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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Wizardry Gold/Wizardry 7

Wizardry Gold (Game release date: 1996)
A campy but likeable old-school CRPG, worth revisiting for fans of the classics with patience for long combat sequences.

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Highlights: Huge gameworld, interactive elements, customizability, old-school nostalgia Lowlights: Dated look, interminable random combats, annoying sound effects, high cheese factor

Wizardry Gold is just about the campiest game ever written. Enemy space rhinos will slide onto the screen sideways like escapees from the Ice Capades, bellowing "BOOYA!" at you. If that sentence doesn't turn you off completely, though, and you don't mind playing games from the mid-nineties, this classic old CRPG really is a fun ride. The plot is interesting, character development is a lot of fun, and the dungeons are cool in that old-school kind of way. And unlike most legacy games, Wizardry Gold is highly customizable--you can input your own character portraits, your own voicesets and sound effects, custom magic items, or anything else that strikes your fancy. (Click here to see a screenshot from a game I played with my four-year-old son, using Dora the Explorer as his ranger and Bob the Builder as his priest. Come on, you know you want to.)

This game was originally sold in 1992 as "Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant," and was re-released four years later on CD-ROM as "Wizardry Gold," with improved graphics, faster gameplay, and audio. It's 1992 through and through, though, with the chunky 2D sprites, cheesy spell effects, and interminable combat sequences that we all thought were state-of-the-art back then. If you have any nostalgia for the games of that era, or are a fan of classic CRPG's in general, Wizardry Gold will make a great addition to your games library. If you're used to modern games, though, the dated appearance and cheesiness quotient of this oldie-but-goodie is likely to be rather offputting.

Style: Wizardry Gold is a classic CRPG with a first-person 2D interface. Movement is tile-based. You control and develop a six-person party. The plot is a role-playing adventure and there are fantasy and science fiction themes. The game is untimed and requires no manual dexterity. Combat is turn-based.

Series: Wizardry Gold is part of a long-running series of adventure CRPG's by game developer SirTech that started way back in 1981 (that's before I even had a computer--probably before some of you were born.) There wasn't any real continuity in the series till Wizardry 6, though, and even that continuity is slight enough that most gamers won't feel the need to play them through in order. There is a general overarching plot over the last three games, but it is so simple and general that you can play Wizardry Gold just as enjoyably without any of the backstory at all. Parties can be imported from each game to its sequel, and the choices you made in the endgame of each actually change some of your starting position in the next; however, you will still have to start each game over again at the appropriately low level. If you're interested in the Wizardry series, you can purchase the entire collection through Wizardry Gold on a single CD: Ultimate Wizardry Archive. The earliest Wizardry games are so primitive that even an abandonware groupie like me can't work up any enthusiasm for them--most of us could program stuff better than this ourselves these days--but Wiz6 and WizGold are good play-throughs for fans of classic games, and even Wiz5 can be fun for us die-harders. (-:

Finding Wizardry Gold: You can still find copies of the original CD version of Wizardry Gold floating around Ebay and online computer game stores, but that can be easier said than done. You will probably have better luck finding the Ultimate Wizardry Archive, of which there seem to be plenty of copies remaining.

Getting Wizardry Gold to Work: This game works great on Windows 2000, but on XP, you'll need a patch to adjust the text speed (otherwise it scrolls by so fast you can't read it.) Change your screen resolution to 640 x 480 before playing, and save frequently, as the game does crash occasionally on XP.

Hints For Wizardry Gold: I don't have a page of Wizardry Gold hints up online yet. One good site is Ultimate Wizardry which includes maps and a walkthrough. Use the "Wizardry 7" pull-down menu to find them.

Game Length: 100 hours or more, depending how thorough you like to be about lawnmowing maps. This is an old-school CRPG with a lot of gaming content.

Age-Appropriateness: This game predates the rating system, but as far as I can tell there's nothing objectionable in it at all: no sex, no bad language, and only bloodless cartoon violence. There is one female character in an extremely skimpy outfit near the end of the game.

Lora's Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The main plot is interesting and allows you to make a few choices along the way, something that was very innovative at the time. There are also a few nifty side quests. Unfortunately, the amount of play time spent on the plot is relatively small, especially in comparison with modern games. You can spend many hours of pointless hack-and-slashing before getting to the next minor plot point.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There are relatively few puzzles in this combat-heavy game. The most interesting challenges are dungeon exploration (secret doors, lever manipulation, and the like.) There's a lot of maze navigation, too.
Characters: You get six PCs in this classic RPG format; all of them are customizable to your liking, including the ability to select a picture that was intended for a different race or even input your own picture or sound effects. NPCs are two-dimensional and as cheesy as is humanly imaginable.
Gameworld: Wizardry Gold builds on the same game universe developed over the last 20 years or so of Wizardry games; basically a magical fantasy world cum space travel. Though this gameworld is generic in many ways, there are original elements to it that still stick in my mind ten years later: unique races your characters can play, truly distinct alien species you can forge alliances with.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): The Wizardry series has suffered from long, tedious combats since the early 80's, and this game is no exception. Your party is frequently beset by large packs of really weak wandering monsters, which you then must waste 15 minutes dispatching one blow at a time. This is tooth-grindingly boring. On the other hand, the Wizardry skill-based leveling makes advancing your character great fun, and the ability to change your character's class at any time lends depth to the game's strategy. The spellcasting system is also quite good.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): Wizardry Gold offered up one of the best and most intuitive interfaces of its day, and it's still easy to play. Inventory and character management is a breeze, the automap works, and spellcasting is downright pleasant. The only downside is that there are no combat shortcuts--no way to command a character to always swing his sword at a creature in the first row, for example. You have to manually select an action for each of your characters every single time, which only adds to the inevitable combat weariness.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics are clunky and dated, the audio is terrible, and the overall atmosphere is so campy it detracts from the plot a little even if you have a pre-existing affection for RPG camp. (How emotionally involving can a game really be when it expects you to have serious plot interactions with a powerful alien race consisting entirely of giggling sorority girls in hovercrafts with names like Jan-Ette and Kel-Li?)

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Wizardry Gold for anyone who used to game in the 80's and early 90's, to enthusiasts of classic games, and to diehard CRPG fans; casual gamers without either nostalgic or aesthetic interest in older games would have more fun with a modern CRPG, like Wizardry 8 or Shadows of Amn.

If You Loved Wizardry Gold: My top recommendation to you is the Realms of Arkania trilogy, a quirky, clever series of German CRPG's from the 90's. They're great fun, especially Shadows Over Riva. If you can find a copy, you may also enjoy the Ultimate RPG Archive, which offers a cornucopia of classics including the venerable Bard's Tale games. Other collections of great classic CRPGs available on the market now include the Ultima Collection and Might and Magic Millennium Edition. Finally, two modern CRPG's that you may like a lot are Wizardry 8 and Shadows of Amn.

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