I gave up. Since I had nowhere else to go except leaving the city I thought I just have to solve the riddle for otherwise I have to return here sooner or later anyway and I wouldn´t be any wiser then. So I checked the solution online which was coin.

    The well gave me four coins as a reward. Aha, I thought. These coins must be tried at the locked doors. I went there to check them and sure. They did open. Alas, I was dissapointed to learn that behind two of them where only empty rooms and in the other two there where a lever. I pulled the levers but couldn´t figure out what they did so I had to leave and return back for this part later on.

    I decided to check out the small island. It required two or three steps on water. I went ahead and my group started to drown on the second step. Hmm. I reloaded and tried for a few times. Everytime you try to swim you exhaust your stamina. You could easily see if you are able to try to take on more step or not before the stamina goes down to zero. I did a little experimentation. I checked the value of the skill swimming for my mage. Saved. Went out on the water and backtracked. Checked the skill. It had now increased with 1. Perfect. I saved, rested, tried again and it was raised with one. I did that for around 15 minutes. After that all of my party memebers had at least 20 in swimming. I was now able to move three steps of water before drowning. Enough to carry me over to the island.


    While there we found a statue and searched the spot to find some more information but nothing that led us anywhere. Another spot where I might have to return to later on in the game.

    You can search this spot for more info but nothing that lead me further

    The only other place that I had not explored yet was the tunnels into the city walls. We went in there  swimming and saw a small square with a chest behind the walls. Hurray! This got the adrenaline pumping. I trained my group further in swimming and went in. After disarming the chest we got a few items of interest. Mostly potions or scrolls but no new weapon or armour.

    From there we could continue to explore the area in the city walls which led us to another part of the city where we found the first shop, an apothecary. The shopkeeper sold mostly potions and a few special items that I have no idea what to use for. We only bought cure poison from him and sold off some other stuff. After this part we had nothing more to do in the city. I felt a little dissappointed. Nothing was accomplished here and I had to move on.

    What I did accomplish however was to give my group neccessary experience points and raise in levels. When my mage got Fireball and my alchemist a similar spell the fightings immediately become both easier and faster. If we were rested beforehand and had full mana I must add. The good thing is that it is quite seldom you get interrupted when you rest.

    We left the city and backtracked the area we already passed. Mapping out all the squares and roads we´ve missed. This time however, we didn´t have to pay 150 gp to cross the river. We could just swim over. I used this opportunity to swim over to the other sides to explore areas not reachable by any road I had found so far. It did pay off. We met a group of giants guarding a chest. They where tough but I unleashed everything I had and they where unlucky on their turn so I defeated them. The chest contained a magical two handed crusader axe, a crusader helm and armour. The armour made a lot to improve my fighters armour class.


    The axe however, could not be used. I had no skill points in the axe skill but when I raised a level I put some points into axe and begun to use it. The difference where enourmous. If I was lucky I could get up to 42 points of damage on a single hit. At least double my previous max damage.

    I am very satisfied with my fighter but much less so with the Monk and Priest. The monk could sometimes be lucky and inflict a critical hit which kills the opponent instantly but it happens very seldom. His quarterstaff are doing around 2-10 points of damage. Not much to write home about. The priest is not better but at least he have some spells. The thief is good with backstabbing and hiding  but he uses a worthless fairystick which mostly deals around 4-6 points of damage.


    I have just cast the spell identify


    After stumbling around the huge overland map we finally reached a new city (I was hoping to crawl down into a dungeon or ruins or something) called Nyetalinth. The T´rang race that inhabited this city was not too pleased to meet me.


    After exploring the city we came upon a security area where we got hold of some finger rods that I have no idea what to do with. We also found a T'Rang portbook. Other than that the city so far is as empty as the first. Only when there is some texts attached you have to keep your eyes open and search the area.


    My reflections about the game now is that while it is still quite enjoying I am also beginning to tire of the fights. I choose my fights now and reload when there are too many random groups encountering me. That leaves me more time to draw my map undisturbed and take on the fixed fights instead.

