So Wizardry 8. You’re done.
I played Wizardry 8 for approx 200 hours over 6 months. That’s an average of 8.3 hours per week. Sometimes I think my estimate must be off – but even if it was 150 hours, that’s still a very long time. By comparison the average Skyrim player spends 75 hours on the game. But numbers aside, no matter how long I spent on the game it was too long. By the end of that experience my hatred for Wiz 8 was second only to my hatred for myself – for starting such a stupid time-sink and being stubborn enough to finish it.
For obvious reasons I decided to wait a little bit before doing my “that’s a wrap” blog post. But now the time has come – what are final thoughts?
Wizardy 8 has a lot of things right, and when I started this game I quite enjoyed it. It offered a lot of meaningful choices with character/party customisation options. Its combat was quite deep, which I analysed in some detail here. It was a fully-fleshed 3D RPG from the early 2000s, but retained the stat-heavy strategy elements from its forebears.
The locations and races are also a strength. Each feel significantly distinct – with nice touches such as a zoo at the Rapax Castle and (of course) the dead Rapax and whip next to the Queen’s bed. Each race feels like it has its own culture and motivations, which makes them interesting to speak to and deal with, even if you’ve met them before in Wiz 7.
This is probably why Wizardry 8 was critically so successful back in 2001 – it won a number of awards, including two “Editor’s Choice” Awards (according to wiki anyway). To this day it has a thriving little fanbase. Its lead was the famous Brenda Brathwate (now Brenda Romero), who definately Knew What She Was Doing.
That said….I don’t care. Everything that was good about this game was destroyed by its length.
Brenda Romero once said that games are so complex to make that, often, design decisions that wind up being unpopular were (at the time they were made) either completely logical or even the only possible decision at the time.
She’s doubtlesely correct. But I can only judge a game by its end result, and its effect on me, the player.
So let’s unpack that a bit. Why is this game so long, and why did I want to throw it out a window? This is what I’ve come up with:
- It cannot juggle its challenge curve with its open-world nature. When a party enters location X, they could be either very weak or extremely powerful. The game has some mechanisms to adjust for this, but they are linked to party level; they ignore your party’s equipment and magic abilities.
- Related to that, its levelling-up system doesn’t work. Wizardry 8, like its forebears Wizardry VI and VII, has two distinct levelling up systems – character level and skill level. Character levels increase with XP, skill levels increase by use. That’s fine except it only balances for character level, not skill level. That means the game implicitly encourages grinding, but becomes boring once you do so.
- Combat for trivial encounters is too slow. This is quite similar to Ultima IV. No matter how powerful your party is, killing a swarm of bees takes far too long. Worse, it’s (1) frustrating, because it’s interrupting you; (2) tedious, because there’s no challenge and (3) pointless, because your party gains no benefit from winning a one-sided battle.
- Nerfing the class-changing mechanic severely limits the player’s ability to experiment with different party combinations. Although to be fair, class-changing wasn’t terribly well implemented in Wiz 6 and Wiz 7.
- Gameplay is not varied enough for its length. The “pillars” of this game are combat, exploration, conversation and puzzles. That should be enough variety, but combat feels like it takes about 80% of your time. Worse, the exploration keeps getting interrupted by random encounters which is fine at the start of the game, but by the end makes exploration a frustrating, not interesting, process.
So what would I have done differently?
- Remove all re-spawning random encounters.
- Add monsters or areas that remove the magical properties of a party’s items. I don’t think it’s an accident that when I entered an area that nerfed my magic, I started enjoying the game again.
- Cap each skill at an amount that’s directly related to the character level. This should limit skill grinding, and make character level a better indicator of party strength.
- Alternatively, don’t increase skills by usage at all. Give the player a set number of skills points to distribute per level.
Brenda Romero’s interview on Matt Chat. Recommended.
I can understand why they didn’t do the last one. Increasing skills through use was an integral part of Wizardry VI and VII, so it would probably anger the fan base. But I think the mechanic worked in those games because (a) Wiz VI was linear so party-strength was always predictable; and (b) combat in Wiz VII was generally both harder and faster.
So – do I recommend Wizardry 8?
If you’re going to take someone on a journey this long, it better be worth the trip. And this just isn’t worth it.
If you’re going to play Wizardry 8, and there are reasons to do so, my advice is this:
- Only have a few hybrid fighter/spell-casters. Skilling them up is tedious and you don’t need that many of them.
- Never grind skills. Ever.
- Use a walkthrough to limit or remove backtracking (but not to solve puzzles, of course).
Personally, I’d try something else.
Release date: 14 November 2001
Purchase date: 13 September 2014
Complete date: Approx February 2018
Time spent: Approx 200 hours
Lead Designer: Brenda Romero
Last word: Do something else with your time.