Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Wizardry Collection (6, 7, 8) (PC)

- Review by Matt S.

It's a little cruel releasing three Wizardry games and selling them as a package. One game is enough for weeks of play if you get hooked. Three is just insane.

So with due disclaimer - though this is the second time I've played each game (yeah, I'm a Wizardry tragic from way back and we can blame this series for more than a few broken high school romances, OK), I haven't completed any of them this time around. So I apologise if after 25 hours one of the three games crashes and blows your PC up, I didn't know. Head over to an Internet Cafe and let me know though, please, because I'll be getting there very soon.

For the purposes of this review I split my time fairly evenly between each game. So I spent an hour or two with Wizardry 6, then moved to 7, and then 8. In a like-for-like comparison there is something that people need to know up-front; if you in any way, shape or form have difficulty with retro-style visuals, the only game here that you could possibly stand is Wizardry 8. Both 6 and 7 are truly ugly, even by DOS game standards, and even as a fan of these games it was hard to look at them again. On a nice modern computer screen the two DOS emulations are grainy messes of pixels that barely look like anything and suffer from a few hundred few animations.

But we used to play and love these games for the imaginative questing that they allowed, and all three games here offer that in spades. Wizardry now belongs to a Japanese development company, but back in the days of 6,7 and 8 they were Dungeons & Dragons-style adventures with solid and fairly unique scenario writing. These games demanded players drew maps as they went along to avoid getting lost (as the Etrian Odyssey games do now), and were deadly difficult. It's entirely possible to get a "Game Over" in the very first encounter if you're not careful. Those deadly environments are so hostile to make players genuinely apprehensive about opening a door or rounding a corner, and so captured the very idea of a dungeon being a place of danger and adventure in a way unlike most other games since.

And while the environments of two of the three games might not look like much, what they represent is some amazing environments in some truly spectacular worlds. As with a good fantasy novel or text-based adventure this is a game that demands players use their imaginations, but the rewards for doing so are substantial. If anything, the more detailed environments of Wizardry 8 means that there's less room for the player's own imagination, and so the game's world is a little less vivid.

All three games feature lovely engaging gameplay however. In fact, it's fascinating how well the three games run together in terms of how they're played and the kinds of strategies that will get you through each game. Character creation remains a similar process from one game to the next, combat is the same kind of turn-based, tactical action and in each game there are many possible combinations of character classes and races that will allow players to tackle each game according to their own personal taste in strategy.

The balance in each game is solid. Challenging in the extreme, but solid. Making some good choices with the character combinations and their skills, and taking meticulous maps will help greatly in getting through the adventure. Being lazy or careless will earn defeat. By modern standards that's going to sound harsh, but in reality it provides players with a special, rare kind of agency; genuine success is in their hands.

With that said, it's going to be hard for people who haven't played these games before (or, at least, other retro RPGs) to step into any of the Wizardry games in this package thanks to the absence of tutorials or... well, explanation in general, really. One of the good things that modern game design has given us is crystal clear interfaces, articulate tutorials and, at the least, an introduction that doesn't potentially throw them into a lethal conflict. Less old school RPG fans are going to really struggle to retain interest for long enough to feel comfortable with everything that's going on in these surprisingly rich gameplay systems and mechanics.

But then this is three incredibly long and engaging RPGs for a tiny price. It's hard to imagine a better value package on Steam, and, frankly, short of the old SSI Dungeons & Dragons games being released on Steam as well, I can't think of games I could be happier to have on my hard drive again. This, here, is my childhood returned to me in one almighty nostalgic rush.



- Matt S
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld 
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