    My thief is picking locks....
    I was just about to complain a little about the non-existent story so far and my lack of purpose for my group when I stumbled upon it. When I entered the city, I was told to go to the high-chamber but not knowing where it was I did systematically start to map out the city instead. After some time I found the high chamber and entered. I met - what I believe - are the T'Rang leader and he was about to test me for my loyalty so he sent us with a message to another important person.We where teleported and met this person who wanted us to join him in the war against the Umpani. Since I had not met the Umpani yet and thought the T'Rang wasn´t a very pleasant partner I declined and was sent back to the T'Rang king. He now wanted me to take on the Rattkin castle. This led me to my first mission in the game and gave my motivation a boost.

    This game will easily require at least 100 more hours of me if I am even remotely thinking of trying to complete it in any way.  I am not sure I want to spend the rest of the spring playing this but I will not stop now until I´ve pushed forward in my new direction.

    My group are now all at least in their 8th level and I am wondering if I should switch career for some of my partymembers. We will see if anything happens in my next post. It also depends on wether my partymember can meet the requirements of my intended profession.


    March 7, 2012

    Wizardry VII - Exploring a huge but empty world

    Last time we just left the starting dungeon. My party had at the time raised to about level 3. We where now eager to explore the outdoor, forested area and so we did. There was not much to be found. We stumbled upon a field of orchids that seemed strange. Strange because just after a few steps the whole group felt asleep and woke up somewhere else. After awhile we found our way back, but I have yet to explore this orchid area fully.

    Anyway, we came to the New City and entered. The city is quite big. I begun to draw my maps in a tool supplied by the Pyromancers.com but lack the ability to write text for important locations. I have to find a new tool.


    Half of the citys doors are locked but my thief managed to pick most of them. There are some special places like an inn, an armourer, a black market, a priest and a librarian. You could buy armours and a few weapons. The problem when buying weapons is that you cannot examine them, so you don´t know which weapon skill is required or what damage they do. You have to buy them and then identify them with a spell to be sure. That is ridiculously cumbersome. I found a list of all items on the net and just check the weapon name there for its damage. I won´t do that for magical or special items though. Just to make life a little easier when shoppping.

    I have yet to found any clue or have been given any mission about any greater goal. When talking to NPC:s you are free-text communicating like in Ultima. So you must enter keywords to lead the dialouge forward. This is cumbersome because you cannot scroll back in the dialogue. You have to try to remember the keywords or names that was spoken so you could ask about them. The interpreter seems to be very simple as well. 


    The clerics here could heal your wound and ailments


    The happiest moment in the game

    It was obvious at one place in the city that you where to try to free a prisoner that was held captive by Savant Troopers (which are very difficult to defeat by the way). After casting the Enchanted Blade spell we went in to deal with them. The interesting part is that the fixed encounters have random number of enemies, so if I was going in and was met with two groups containing 5 and 7 enemies I had just to reload and enter again to have other numbers as well as races. The difficulty also ranges from easy to hard. This exploit is of course used by me, so after a few reloads I met a resistance I could deal with.

    I rescued this prisoner and was rewarded with a letter of free passage...
    I freed the prisoner who turned out to be a captain of a rival enemy. He gave me important information of how to pass a guard patrol later on by showing them a written pass from him. I should also tell his king about the threat. This is my first strong hint of what to do outside this city.

    Regarding pussles in the game I´ve stumbled into at least one. When I came upon this note below I was just puzzled of what to do with it:


    Later on I found some sort of lock with yellow, red and blue buttons. I figured out the strange message could be related to pressing Blue, Yellow, Yellow, Red and was able to pass. Regarding strange messages I have still to figure out what this means though:

    My reflections after spending 10 hours with the game now have changed a little. To level up is still a most rewarding process. It is crucial to be lucky to get just the right kind of attributes raised so I figure this has to be crucial for successfully changing professions later on. If I would have been serious I would have re-fought my battles prior to raising a level to try to maximise my luck but I have not the patience for that in this playthrough.

    The combats are beginning to be tiresome. Especially random combats. There is not much difference in random encounters or fixed encounters when it comes to difficulty. You almost never get any loot from random encounters so you have not much to look forward too either. I wouldn´t say the random encounters are too frequent though, but they still occur every 20 steps or so.

    I found a Journy Map Kit and put that with my thief that has the highest skill in mapping. To use it I have to click on the use button, select my thief, scroll through my list of items, click on my map and then on the button use. Then I will see a small map in the middle of the screen with every square I have stepped into as cleared and the rest as black. The details are decided by your skill in mapping. I lack a shortcut just to press a button to show the online map. Otherwhise it does not replace the need to draw your own maps as well. The online tool program I found is to slow to draw my maps so I´ve abandoned it for going back to draw by hand.

