Wizardry Online

This review might be a bit premature, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse, so maybe now is a good time.

Wizardry Online!  Where did this come from??  I had heard absolutely nothing about this game until it actually came out.  I used to play the shit out of the old Wizardry series, along with Might and Magic.  Of course, the last Wizardry game I remember clearly was Wizardry 8, and since then it has apparently become an anime series full of elves with big boobs.  Unfortunate.

My husband and I spent a lot of time in Dungeons and Dragons Online, going back several times and usually subscribing for several months each time.  In fact, if it weren’t free to play, we probably wouldn’t get sucked back in so easily. The model works, as long as you’re not a greedy shithead with your pricing schemes and restriction of free accounts!
Wizardry is also free to play, and it seemed to have the kind of gameplay we like.  Co-op dungeon diving (that can be done with 2 people, but allows for more), hacking and slashing monsters in sewers, solving “puzzles” to advance through the dungeon, traps, treasure… the promise of multiclassing and other forms of advanced character building… hell we played the shit out of a game called Dungeon Lords which was about as polished as a fresh lump of clay, and we enjoyed that immensely because we were muddling through together, so Wizardry intrigued us.

We installed the game and proceeded not to play it for three days because the server imploded.  Most MMOs have a rocky start… flawless launches are as rare as finding a diamond in your gold pan, but a truly spectacularly “crash and burn” launch hasn’t happened for awhile either, so this was a bit of an eyebrow raiser.  Wizardry is being published by SOE so you’d think they’d at least have some experience in opening day MMO volume, and the game was (extremely briefly) available on Steam, so you think they would have planned for an influx of players… but there is only one North American server and it completely shit itself until the game was yanked off Steam in the hopes of reducing the amount of traffic.  There was a lot of maintenance and people started being able to actually log in and take a few steps without rubberbanding every 20 seconds.

Which leads me to my first real “What the FUCK” comment about their design decisions:  The options cannot be accessed until you have control of your character.
Furthermore, the default screen resolution was 1024×768.  The last time I had a monitor that used that as a default resolution was probably 10 years ago.

It was horribly compounded by the launch issues, because the game ran full screen.  And then it would attempt to connect for a good 10 minutes and be unable to.  Meanwhile, you are stuck in full screen, at 1024 resolution, and if you tried to tab out to do anything while waiting, you were in physical danger of impaling yourself on a pixel from the desktop trying to run at 1024 when your native resolution is 1920.  If you had been able to log in immediately and go to the options and change it without all this difficulty, maybe it wouldn’t be such a huge glaring design flaw, but even then you have to make it all the way through soul creation and character creation and character stat rolling (all of which takes a decent chunk of time) before being able to access video and sound controls.  I don’t know about you, but those options are the first thing I do in almost every single game. Who the FUCK thought this was acceptable?  Fire that person.  Now.

Even better – once I got in to the game and changed the resolution, since I was completely loaded into the game, any changes had to be carried out with a full restart of the client.  I barely got in the FIRST time.  So I ended up not playing it for yet another day.

When we finally got to play it, more design decisions popped out at me.  Not one of them in a good way.

The game is littered with cutscenes.  Cool, right?  Secret World has a cutscene associated with every major mission so it can result in some significant enhancement to the story if done well.
The cutscenes in Wizardry have no voice acting, it’s all subtitles.  That’s fine with me!  Except, the text speed is roughly the same as selecting “Very Slow” from the menu of a typical SNES RPG.  It feels like having the story read to you by a third grader.  There are NO options for text scroll speed in the menu.  And unlike, oh, every other game that exists, there is no ability to have the sentence fully complete on mouse click.

All I can say is thank GOD escape lets you cancel cutscenes, because if it were mandatory viewing, I would have quit on the first day.  Fuck. That.  I feel bad because someone went to all the trouble to write backstory for shit and animate these cutscenes, and I am (at best) just going to go to a wiki at some point and catch up on what I missed because it is completely intolerable to sit through that text scroll.

