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Touring the Beta

Richard Cox Posted:
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This week I had the pleasure to be invited to participate in a developer lead tour of the upcoming MMO Wizardry Online. To be completely honest, the extent that this game has been on my radar has been something along the lines of “Didn’t I used to play single player RPGs with that name? They’re making an MMO out of it? That could be interesting, I’ll have to look into it one of these days…” And of course I never got around to looking into it and knew absolutely nothing about it when I got the invite. In a way though I think that may have worked out for the best as I went in with no misconceptions or expectations and had an open mind about what I would be shown. I have to admit I was pretty intrigued by the idea of permadeath and other things I had caught hint of. But anyway, I’ll get to that later…

My tour was hosted by Senior Producer Todd Carson. There were some other un-named folks in the room with Todd answering the occasional question, but Todd did most of the talking and was the one in-game with us. We were all given temporary press accounts with level twenty characters to take for our test drive. Mine happened to be a human fighter type.

What makes Wizardry Online stand out in a very crowded fantasy MMO crowd? Well, there’s that previously mentioned permadeath thing… I have to admit, as much as it intrigued me, it also scared me initially. Sure, I love the idea of permadeath… the idea of there being more value in your hard work if there’s more at risk every time you venture into a dungeon. But I also know how valuable my time is. I know damn well if I put a couple dozen hours into a character or even worse, a couple hundred and then he dies and is gone forever, I’d be pissed. Very pissed. Rage-quit levels of pissed with never a glance back at the game.

Back in the day when I was routinely putting in 18+ hour gaming sessions and had all the free time in the world for MMOs that might have been ok. Right now though, as someone who works one full time job, two part time jobs and am putting both myself and my wife through nursing school, I just don’t have that type of free time.  Fortunately though, Todd explained the permadeath system a bit and I was put a little more at ease. Apparently permadeath will be fairly rare as long as you keep yourself prepared. Basically this is how it works: When you die, and you will eventually, you’ll be presented with a percentage chance of resurrecting. You can make offerings of items/gold to increase that percentage chance. If still fail to make that percentage chance, you get one more opportunity, with a lower starting percentage. You can still make offerings to increase the percentage chance the second time around, but it is less likely you’ll be able to get it up to 100%. So basically you have to balance the risk of carrying around valuable gear so you have items to sacrifice versus the risk of losing those items by failing a resurrection attempt. According to Todd though, it should be fairly rare to lose a character as long as you’re smart and stay prepared.

Another thing that jumped right out at me very quickly while playing WO was the platforming and puzzler aspects of the dungeons. The platforming parts mostly because I tend to suck at those kind of things. There were a good number of physical traps you needed to maneuver around, ledges you needed to jump to, narrow bridges to precariously traverse, etc. Even given how terrible I usually am, I actually enjoyed it here. The main thing to remember is to sheathe your weapon as your character moves differently with weapons drawn than without. As for the puzzles, we didn’t get to see many of those, but it was said that most of the dungeons will include several puzzles which will need to be solved before you can progress all the way through.

To go along with the “hardcore” aspect of the permadeath, healing also doesn’t come nearly as easily in Wizardry Online as it does in most other MMOs. There’s no regeneration between combat. If you finish a fight with five hit points, that is what you’ll stay at until you rest at an inn, use a camp or drink a potion. It really makes you take things slow and steady and think about your next move a little more strategically. I briefly mentioned traps above: there are so many traps and they hurt - a lot. While a healer may still be the most important person to have in a group, a very close second will be a Thief with their bonuses to disarming traps. Almost every treasure chest you come across will be trapped. During the tour we didn’t have a Thief with us, and unfortunately we didn’t have a healer with us either (though Todd did make use of some GM abilities to heal us occasionally) so eventually it got to the point where I just didn’t bother opening treasure chests anymore.

And to make matters worse about the traps, dungeons aren’t instanced. Which normally would be a good thing, a great thing even. I’ve been so tired of the over use of instancing for dungeons in MMOs lately I was ecstatic when I saw other random non-grouped folks wandering around the same dungeon I was in. And the respawn rates are set up to account for this, so that’s one thing you’ll have to keep in mind when setting up camps. But the real downside was made apparent when random non-grouped explorer Joe Bob failed his trap disarm check right next to me and I was caught up in his unleashed fireball for half of my health.

Speaking of treasure, we discussed loot a bit. Most items you find in Wizardry Online will be unidentified when you find them and you won’t know what they do until you’ve taken them to town and had them looked at. You can still equip them, and whatever effects they have will still take place, they’ll just be masked from you and you won’t know. That wouldn’t be a huge deal in most MMOs out there as pretty much all loot is beneficial in some way. It may not be the best fit for your class or build, or it might not be high enough level for you, but it isn’t going to be negative to equip it. Well, that isn’t the case here. There’s no shortage of “cursed” or non-beneficial gear. Yes, you read that right, there will be quite a bit of gear scattered around the world with negative attributes, so equip that un-identified gear at your own peril.

Of course as you manage to survive the dungeons full of traps and enemies you’ll gain experience. Unfortunately you won’t get to make use of that experience while in said dungeons. In order to level up once you’ve reached the required amount of experience to ding, you’ll need to make your way back to town and rest at an inn. As if that wasn’t enough, you’ll actually have to decide which type of room you’ll stay in while resting and leveling up. Different quality of rooms will have different effects on your random rolls for stat increases and such when you rest and level up. Basically, don’t skimp out on the basic room if you want to get the most out of your dings.

And what kind of MMO would Wizardry Online be without PvP? Basically, if you want to attack other players, go for it; just be prepared to deal with the consequences. Players who attack other players will be flagged as criminals. If your criminal status gets high enough, some NPCs will stop interacting with you. You won’t be able to shop at the “nicer” shops in town, stay at the “nicer” inns, etc. But fear not, most of the services you lose access to in the “nicer” parts of town can be found in “The Slums” for the criminal types and those of ill repute. You’ll also be able to place bounties on any one with a “criminal” status. Once you place a bounty, say 3000 gold for example, the first person to kill that criminal instantly collects that bounty. And you don’t have to fear any repercussions for it; any player can attack any criminal without worry of being flagged as a criminal yourself.

The last thing we talked about was the class system. Initially I had a little bit of worry about there only being four classes: Warrior, Mage, Thief, and Priest. With only the four stereotypical archetypes available, how much differentiation can there really be? Todd didn’t seem too worried that there would be much of a problem in that regard. Between the different skills chosen, the randomly allocated stats, the different equipment and even different playstyles there should be plenty of individuality between one Warrior and the next. And things will only get more varied once you get into the multi-classing levels. Basically, you'll take your Warrior to level 20 and decide you’d like to have some Thief abilities so you choose to multiclass. At that point you’ll choose X number of your Warrior abilities/skills to keep and “start over” as a level one Thief, just with those X bonus Warrior skills. And should you also want some Priest abilities? Take that Thief high enough to get all of the thief abilities you want and then do it all over again.

Granted, it was a brief tour, and I didn’t see everything there was to see. And I’ll still admit, I’m fairly likely to rage-quit and yell and throw one hell of a fit if I ever lose a character to a failed resurrection attempt. All that said though, Wizardry Online is a good bit higher on my watch list now. The fact that it is completely free to play also doesn’t hurt, since I won’t be out much of a financial investment when the inevitable permadeath takes place. But either way, this is definitely one I’ll be spending more time with during its beta and beyond.  

Have you given WO a try?  What do you think? Let us know in the comments!


Richard Cox