    Not a replacement for handdrawn maps

    Is there anyone out there who have found an easy way to draw walls and doors on a grid layout without having the complexity of putting furnture or other tiles on it ? I just want the most simple way of drawing like one did on paper as a kid. The only drawback with drawing for hand is that you never know how large levels are or  at which relative position you start in them.

     
    There are not many items to choose from in the shops. We have now reequipped ourselved with somewhat better armour and weapons but my priest or monk have not found anything better than their original Bo stick or quarterstaff. We left the town at the other end to explore the world outside it.

    I know there are a few strange places left in the city but I will return later on to deal with them. Right now I want to have some variety and explore the world and find a purpose. We left the city through the east gate. After navigating and fighting for an hour while mapping out the terrain we stumbled into a clearing. An officer claiming to work for the Gorn empire stopped me and warned me to continue. I showed my paper the prisoner gave me and was allowed to pass. But not before I talked to him. He gave me some interesting information. The castle mage had been killed by assassins to the Gorn empire. Actually I don´t remember exactly what he said but I should search out the Gorn king in his castle. Perhaps I can be of help ?



    We continued onward for a bit but since my map span over to a new page I decided to return back to near the New City and finish mapping the areas I have missed. I´ll be back later for the Gorn lands.

    We moved south again and battled our way forward. At this stage the group has now all reached level 6 and my mage had finally been able to get some useful group attacking spells like Fireball. I am still craving for better weapons but have found none so far. My fighter Rizlo is my main tank. He can attack three times each round. The Monk has not impressed me yet with his Bo stick. I wonder if it is better to use his hands and feet ? Anyone knows ?

     

    We came upon a river, only crossable by paying 150 gp to Brother TShober. So we did and was transported over to the other side. He also had some useful armour to sell.


    After continuing our exploration we finally reached the city of Munkharama. Not surprisingly the main enemy here is variations of munks/monks. They are hard to hit with spells, can themselves hurl spells and are quite tough.


    I hope we will find something interesting here and something that will lead us forward with a clear goal. Most houses are empty. Fights are more frequent but we will continue exploring this part. I found a place to enter below the city but save it for later.

    I am also wondering when I should decide to switch profession. Should I wait until I reach a certain level ? That would be wise to give my spellcasters the highest level spells first but what about my warrior or monk ?

    March 2, 2012

    Wizardry VII Crusaders of the Dark Savant - Revisited

    I have to postpone playing realtime CRPGS like Legends of Valour for now. I have to have a game where I can make my moves without any time restrictions and so turn-based CRPGS are the best bet right now. There has been a lot of talk about the wonderful Wizardry series. To tell the truth, after reading CRPGAddicts torturous experience of this series, I wonder why I do jump in. I have played Wizardry 8 and that was a very good game indeed. Around Wizardry VI the series seemed to turn more user friendly and more forgiving regarding keeping saved games etc. So my next deep dive goes into the seventh installment called Crusaders of the Dark Savant.


    The game was released in 1992 and I try out the CD-version from 1993. The game was re-released with recording speech for Windows 95 in 1996 and was then called Wizardry Gold but I have yet to get that to install successfully in my Windows 7 machine. Also I have read that includes several bugs not existent in this version.
    My personal interest in trying out this game is because of the advanced character generation and development.  You create a party of six characters and choose between a dozen races and professions all with their unique abilities and statistics. You can change profession during the game and you also have dozens of different skills to use. The game supposedly features automapping (one strong reason for jumping into this genre) and have a whopping 96 spells. Add to this a huge game world both above and underground with 500 unique weapons and items and I think this game could last quite awhile. I am quite certain my interest and patience will not endure for the games completion but it will give insightful experience of this game and perhaps I will be able to fairly review it in the end.


    To make a long story short the mission is to go to the planet Guardia to locate the Astral Dominae item. It seems you are not the only one interested in that item  so I expect some resistance later on. Anyway, that is enough of a background story for now. After all, these games are all about hack´n slash and levelling anyway. Ok, I will return to the story when it does unfold for me in the game but not until then...

    You begin by choosing a race and sex. Yes, sex actually plays a part in this game. You are either more strong as a male or gets more personality and karisma. You choose amongst a dozen different races, each with their differernt starting base attributes. Each race also have certain bonuses like poison- or sleep resistance.