Even more baffling, some cutscenes do let you advance the text on click.  But most do not.  I guess those ones are probably the “important” ones so they want to make sure we don’t accidentally advance through the text too fast so we don’t miss anything?  Ironic.

Okay!  We have finished getting past the “how to log into the server” boss and the “oh god make these cutscenes stop” boss… now we can do some actual dungeon diving!

Unfortunately I have more bad news.  There are more bad decisions ahead:

The controls are… well I can’t claim they are unintuitive, because they’re roughly the same as every other game (WASD, click to beat shit up, right click for mouse look, F to interact…), but the controls feel clunky, particularly in combat.  Combat is real-time and involves active dodging (like every other MMO lately…), but your character is sluggish to react.

There is an “in combat” stance which is activated by middle clicking, and an “out of combat” stance.  Your controls change based on which stance you are in.  When you’re in combat, space makes you dodge (almost always straight backwards although if you fight with it enough you can make it dodge sideways instead), and when you’re out of combat, space makes you jump.  I use this as an example because this game has jumping components to its dungeons.  The game is completely blind to your context – if you have an enemy targetted and you run up to them and start mashing attack keys, it doesn’t figure out that you actually mean to attack the hostile so you jump around uselessly in front of it while it gets a few hits in. If you’re in combat stance and need to jump over something, the game goes “okay you’re dodging!”, which usually results in you falling off the ledge and having to climb back to the jump point.  What’s probably almost gotten me killed the most is that shift in combat is block with shield, but out of combat it is sprint.  Blocking with your shield makes you stand stock still, which is fantastic when I try to sprint past a trap and end up slamming to a halt right on top of it.  To make things worse, your character is completely unable to draw/sheathe a weapon fluidly.  If you’re charging up to an enemy and enter combat stance, the character stops dead and pulls out their weapon.  Far worse, when you get into a situation you don’t particularly want to be in and start running your ass away, in order to use sprint you must be in non-combat stance.  Switching to non combat stance makes your character stop dead and carefully put their weapon away.  Meanwhile, the things chasing you will catch up and get a few hits in, which kind of makes the 2 seconds worth of sprinting a complete waste.
A lot of this can be attributed to user error and unfamiliarity with the controls, but when a game features permadeath, I do not want the difficulty to be trying to not die to a shitty control mistake.

That’s right, I said permadeath.  This is an MMO with permadeath.

Sort of.

How it works is, when you die, you have a % chance to rez successfully.  By default this is 95% (as a beginner, 100%, until you figure shit out).  When you die, you have to run your ghostly ass back to the statue to revive.  Along the way there are reapers who will try to steal your soul, and summarily take away some of your chance to rez (but if a party member carries you, you’re safe from them).  There are items you can donate to the statue to boost the chance.

If you FAIL, you become a pile of ash.  You’re not gone yet, but you’re out of chances!  I haven’t done this yet, but I gather it’s a similar process where you must attempt to rez and there is a % chance.  If you fail that, poof.  Character is gone.  This is where co-op becomes useful because your friend can carry you back to town and the chapels there will have better chances of success, and things like that.

There are two ways to level – your character, obviously, but also your “soul” (account).  Soul levels unlock more powerful items at the shops and different activities like weapon upgrades.  So even if you lose a character, your next one will be a bit better off because of your soul level.  I didn’t mind this so much… I like roguelikes so the thought of a roguelike MMO was intriguing.  Wizardry hasn’t really come across that way, though.  It remains to be seen whether the permadeath system results in characters being precious and valuable, or just disposable.

Which is important because they seem to be placing a big emphasis on player conflict.  I’m not a big fan of player conflict, unless it’s entirely optional, and I’m not sure that it is here.  If you attack other players or steal things off their corpse while they revive, you become flagged as a criminal.  The criminal flag is attached to your soul, so all future characters will be flagged criminal as well.  There are option items that say “do not attack other players unless flagged as criminal”, which suggests you can be attacked by criminals even if you do not flag yourself as one.  All dungeons are open, which means anyone can be potentially at risk at any time.

