As mentioned earlier in the week in our re-review of Wizard101, KingsIsle has been very assertive in their deployment of new content during 2011. The final and largest content update was released recently in the form of the Zafaria world. As the name indicates, Zafaria is a land filled with African and Australian creatures and environments. So veldt-like, in fact, that my daughter likens Zafaria to "The Lion King" and I swear I heard "GO SIMBA" echoing down the hallway from her room during our play sessions.
But Zafaria is much more than the actual location within the Spiral. Zafaria brought a long list of new features and spells into the game.
While I certainly haven't seen all of the features mentioned above, I was able to get a good feel for Zafaria and have a few impressions to offer up by way of a preview.
New Spells, Hirelings & a Raised Level Cap
Reaching the upper echelons of Wizard101 is no small task and really can only be accomplished by completing quests. XP rewards simply for fighting creatures are quite small so it is wise to keep moving along the quest track. Believe me when I tell you that there is no shortage of quests to complete. And it's worth getting to at least level 68 to check out the new spells for each school of magic.
I was playing a level 60 Life wizard, my husband a level 60 Ice wizard when we first stepped into Zafaria. We were met with a brilliant scene of a very tribal looking town. The trees are lush, the surrounding environs dusty. There are lots of oranges, greens and reds in a vibrant palette that creates eye pleasing graphics. Interestingly there is a mix of African and Australian fauna and flora throughout Zafaria but it works really well. Sent out to fight the creatures on the veldt, we headed out and boy were we surprised at the toughness of these critters! There is no question that any player under level 60 should stay out of Zafaria unless accompanied by higher-level players.
Luckily, the mercenary system is much improved in that new mercs have been added that can definitely put the slam down on Zafaria's bestiary, that's for sure. The new spells don't hurt either. Whether it's the Ice wizard's Snow Angel spell or the Life wizard's Beast Lord, these are high octane spells that are generally area of effect. They deal serious damage to all of the monsters you're facing across the circle. It was not unusual for us to see damage levels in the 1200 HP range with an added bonus of damage over three rounds afterward.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Zafaria's beasts are dumbed down either. They give as good as they get and can put a world of hurt on wizards who have not adequately prepared their decks or who neglected to bring along a healer.
The only drawback to the tougher monsters is that, unless you have a full four-member party, it's pretty hard to take down the monsters you face without a mercenary. We found that, even at level 60, we needed to hire a merc for nearly every battle. We didn't go for the top level 70s though and went for level 60 mercs which are half the price with nearly the power. Given the toughness of the battles and the desire to hire mercs, I would love to see KingsIsle give buyers the option to buy hirelings that would last for an hour or a day rather than just the single battle they currently last through. For 20-50 cents a battle, it can get pricey over the course of a play session.
But Is It Worth It?
A lot of people wonder if new areas on Wizard101 are worth the time and effort to level enough to get there. The short answer is YES. There is no substitute for the thrill of hitting the level cap and getting access to these new spells. Not only will you be amused and impressed by the power of the spells, but you'll also feel like a god in Dragonspyre if you happen to decide to go back and farm Malistaire one more time.
It's also worth it for farmers who want access to the nifty new seeds that come with Zafaria and for pet owners who love to have the latest and greatest added to their collections. Oh, and let's not forget those who own every mount in the game: The flying hippos? AWESOME!
We had a lot of fun in Zafaria though we have not explored it completely or even much beyond the earliest areas. I definitely want to explore more and accrue even more gear, cards, seeds and other nifty stuff that comes in the wildest area of the game. Of course, I have to turn in the developer-provided characters given to me for this preview and keep leveling my level 53 Ice wizard but now I am even more motivated than before. Score another one for KingsIsle! I can't wait to see what 2012 brings.