    You are then randomly given a bonus pool of points you could spend on increasing attributes of your choosing. The attributes are as complete as could be expected from this kind of game. There are strength, vitality, dexterity, personality, speed, intelligecne, piety and karisma.

    Each profession has its own requirements of attributes. You could change profession in the game so you are not stuck but you should carefully plan ahead. Of course, playing this game for the first time it is almost impossible to know what is a good starting party or not.

    The skill system is divided into three areas: Weapons, Physical skills and Academia which is more intellectual and contains magical skills. When you create your characters you get skills points (random or based on your attributes, I am not sure) for each skill class which you can spend.

    There are a lot of tips and hints on the internet about this game. I spent about one or two hours building up my party. That was much less than usual for this kind of game but I really don´t have the time right now to give it more than that. I will surely regret that later on when I got stuck somewhere but at least I have tried. Because this game is hard. Make no mistake. Users out there complains about getting stuck because of not optismising the character building section.

    My group consisted of a fighter, monk, priest, alchemist, mage and a thief. Eager to start we entered the world. We started out in a forested outdoor area with no clue of where to go at all.

    So....where do we go from here ?
    The movement is purely a classical step-by-step manouvre. The interface take some time to get used to but gets better along the way. I had huge trouble in figuring out how to look at a characters skills for example. Anyway, we moved on and after not more than 20 or 30 steps we stumbled upon a ladder leading down into the underground.


    At least somewhere to start our adventure. We climbed down through the ladder and found ourselves in a dungeon. So far I haven´t found any way to use the automap, though one of my characters are having skill points in mapping. I refuse to draw any maps with pen & paper and searched the internet for a substitue. I found an online program called Pyromancers.com. It enabled me to draw my dungeon maps. I lack clear symbols for doors and the like, but what the hell. It contains the most useful stuff.

    Here and there you are given some environmental descriptions of what you see or feel. There is no ambient sound at all in this dosbox version and just some very simple sound effects during combat.


    One skill is called Scouting. It is used to detect secret doors etc. I believe - or rather hope - the skill is checked for the character having the highest skill value and not the one who is in the front. I am not sure yet if it is used automatically or if I have to manually use the search function.


    Compared to Wizardry VI, this game is in VGA with 256 colors. The graphics is pretty ok but the animations is not. The user interface is also quite cumbersome to use. In order to properly map out my starting level I let my wizard cast the Direction spell. It shows a compass in the above upper row.

    I had yet to take more than 10 moves until my first encounter with an eerie moth. There is a skill called mythology and it is used to identify monsters. The monsters in Wizardry is so far not comparable to classical races like orcs, goblins, bats and rats. It is more like Bards Tale III with unique names which means it is quite impossible to know wether a an eerie moth is less scaring than a rattkin for example.


    Combat is resolved in turns and you give individual order for each character starting with the first in your rank (in my group that would be Rizlo, my fighter). The options reminds me of the system used in Bards Tale/Dragon Wars. You could individually choose to Fight, Run, Use item, Equip, Hide etc. The Fight option lets you choose which type of attack you will use based on your skills and weapon. For example you could Thrust, Swing or Bash your opponent. Each of them has its own pros and cons. To Swing is the easiest way to hit an opponent but will not be as effective to penetrate the enemies armour like a Thrust would do.
    I do like that detailed implementation in the game. It adds to the tactical element in combat. By the way, this game is more advanced than first impression would let you think. Your carrying capacity affects your ability to fight in several grades. That goes for your stamina as well. You could also get a lot of different ailments like nausea, sleep, paralyzed, illness, frightened etc. It all adds upp to creating a better atmosphere.
    Your could also meet enemies in several groups just like in the Bards Tale series. The ones in back could then use ranged weapons against you.

    Below is my male priest Rawulf. He has just advanced to level 2 and I am awarded with a bonus spell. Spells are choosen from 6 different classes depending on your profession. These are fire, earth, air, water, psionics and divine. See the dices below ? These are the power level of a spell. Each spell could be cast with your choosen power level. The higher the better. It either adds to damage, duration, stronger effect or whatever. I really like that kind of system as well. That means that lesser direct hit spells could be used for a longer time in the game before becoming obsolete.