If characters end up being precious due to permadeath, this could be an interesting mechanic that is largely player policed.  There are bounty mechanics in game so you can put a price on someone’s head for harassing you, and from what I understand, if a criminal is caught, they are placed in jail and anyone can come along and execute them if they wish, meaning it’s pretty risky to be a criminal and very difficult to get the criminal status removed from your soul.

If characters end up being disposable due to permadeath, it’s probably going to be a griefers paradise and largely unplayable by anyone who wants to actually dungeon dive.  It’s fine right now because everyone is new and exploring, but we will see.

Back to bad design decisions!  Yes, there are more!

Combat is real-time, I mentioned this already.  I am playing a rogue because rogues are awesome and there are boxes to disarm and lockpick and that is also awesome.  ALSO awesome, even though I haven’t tried it yet, is that I can apparently pickpocket monsters.  Ohhhh man.  If only my inventory was bigger I would be even more excited about being that asshole thief who spends the whole fight trying to steal worthless shit instead of stabbing.  But anyway.

As a rogue, stabbing things in the back is the way to go.  My husband is playing a fighter so he pisses shit off, and I sneak around it and eviscerate a kidney or two.  We do a lot of damage and it’s reasonably fun.

Which is where the bad design comes back in and gets in the way – Each hit moves you forward a bit, and them back a bit.  Monsters also actively dodge and run back and forth.  The targetting lock on works like you would expect, pretty similar to Zelda or anything else that uses lock on.  Your camera zooms on the target and you strafe around it instead of turning.  Unfortunately for me, strafing is really fucking slow (and no sprinting in combat remember! Because no one would think to sprint while in combat, nope) and by the time I get behind the damn things they’re usually almost dead.  Then I get one hit in and they dance away and it’s a constant struggle to stay behind things while also not wandering into other monsters or traps nearby.

That’s irritating but pretty typical of positional combat in MMOs.  What’s worse is, I get hit by splash damage even while standing behind things.  They swing their sword at my husband’s character, and I take a hit too.  No, that is not how this works.  I am BEHIND YOU, I am not supposed to be hit by a fucking melee attack.  Fuck you.  It’s especially bad because, being a rogue, I have 1/3 the HP of my husbands fighter so we’re constantly having to stop and rest my wussy rogue ass (there is no natural HP regen – you rest, camp, or chug potions).  Fortunately, I also have the ability to mix some skookum healing potions so I have those on hand for emergencies.

Which leads me to another bitch… healing potions don’t stack.  They drop like candy off monsters, which is probably good because permadeath, but they quickly fill your 24 slot bag (which must also contain all your worn equipment so it’s more like a 15 slot bag) and you just can’t bring yourself to throw them away because HEALING POTION.  I think this is an intentional design decision to make them a choice to carry, but it pisses me off.

Inventory is shit in this game… they went with the classic WoW style “slots of bags” system but it’s really cramped and ugly and difficult to sort.  Every single item is brown (actually just about 90% of the textures in this game are brown…) and the tooltips are sluggish and not really helpful, so inventory management is a pain.  What’s worse, when your inventory is full you can’t loot.  You can see that a corpse has something, but you can’t see what it is.  So half the time I decide to chuck a healing potion and loot and get a map chunk that I already have, and just destroy it to reclaim the space.  Or worse, a quest item for a part of the dungeon we already completed, because they drop off monsters regardless of your quest status.

Oh let’s talk about that because I have plenty of bitching to do about that.  For a game designed around co-op grouping, it does absolutely nothing to help you group.  Quest items drop as regular loot items, which means party members that already have them or have already completely the quest are free to roll on it.  If they’re not paying attention, they could potentially win all of them and leave you unable to complete the quest.  The game has “channels” (instances) for each zone to help spread out the population.  It does tell you what channel your group mates are in, but there’s very little help otherwise for meeting up in the first place. Most actions require you to be in physical proximity to someone, but actually locating them to do that can be a bit of a bitch. You can invite off your friends list which is nice, but in order to add someone to my friends list, I had to be standing next to them to bring up the icon.

