Wizardry Online is jagged around the edges, but manages to pull off a few interesting tricks.

The Good

  • Combat is varied and interesting
  • Permadeath ups the ante
  • Group finder makes traveling with others much simpler.

The Bad

  • Horrible graphics and textures
  • Lore is explained by one cutscene and walls of text
  • Clumsy user interface
  • Connection issues.

Developer Gamepot’s latest online venture doesn’t sport the refinement of World of Warcraft, the large community of Guild Wars, or the political intrigue of EVE Online. In fact, to look at Wizardry Online, you may be fooled into thinking you’ve somehow tumbled backward in time to the late ’90s, where the low-quality artwork and textures might have been more appropriate. The game has no trouble rehashing tired tropes for its own gain. But for all that it does wrong, it boasts a particular brand of scrappiness that keeps you plugging away, even when the danger of permadeath looms large.

You too can be an adorable tiny thief.

You too can be an adorable tiny thief.

Wizardry Online is an austere fairy tale that falls somewhere between the healthy rigors of Final Fantasy XI and the masochism of Dark Souls. This dark fantasy doesn’t stray far from the trappings associated with standard MMO design, but some interesting decisions keep it afloat, and there’s no admission price to hinder you from fulfilling your curiosity. Unfortunately, none of this is evident in the initial hours. Perhaps that’s why it seems that the aim of Wizardry Online, in keeping with the dungeon-crawling lore of the original Wizardry series, is to give you as challenging an experience as possible while still baiting you to continue.

After installation and several updates, the client greets you with some cinematic, Final Fantasy-esque fanfare. You’re deposited into a seemingly never-ending online abyss after clicking “start.” Once an arbitrary amount of time has passed, sometimes up to 15 minutes or more, you may be allowed onto the server. Using Alt + Tab to multitask while waiting to join a server isn’t an option; you simply wait for the privilege of connecting. It’s a rotten setup, especially when trying to join during what you would assume are the peak hours for play. It’s also extremely frustrating to weather unpredictable wait times only to be booted from the server multiple times in one session, or to endure its lengthy load times, which Wizardry Online struggles with far too often.

The combat system might be fulfilling, but the visuals certainly aren't.

The combat system might be fulfilling, but the visuals certainly aren’t.

A series of shoddy menus and options are waiting once you’ve made it server-side, and they’re riddled with uninteresting color palettes and character models that do little to entice you. In fact, the game as a whole is devoid of any appealing graphics. After you’re subjected to meandering lore and walls of text, it’s time to assign a class. You choose from five different races: humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and the Tarutaru-like Porkul. The character creation screen shows off unusual character designs, such as the most feminine gnomes you’ll ever see in your life and strangely unappealing elves; it’s almost as if these races’ established qualities swapped places.

After choosing an avatar and settling on a race, you need to select a class and alignment, although there isn’t much choice to be had here. Alignments are nothing more than one additional stat to track and mean little in the grand scheme of things, so your class ultimately decides your fate. Gnomes fit the priest role, dwarves lead the charge as warriors, elves are powerful mages, and the Porkul are sneaky pickpockets. Humans are as vanilla as can be. A roll of the dice completes the package for your character’s stats and can grant bonuses to races that happen to be awful at adapting to particular classes–say, a Porkul as a warrior. If you’re just starting out, you can take chances when it comes to rerolling new characters, but seasoned veterans will want to carefully pick and choose, picking the best class for the race suited for the job. Still, it’s unfortunate that races represent little more than aesthetic value; each character looks and plays practically the same.

Grinding quickly becomes your lifeblood in-game.

Grinding quickly becomes your lifeblood in-game.

Once you’re free to roam the world, you will want to find companions: this is a game you don’t flourish in when flying solo. The in-game group finder goes a long way to ensure that you can always find a few fellow adventurers to complete the traditional tank-DPS-healer trifecta, which becomes invaluable when scouring the various dungeons. Quests and other tasks are assigned via hub worlds, and most of the action takes place deep in the heart of sewers and labyrinthine tunnels rife with puzzles. Considering you’re spending time within smaller cramped spaces populated with high-level players, you’re going to want someone watching your back at all times, and traveling alone is a great way to meet your permanent end much faster.

Combat is where you end up ferreting out the fun, which is often overshadowed by the messy UI and more brown graphics than a desert-themed first-person shooter. Active attack and defense moves are natural and much more kinetic than those of traditional MMO hotkey combat. Though each character class feels the same whether you’re using magic or brute strength to conquer your enemies, having to exercise a bit of skill to land a hit on a rare enemy provides an extra level of immersion. You feel as though you have control to exert over this persistent world, and that’s what ends up elevating this oft-confusing endeavor to a status beyond meager. As long as you can successfully sustain your health and mana (which do not regenerate), you’re on your way to looting other players’ corpses instead of littering each pathway with your hours of earned items and gold.

Wizardry Online is jagged around the edges, but manages to pull off a few interesting tricks.

By Brittany Vincent