Review by Jitawa
Introducing a persistent world
Crusaders of the Dark Savant is probably among the most famous RPG titles in the Wizardry series, and is the second game in the "trilogy" started by D.W. Bradley. It's worth noting that this is the only game of the PC titles to have a PC remake (most of them were remade in Japan, where they were more popular, for consoles).
The PC remake is simply called Wizardry GOLD, and basically: made the DOS game playable in a windows environment, added voiceovers for all the text, a slight graphical upgrade (debatable, the interface was often clunky, and the character portraits were changed to cartoons), allowed the map to be a little window that was always up, and added an online hint file (trivializing the game's puzzles if you're the sort that can't resist that temptation).
It also introduced some bugs in terms of diplomacy and item identification. Item stats were in several cases mysteriously different, it's unclear if there was a transcription error that affected the spell, or if the items themselves were actually altered at some point. Diplomacy was altered, and in many cases, even with max diplomacy skill you couldn't befriend certain NPCs (you could work around this if you had the original DOS version, and loaded up that same save file).
For the purposes of this review, I'm basically reviewing the DOS version, but since the actual game didn't change much - the review applies to both.
Crusaders of the Dark Savant brought the Wizardry series into the VGA era... several years too late. While the graphics has undoubtedly improved since W6, the game again fails to compare particularly favorably to its contemporaries. That being said, the graphics are definitely serviceable.
The tile sets have expanded from the previous game to about 4 distinct sets. There is a town/overworld building set, a wilderness set, a cave set, and a classic dungeon inner-stone building set. This is basically four times as many as the previous game, and is very helpful in immersing the player (by comparison).
The enemy animations have not generally improved (beyond the increase in color depth). They still consist of a small handful of animations (think under 10 and jerky), but manage to communicate the nature of the beast you're fighting.
Attack animations have improved (by that, I mean projectiles, melee attacks are still unseen). Fireballs look fiery, bolts of psionic energy look psionic, toxic clouds... look... gaseous? These still end the same way, by exploding wherever they hit.
The interface has also improved, with a much nicer looking character data screen with a nice background. Combat uses clickable buttons, but you can also use the keyboard to fly through commands. The game is quite accessible in that regard.
To sum up, the graphics are functional, though not exceptional at the time of their release. The game is still quite playable today.
Like Bane of the Cosmic Forge: the sound effects of this game consist mostly of some swing noises, some clang noises (for when you hit stuff), explosion noises (for spells), and a couple of door/gate opening noises. There's also a rustling noise that loops when you're just sitting about.
The game has grunts for the players, and a fair array of noises for your opponents. Munks chant when you encounter them, Gorn make snorting orc-like noises, Bugs twirps, T'Rang slither, and so on. The sound clips are short however, and hearing the same little laugh/snort everytime you fight a given group of opponents (every round as well) may grow old quickly.
There's also some limited music... it can play while you're camping... and such. Most people will turn it off I believe. It's not particularly well suited, mostly sporadic, and obnoxious in its repetition after a few hours.
I have mixed feelings about the story portion of Wizardry 7. It is, in my opinion not as original as Wizardry 6. The plot basically drops your party somewhere on the planet, where various powers are vying to find a special relic (the Astral Dominae), which supposedly holds ancient cosmic secrets (think: creation, etc.).
The focus shifts more from the fantasy focus of the previous game, what with three of the main factions being huge interstellar powers. Basically, the evil Dark Savant (come on, he has "Dark" in his name), the militaristic Umpani (humanoid rhinos basically), and the slimy T'Rang (giant spiders). While the first game in the trilogy had some subtle tones with its plot and characters, this one basically tells you in the manual what everyone is like - and they don't deviate from that script in game. Spiders are evil, Dark Savants are... dark, and Umpani are militaristic. Basically, the surprises in terms of developing the plot and such were few. In that way, I feel the series declined somewhat.
Also somewhat disappointing is the retread for several mechanisms that were previously introduced. Wizardry 6 had a large royal crypt as part of the game, with various traps and such. Wizardry 7 elected to trot out basically the exact same thing, which was rather disappointing in a way. That's just an example, but several of the plot contrivances from the original are revisited.
All that being said, the manner in which you do get to make choices as to who you ally with (even if they're obviously evil and likely to betray you) is a nice touch and lends an air of change to the manner in which the story plays out on subsequent replays.
The game also retains the unfolding of the plot mostly through text descriptions in areas and after events. The role of the "objective-bemused" narrator that is the voice of your mostly silent party returns with expanded repertoire of opinions to venture on the quirky events of your quest. The dry humor and sometimes overwrought prose descriptions of various areas go miles to immerse you in the world in which you travel, and put you, the reader, squarely in the shoes of your stalwart party.
The writing mostly likely reflects D.W. Bradley's strength as a crafter of fantasy, as the "outer monologue" of the games are definitely the strength of Wizardry 6 & 7 (he left before finishing his trilogy).
Much like it's predecessors, Wizardry 7 focuses on turn-based combat for most of its gameplay value. The expanded classes/races return for more from Wizardry 6, as well as several new skills (Diplomacy, Mapping, Swimming...). Much is made of the fact that NPC interaction is expanded in this volume, which is why I mention that in the title.
Having an RPG with an active, breathing world was a novel concept when this game was released. By that, I don't mean that there's night & day, and shops may close (that's common enough in some games). While that does exist in W7, the true innovation is to have parties of NPCs actually competing with the player for solving the mysteries of the main quest. The main quest is largely nonlinear (a change from the previous game, which did require you to complete tasks in a rather linear fashion), and you are given little direction to start. It quickly becomes apparent that your goal is find Maps which give clues as to the location of the super-artifact. All of the foreign races on the planet are searching for those maps as well however, and many of the locals as well.
The upshot of this system is you may solve some dungeon only to find that the map is missing, and some shopkeeper will let you know that rumor is... so-and-so has the map. You can buy maps off NPCs when you find them (they may appear as random encounters when they're in your area), however allying with some NPCs may make you the enemy of others (and many of the roving NPCs can be equated with bosses if you end up fighting them). You can also sell your Maps to the NPCs, or exchange rumors. It's not a perfect system, but for it's time, I would say it was a revolution.
The game is longer than Wiz6, which gives your characters much more time to develop powers and abilities on the stronger side. The combat is more robust, and the enemies more diverse than the previous game as well. In pretty much every aspect of play: character development (in terms of stats not personality), combat (strategy, both short and long term), puzzle solving (an array of word and physical type puzzles) - this game is a pleasure to play. The game's strengths in play by far overcome it's relative weakness in plot.
This game is a seminal work of the RPG world, and introduced this great concept of NPC competition with the player in the game world. I would suggest that all Western RPG fans at least try it out.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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