Once you’re grouped, your friend runs off to the zone and selects a channel and disappears and…. well you can either communicate with them before hand or wait until they load and you can see what channel they went to, because it’s not going to port the whole party over.  Quests are entirely individual, so when your friend activates a lever or pillar or something, you also have to do it, or you’ll find yourself following them to the next step and be unable to carry on or zone into the boss fight.  Quest items are entirely individual.  In fact, I’m not even sure what forming a group does for you besides give you a chat channel in game and a means of distributing loot.

Ooh loot distribution – there’s a new bitch.  Not group loot, public loot.  It looks like Wizardry has gone back to the “old school” days of “last hit wins”, which means kill stealing can make a triumphant return (and gosh who doesn’t miss those days right?!??!).  This is especially irritating when in a crowded area and trying to work on kill quests (oh and don’t get me wrong, almost every quest in this game is a variation of “kill X things”.  Very few are “inspect a thing and talk to me” and some are “take a thing to a thing” but every single other one has been “kill X things.”).  SO many games have improved this formula.  WHY.  WHY are you designing a game around this bullshit again?  Is it to ramp up the player conflict angle and give people a reason to flip out and PK each other?  Because fuck that.

Fortunately (??) monster respawn rate is insane.  Like, you can barely loot the corpse before the fuckers respawn and start beating on you again.  I’m not sure if this is intentional or a function of crowdedness, but it’s actually pretty irritating.  Especially when a chest drops (which cannot be packed to a safe location, they have to be disarmed where they spawn on the ground…) and I want to disarm it and get my sweet loots.  Disarming takes a bit of work (well, if you can call it that).  As a rogue I have a couple of abilities that boost my disarm chance, so I can attempt to identify what kind of trap it is (some are super scary oh shit my HP is gone, and some are relatively harmless so why not go for it) and then attempt to prep the box to raise my chances of not exploding myself.
Problem A: If I fail and it explodes/releases poison/whatever, it will also hit people nearby, so my husband has to clear out just in case he needs to cart my broken body back to the rez shrine.
Problem B: The fucking monsters respawned before I could fucking hit F to open the inspect dialogue.  Usually what we do here is he will aggro them all and then run off (inelegant, but really our only god damn option because if he kills them they will respawn AND he will be standing on the box in prime exploding position…), but if he misses one it will start beating the shit out of me.  Which is fan-fucking-tastic because I have to stop looking at the trap dialogue (takes a few seconds AND AND AND my disarm chance is reset when I go back in, so if I’ve expended an item already?  …), go into combat mode (takes a few seconds), target (eh, pretty much instant), and start attacking.  By then it’s gotten plenty of hits in on me, and I’m not designed to attack shit from the front so I’m at a double disadvantage.  And when it dies, I’m too beat up to attempt the box.  And also it died so it fucking respawns again and…

Yeah.

And I can’t disarm ground traps.  What is this shit that’s the whole point of being a rogue >:(

Alright.  Now I have thoroughly convinced you that this game is shit.  And it probably is, actually.  The point is, DESPITE THOSE 3300 WORDS OF BITCHING AND RANTING, we are enjoying this game.  Isn’t that sad??  I suspect we won’t enjoy it for very long, but for the moment it’s really fun to dive into a dungeon, get into deep shit and fight our way back out.  The dungeon progression is kind of interesting, as shallow as it is, and it’s fun to clear them and farm up some soul points from the quests.  I’m looking forward to unlocking some of the more advanced rogue abilities (like group heals with my potions).

What makes me sad is we are enjoying THIS game, with all of these horrible, horrible design flaws.  Imagine how good a good co-op MMO dungeon crawler could be.

I do think most of these problems are easily fixed (…which makes them even more sad.) so the game could have some bright spots in its future.  Unfortunately, we will probably be bored of it by then because I am dubious about its depth.  Also unfortunately, it’s been so fucking badly handled so far that I will remain guarded about getting too optimistic about those fixes actually materializing.  :/

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About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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