Review by nothing02
An uncommonly deep game that is not actually all that much fun
Most RPG fans know that Wizardry, along with Ultima, was one of the most influential early computer RPGs, and undoubtedly almost every RPG series that came along afterward owes it a debt - so in terms of historical importance and influence, it gets a huge, unquestioned "10." Some old games like this are still lots of fun if you can get past the crusty concept and the rough edges. For instance, I'd argue that many of the Ultima games still hold up, and I had huge hopes for this one as well. I like games with funky concepts, particularly ones that involve busting out the graph paper, and of games with huge worlds to explore. I feel like I gave Wizardry VI a really, really good try, and my conclusion is that it's honestly more trouble than it's worth.
First, a very brief description of what the game is all about if you're not familiar with the basics. It's a dungeon crawler where you explore an abandoned castle looking for a mysterious magical object called the "cosmic forge." The game feels a lot more like Dungeons & Dragons than Final Fantasy, allowing for a greater degree of character customization and a feeling of free exploration - there's certainly no sense of being "on rails," and the game is tough enough that if you go on autopilot, you're gonna get slaughtered quick. The graphics and sound are rudimentary, and when you take a look at it side by side with Ultima VI, which was released in the same year, you can see that it was nothing special in this regard even by 1990 standards.
Also, this was clearly created in an age when the kinks of how to do an RPG on a computer, rather than pen and paper, had not yet been worked out. For instance, the game and even the manual provide no guidance on how to create a party that won't be instantly slaughtered. Sure, they drone on about this statistic and that spell, but they don't tell you you need a bard in your party so you can put monsters to sleep, or you're basically screwed throughout the early stages of the game. Also, there's no way for you to know that you need a character with skulduggery (lock-picking) skill, or you are going to go nowhere fast in a castle full of locked doors, until you actually begin going nowhere in a castle full of locked doors and have to start over with new characters. The lack of hand-holding would be fine if the game were well-balanced. People say this game is hard, but in fact it seems to me that the problem is the almost total lack of thought given to fairness or the player's convenience. It starts with the huge time investment required to roll decent characters (people apparently commonly spend 2-3 hours on this - it's truly that tedious and complicated), and things only escalate from there.
Let me give another example. About those locked doors again, in order to solve one of the early puzzles in the game, you need to get into one particular locked room so you can find an important item. In the portion of the game that's accessible right from the start, there are probably 20 or so locked doors. To open any of them, like I said, you need a character with skulduggery skills, and then you have to go around opening each of the doors until you find the item you need. The issue here is that opening a locked door is a very, very tedious process. You have only a small chance of being able to pick the lock (otherwise the door jams), so you have to stand there in front of the door saving and reloading time after time until you get it open. All this being the case, wouldn't it make sense to somehow let players know that they really need skulduggery skills at the early stages? And wouldn't it make sense to put maybe just one or two locked doors in front of the player, or to make it much easier to pick locks? This is what I mean when I say that there is an almost total lack of thought given to the player's convenience. Rote saving and reloading should not be required to solve puzzles, and I really think this should have been obvious even 25 years ago.
The customization and free exploration aspects are great, and I can see how people could get into this back when these were still new and fresh concepts. But my basic problem with the game is this: if you're going to allow extreme freedom and customization, shouldn't you create an extremely flexible game? It sort of feels like the game tells you you can do whatever you want and then punishes you for not doing things in accordance with rigid rules it never bothers to tell you about. The door thing is just one example. Another would be the extraordinary difficulty of almost every monster encounter right from the beginning of the game. Does the game even care that you are at Level One? I accept grinding as a necessity in older RPGs, but this game takes it to new levels. There are no monsters that are easy enough for you to grind on. If you lack the patience to save and reload dozens of times after battles don't go the way you want, you will never level up and never get anywhere. Need to rest and recover your HP? Monsters will come and ambush you while you are sleeping, so keep moving. And oh yeah, just reload after getting struck by (unavoidable) falling ceiling beams that cut every character's HP in half without warning. I mean, seriously...?
In spite of all these complaints, throughout the five or ten hours I spent with the game, I could see a fascinating world beginning to unfold, and honestly the complete contrast between this and Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest is fascinating and refreshing in some ways. You can see that this game essentially has a different heritage and is tied a lot more to D&D and Zork than anything from Japan. That's cool. It's an interesting artifact. But next time I feel like playing an RPG, I'm not going to come back to this. To put it simply, this game is just way more trouble than it's worth.
Product Release: Wizardry: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (US, 12/31/90)
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