    Level advancement happens automatically as soon as you reach the next level. You could not choose when to level up. The drawback of this is obvious. One could not reload easily in order to get better results since you have to at least complete your last fight to gain the XP needed and if several of your party memebers levels up at the same time you are having a hard time to try to let them all get good results. This game is said to be so unforgiving and hard later on that I believe all tricks should be used.

    Anyway, I have not the time to powerbuild my party so I just accept what I am given. When you level up you could be awarded increases in your attributes. That seems to be purely by random and sometimes you get one increase and sometimes I´ve seen three increases. After that you are given more stamina and hitpoints, the latter which also is random. Last but not least, you are given more skill points. This is the first time you could choose which skills to improve in the three different skill classes. If you are a spellcasting character you might be awarded to choose a new spell as well.
    I must admit so far that levelling up in this game is very, very rewarding. Just the CRPG feeling one love to have.


    Our exploration of the dungeon continued. There are some fixed combats, perhaps 5 or so of the entire map and then there is a chance for a random encounter. So far the amount and frequency of random combats are not very high. That is a very positive sign.

    I did find two small buttons in the walls. Both opened up a nearby wall to reveal new corridors. They both led to a chest in the end and here is when the next interesting part begin. To open a chest you could use a scroll or spell, but in the beginning you have to trust your thief. The thief get the skill Skulduggery and is able to disarm chests. Each chest could have one of several different types of traps like magic bolts, poision, guardian etc. Your thief inspects the lock to try to figure out which kind of trap it has. You then have to manually try to figure out what the most likely trap could be and begin to disarm it. It took awhile before I understood how it worked but then I suddenly disarmed the chest and was rewarded with an armour, sword and some potions.

    Both the armour and the sword had no name and was accompanied by the ? sign. They need to be identified. There is a skill called Artifacts that let you assay items. My priest was not successful in the beginning due to low skill level so I still don´t know if there is anything special with them. I use them though and don´t see any special change in my armour class either.

    The second level continued in the same fashion as the first. There where only one place that was special and that was a gate opened up by a lever. It led to someones domain. Immediately when entering we where attacked by a monster whose name I cannot recall. He was made of bones that scrambled from the ground to attack. This was the toughest fight so far but eventually he was killed. At least we got some hefty XP.


    I made the mistake of entering the water and immediately drowned with most of my characters. So water is very, very dangerous. I have to put more skill points into swimming. I was a little dissappointed not to get any loot from my defeated foe, but I soon found a chest in the far end of the room that - when disarmed - contained a lot of potions, a scroll and an amulet of life.


    There are so many combinations of races and professions to choose from and I am not sure my team is the best. For example, my thief is a Fairy. Very high dexterity but also extremely low on strength. What use do I have when my thief hides in the shadows and tries to backstab the opponents ? Hmm. Also my monk is not very good in combat either. I hope he will become better later on.


    Between fights you have to rest to regain stamina, spell points and hit points. It takes a lot of time but at least in the starter dungeon you are not interrupted so often by random encounters.


    As far as I know there is no way to replace your characters when starting the game. Or, if I am lucky perhaps there are when I come into a town or city ? Anyway, before leaving the dungeon - there where no other exits - I cast the spell Detect Secret in order to search every hex of possible hidden rooms/levers/buttons I might have missed. I didn´t find any and so I returned to the wilderness again.

    When finished, the first dungeon level looked like this:


    Anyway I returned to the outdoor area and continued my exploration. It took not long before I was greeted with by a group of hostile Rattkin Bandits. They where pretty hard to defeat but allowed me access to continue my exploration further.


    What lied behind them was the first town called New City. I was not allowed to pass at first. A guard blocked the way and asked for my business. Only after having entered the name of the shop (found on the parchment in the dungeon) was I allowed to pass him. But it seemed I could pass him anyway but then I had to fight myself past.



    I have just entered the town and not met any NPC yet or any shop. That will be part of my next post.


    I´ve put 5 hours or so into this game by now and so far I like it alot. I will continue to explore what Wizardry is all about and if it will become as hard as previous installments. I have no illusions about completing this game though. I don´t want to spend the next six months with this game but I will play as long as I am making good progress.

    Before I forget. The manual of this game is very, very good and comprehensive as well. Detailed descriptions of all attributes, skills, spells, professions, races and game mechanics. Its at least 100 pages thick. I really regret we don´t get these kind of manuals these days.
    Until next time...