I recently got the chance to sit down and play through the beta of Gamepot and Sony Online Entertainment’s upcoming MMORPG Wizardry Online. Thus far, it’s done little to impress me. Picking up a new game – particularly an MMO, which by nature should be designed to hold one’s attention as long as possible – should be a new, unique experience. One should feel as though you’re embarking on some grand new journey through a grand, expansive world. We’re all familiar with it – Morrowind, though it wasn’t an MMO; delivered this in droves. I’d prefer not to tally the countless hours I whittled away figuring out what new adventures Vvardenfel had to offer for me.
Unfortunately, this is where Wizardry Online runs full-tilt into its first hurdle. The races are as vanilla as they come. You can play a short, stocky, bearded dwarf; a lithe, graceful elf; an adorable, Asian-styled furred Porkul (think Crystal Chronicles’ Lility, and you’d not be far off); a pint-sized gnome (which, curiously, are limited to female in gender); or a regular, boring old human. If you’ve played a Japanese MMO before (or really, any title that falls into the fantasy genre); you’ve already seen pretty much everything the game’s races have to offer. The classes are pretty standard, as well: Fighter, Mage, Priest, and Thief.
It doesn’t help that the character customization process is somewhat lacking: you get to choose from one of several preset faces and hairdos, and change the color of your hair and skin.
Speaking of appearance; neither the races – nor the set-pieces – really impress with aesthetics, either. Perhaps as a result of the washed-out color palette and the all-too-familiar art design, the whole experience just feels, for lack of better terms; bland. As a result; everything feels like old, familiar ground – even the story which, from what I could gather, involves the disappearance of Magic from the world: adventurers have been contracted by the world’s primary kingdom to figure out what went wrong by exploring monster-infested dungeons.
The most frustrating thing about Wizardry Online isn’t the sense of déjà vu; however. It’s not the feeling of pervasive “same-ness” that seeps from every corner of the title. It’s the cut-scenes: they’re all text-based (none of the characters are voiced yet), and the rate at which words appear on the screen is something close to one character every few seconds. If you were watching an in-game cut-scene, it would have taken you more than a minute to read this sentence.
The worst part is; not all of the scenes can be skipped, and there’s absolutely no way to increase the speed of the text. Hopefully, this is something Gamepot fixes before the game leaves beta; otherwise I foresee plenty of players ditching the title on this issue alone.
Okay. Let’s step back from this for a second. Yes, Wizardry Online is, on the surface, as generic as they come. Yes, the cut-scenes are slow enough that you could probably raise a cow to adulthood, slaughter it, and make yourself a prime-rib steak in the time it takes your character to realize the sun is out.
But it’s also meant to be a throwback to classical D&D; to the old kick-in-the-door dungeon crawls that so many of us grew up with. On this front, how does it deliver?
Pretty well, actually: although the appearance of the in-game dungeons isn’t really anything special, I’ve quite enjoyed their design, which, well…actually felt like a dungeon. To be honest, I feel that this is probably one of the title’s strongest points: Dungeons are challenging, complex, and not the least bit linear (though at lower levels, they’re fairly simple). Step inside without a thief, and you’re probably going to die to a trap. Charge in without a fighter, and you’ve no one to tank damage for you, and no priest means you’ve got to be very careful about mitigating damage.
As for the combat system, it’s centered on forcing the player to actively defend themselves. You’re going to have to block; to physically strike your foe; to remain aware of your surroundings. Again, this might have been unique a few years ago, but I’ve been seeing more and more titles step away from the World of Warcraft mode of combat towards a more fluid, action-oriented battle system. Yet again, we’re treading over old ground.
Those of you who’ve been following the title know at this point that one of the most-billed features of it is that it features permanent death. If you’re killed, whether by PVP, monsters, or traps, you’ve got a time limit in which you can save your character’s soul or body. If you ore another player doesn’t reach your corpse and revive you within that time limit…you’re rerolling. Not everyone’s cup of tea, sure, but for me, it added a sense of urgency and adrenaline to combat that’s sorely lacking in many similar titles.
Wizardry Online does a lot of things right. The dungeons are unique, clever, and well-made. The idea of Permanent death, while not particularly unique, adds a nice feel to combat. Unfortunately, those are really the only defining elements of the title: at this point, the most memorable thing about Wizardry Online is how memorable it isn’t.
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