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SummaryRole-playing crusade for savants
The GoodIt took me a while to get into Wizardry. I've always found Might and Magic games more varied and more dynamic, with their larger and much more open worlds, their flexibility and user-friendliness. The first Wizardry I actually tried to tackle seriously was Bane of the Cosmic Forge. I was fascinated by its character-building aspect, but disappointed by the extreme monotony of its world and its linear progression. I also couldn't quite stomach the lack of an automap feature in a game known for its devilishly complex dungeons. I was therefore somewhat reluctant to play Wizardry 7. To my pleasant surprise, this game fixed everything that was, in my opinion, wrong with its predecessor, while retaining everything that made it great. It is a more generously designed game with a large world open for exploration, a less rigid progression, and new interesting features that come on top of an already excellent role-playing system.
The character creation can give you an idea of the game's depth and potential. I spent almost an hour rolling characters, trying to get that perfect combination of class, race, and attributes, in order to create the party I really wanted. Without knowing the game inside out, however, it is rather impossible on the first try; that is why, somewhere in the middle of the game, I realized that I could have done some things differently and create a more powerful team. The discovery was a joyous one, because my party was perfectly capable of efficiently dispatching the foes, yet out of sheer curiosity and desire for experimentation I'd wanted to replay it before I finished it the first time. The game encourages trying out different combination of classes and skills with your characters, increasing the replay value. And I barely even touched the excellent class-switching system, which allows you to create your own hybrids. Want to have a ninja who can hide in shadows, treacherously backstab and critically hit enemies, and at the same time have at his disposal the entire spell arsenal of an experienced mage? With enough patience, persistence, and planning, you can do that.
Like its predecessor, Wizardry 7 is a beautifully challenging game - and, like it, the biggest challenge is simply exploring it. The entire game is built like an absolutely enormous, highly complex maze. There are two reasons why I enjoyed exploring it more than the comparable environment of Bane: non-linearity and automap. Unlike the previous game, Wizardry 7 doesn't put its areas in a specific order. Of course, some of the game's toughest and most coveted places are blocked off in the beginning due to lack of certain skills and crucial items. Yet it is possible (especially during replays, when you already know where is what) to procure those items fairly quickly, gaining access to areas "out of order". In fact, you can march into the reasonably high-level Giants Cave almost right away - all you need is a high swimming skill, which you gain simply by swimming a lot. But even when you play the game for the first time, you are free to go to four or five large settlements and explore most of its dungeons in any order. This means that you feel much less "stuck" when you face a difficult puzzle - you can always go back and explore some other area, find a friendly person to trade with or get some information, hunt for better weapons or enemies that give more experience, and so on. The game keeps you occupied and interested regardless of what exactly you're doing.
The freedom of gameplay manifests itself also in the way the game handles encounters with its rather eccentric and well-written characters. You can choose to attack and kill anyone you meet in the game. This includes shop owners and crucial quest-givers. As long as you write down exactly what each character tells you, you can always finish the game, even if you literally kill everyone you meet. By the way, these characters are rather talkative, and will provide quite a bit of information, enriching the game's lore - all given to you through old-fashioned, yet strangely fulfilling text parser. They also tend to be memorable and funny. One of my favorites is the poetry-waxing Gorn king with his pseudo-philosophical musings. And who can forget the constantly inebriated brother T'Shober?..
A really interesting feature of the game is NPC movement. Certain characters in the game don't just stand in one place, but wander around, searching for the exact same maps that you are searching for. These maps contain crucial information, and without them it is impossible to finish the game (unless you're replaying it or consulting a walkthrough all the time). The thing is, these NPCs will sometimes get to those maps sooner than you. It will then become your priority to get the maps from them. This can be frustrating, but there are no dead ends in the game, and at any rate it ensures that no playthrough is alike. Another notable feature are role-playing choices. You are free to join either the T'Rang or Umpani in their pursuit of the mysterious lost spaceship. Siding with one of those races will invariably incur the ire of the other, and one of the endings leads to a union with a certain faction. The different endings aren't easy to achieve and figure it - which, again, increases the replay value of the game.
The BadWizardry 7 is tough. The battles, in fact, become more forgiving as the game advances, even if your character development is less than optimal - even simple straightforward leveling up gives you quite an edge. The game's difficulty lies in its puzzles, the clues to which are scattered all over the world and are really hard to find. Essentially, you'll have to explore each one of the game's large and complex dungeons in order to get the maps that give you crucial hints. However, some of those maps will likely have been snatched by your in-game adversaries, which means that you'll also have to find out who exactly has the map, track that person down, and either kill or bargain with him. Naturally, some people (me! me!) with little free time and even less patience can always use a walkthrough, bypassing much of the game's most cryptic and long-winded puzzle quests. Two maps, however, need to be found and used in order to complete the game.
Other difficulties and annoyances mostly lie in the game's somewhat user-unfriendly interface and archaic, hardcore gameplay elements such as the lack of teleportation spells. Luckily, some dungeons do provide reasonable shortcuts for quick post-exploration back-and-forth trekking, and enemy encounters lessen considerably when you backtrack on the same route.
Even though Wizardry 7 is a definite visual improvement over the previous game, it's still not very pretty, and quite monotonous. There is only one kind of tile for the cities, one for the wilderness (which consists entirely out of forest), and two for the dungeons (castle and cave). More importantly, the wilderness feels somewhat too maze-like and too empty. Of course, you can always count on a treasure chest with a great weapon being hidden somewhere in the midst of a thicket, and I suppose that's the reward for plowing through dozens and dozens of identical greenish squares, fighting sprite-sharing enemies on the way. Still, a little more variety would certainly make the game more appealing.