Sir-Tech, which is known for quality titles like the Wizardry and the Jagged-Alliance series returns with the final chapter in the Wizardry saga. It takes place in an alternate reality, which is a mixture of medieval magic and high-tech gadgets. When the planets were created the cosmic lords they used 3 spheres-like stones which all had their special task, being the Astral Dominae (life), the Chaos Molarae (change) and the Destiny Dominus (knowledge). The 3 stones were left on various remote locations, and if the wrong person collected them all then hell would be loose, since he would be a cosmic lord. So, time passes and of course, the (second) worst-case scenario happens. The Cosmic Forge (which upholds the magic of the stones) is stolen. Afterwards a nasty rumour is spread about how a person acquiring them all becomes a powerful Cosmic Lord. Three beings of three different races steal the stones. Everyone is headed for the planet of Dominus, which is located on the Cosmic Circle, being the birthplace of the Astral Dominae and the home of the Cosmic Lords. Now, seeing as how you and your party happen to have spare time to save the day, you set out in search for the bad-guys, fun quests and most importantly, the stones.
I must say that I had a lot of anticipation for this game, since Sir-Tech are known for making good games, even on a tight budget. The thing I was looking the most forward to was a good story, which evolved over time. Even though the introduction story is fairly good and all, the story evolves slowly during the game, meaning you need to do a whole lot of exploring and monster crushing before you stumble across the important NPCs who make the grand scheme progress.
While still looking a bit dated the graphics look okay. It encapsulates the genuine RPG feeling by having large forests, rivers, towns and bundles of varied monsters. Sir-Tech has done a good job on the textures, especially the ones in the towns and on the trees. The monsters and the various NPCs look okay, yet dated. They are sufficiently detailed for telling the story in a decent fashion, but I would’ve liked it if the modelling was less blocky. The animation is generally of a good standard, having for instance jaws moving on idle creatures.
The level design tends to get confusing, even with a map. First off, the map takes forever and a day to load, which is probably because it has to calculate a whole lot of geometry. Regardless, the map could’ve been made differently, including names on important buildings etc. Actually, even though it’s more realistic, it’s really annoying having to spend a fair amount of time searching a village for the weapon shop you know was there 15 minutes ago.
I’m not sure whether or not Sir-Tech used an in-house engine or an external one but it generally works well. It loads the huge levels very quickly, but the framerate in graphically complex areas is where it lacks. The framerate doesn’t drop so much that it gets uncomfortable, but slightly annoying nonetheless when other engines are able to work higher resolutions at a better framerate. I can only hope Sir-Tech earns a bundle or two of money some day, so that they can afford even more talented programmers and graphic artists etc.
The Sounds / Music:
Sir-Tech has also done a good job creating a rich audible environment. As expected you have different sounds when walking on grass as to when walking on the pavement, varied spell effect sounds and genuine sounding medieval weaponry. Also, the voice acting in Wizardry 8 is terrific, ranging from old grumpy hobbit-like creatures to cranky shop ladies with a genuine London accent.
One thing I clearly remember from playing good old role playing games from years ago is the now very awkward controlling. Using the arrow-keys is default, and appeared to be what worked best. Wizardry 8 is not a first person shooter, this using the regular W-A-S-D, or like I do in Quake 3 using Z-S-D-F. As I said, you move around on the ground using the arrow-keys and then interact with objects using the left mouse-button. Using the right mouse-button you use mouse-look, which is nice to have here and there in the game, while by far not being as essential as in a first person shooter.
You party should consist of a varied set of characters. You have 15 different character classes to choose from, each with its own advantage and disadvantage. You shouldn’t just stock up on fighters and hope they can deal with anything. For instance, you could have a mage to deal damage to a group of enemies and enhance blade performance on you party members. Or, you could perhaps have a Bard which can make an entire group of monsters fall asleep, enabling you to deal damage much more efficiently than normally.
Also, to add another strategic element there’s a little something called formation. Like in real-life the optimal formation in a small group of soldiers is to have fighters and generally people who can take and deal in a lot of damage in front and on the far sides, mages and archers would go in the back. During a battle you have the opportunity of changing the formation, depending on how you’re attacking the enemy, and of course how the enemy is attacking you.
Another interesting aspect of the gameplay is the communication rating on the various characters, which can result in how a discussion with an NPC ends. A bard, who starts with a high communication skill-level would have a higher chance of gaining an NPCs trust in you, than a badass fighter, who while being very handy with swords and such doesn’t know a whole lot about sweetalking.
For a (somewhat) role-playing novice such as myself the learning curve of Wizardry 8 was slightly steeper than what I expected. The interface is at first a bit complex and hard to grasp, but after having used it for a couple of hours you will notice that everything is carefully split into logical portions of the screen.
To finish off this part you should know that both multiple starts and endings are possible to experience, so this is a game you can be playing for a really long period of time.
None, nada, zip. I didn’t really expect heavy PvP action in Wizardry 8, neither cooperative death matches or even cooperative playing. It could’ve been fun to play a computer-generated level, filled with monsters, where two parties could form an alliance and bash away on whatever you find.
To be honest I must say that I was a bit disappointed by this game. Even though I have learned about the more advanced topics of role playing games the story didn’t catch me the for instance Anachronox and Gothic did, and the monster crushing wasn’t as adrenaline pumping as my virgin trip through Diablo 2 + LOD.
There is however a lot avid role players can enjoy about Wizardry 8; a long game with exotic locations, fun spells (of many uses) and massive weapons of many kinds to reduce the enemies’ hit points to zero.
However, if the story followed you more as you advance throughout the game and the graphics were improved then I’m sure they could cater more for the adventurous ones who aren’t as hardcore as others, yet.