I have to admit, coming into this game I was ready to just cart this one off as another F2P family title. When Garrett approached me and suggested that I try the game out, I had a salty grin when I looked at the game’s website. I've never been one to enjoy family style games and a free to play model didn't exactly peak my interest. I've never been a huge fan of the free to play market, even though I do appreciate its niche in the gaming sphere. In this case however, I find myself eating my words with a side of humble pie.
Wizard 101 is an extremely refreshing romp in the MMO strawberry field, allowing both veteran and brand new gamers to meet in a fun and engrossing world. This article will serve as a look from the eyes of a brand new player, taking their first steps into Ravenwood. Just to set the situation up, I came into this game knowing nothing other than it was a family style MMO with Wizards. Needless to say, I wasn't too pumped on this one.
Introduction: The Starter Experience
From the moment that I logged onto the website and created my character (that's right, I said website to create my character), I was taken in by how well everything was put together. It brought players directly into the game world by starting them off speaking with the headmaster of the school. You learn the usual basics of movement and character control, then you hear a ruckus coming from inside of the school building. This thrusts player directly into the combat spectrum of the game, showing the main antagonist, Malistaire Drake wreaking some sort of havoc on the Ravenwood Spire. Players contend with Malistaire's minions as Headmaster Merle Ambrose walks players through combat basics. I feel that I should note here, that the entire experience is fully voice acted at this point. This does wonders for the immersion factor of the game. After defeating the evil minions, Malistaire retreats and the player is allowed to enter the full game world.
Part One: Baby Steps Into Ravenwood
Upon entering Ravenwood, I was overtaken by the sheer number of players in just the starter town. On Tuesday the 22nd, KingsIsle announced that they had reached an astounding ten million game registrations since their launch back in 2008. One thing I can say about the F2P market is that you never feel lonely in the game world.
The art style of the game is what you might expect out of a family style MMO. One thing I really enjoyed was the combat animations, they all felt crisp and believable while not overwhelming the player with massive sprites and over-bloom. The areas are all instanced, however this doesn't really take away from the game’s experience. Each area is overflowing with players and interesting quests, oh and did I mention that almost everything is fully voiced? For a game that totes a very slim client, the game has been optimized to stream download many features while you are actually playing the game. This is a fantastic way to minimize download time and maximize actual time spent in game.
Each quest serves as both a further step into the lore and storyline of the game; as well as a continuation of the game’s tutorial, explaining gameplay mechanics and characters along the way. One great thing about the game is that nothing seems forced; every quest and event seems to flow seamlessly into the next. The players were about as friendly as you'd expect from a family style game. KingsIsle have done a solid job creating comprehensive parental controls for the game. This translates into chat restrictions as well as item store safety features so that little Johnny won't destroy their parents’ credit rating.
Part Two: Combat
Wizards 101 takes a refreshing look to the MMO formula; sacrificing twitch gaming for thought out turn based combat. Each time that a player enters a fight, both the mob(s) and the player will enter a fight circle that looks almost like a summoning circle. From here, the player will be presented with their Spell Deck in order to choose which spell they would like to cast for their turn. This translates out to a turn based, animated, card game that allows players to take roughly thirty seconds to plan out their attacks or defensive strategies. The game’s downplayed, cartoon style graphics allow for some pretty spectacular spell animations. Coming from a background of violent, fast paced MMOs, I found this to be a nice reprieve from the usual schlock that is the current MMO market.
All in all I was happily surprised with this game and all it had to offer to the free to play market. The cash shop was there, but it didn't feel forced down the players’ throats, which is always important. This game is, in the end, a family title so I don't think this will appeal to many mainstream, hardcore gamers. If you are looking for a good break from the grind however, or you are just looking for a game to play with your family, I highly recommend giving Wizards 101 a look. Head over to the game’s website, take a good look and or play the game, and come back here to tell us what you thought. Can a F2P family game be the future of the market? With more and more people starting to play MMOs, is light hearted fun overtaking dark, violent action? Time to dust off those wands and bust out that spell book, go forth and make some magic!