Let me start right off the bat with this: Wizard101 is a family-friendly, kid-centered MMO. This re-review of W101 is going to focus on those two facts and the niche into which the game fits so perfectly. While there is no question that W101 has a lot to give to adult players, even hardcore MMO players, the fact remains that gameplay is designed to be attractive to and easy to learn for all ages from kindergarteners to octogenarians.
KingsIsle released Wizard101 just over three years ago and all indications point to the fact that the game is still going strong, that development continues and that new material is constantly being added to the game.
Wizard101 is a game that capitalizes in some respects on the Harry Potter craze that has been going on for over a decade now. Players take on the persona of a student wizard at Ravenswood Academy. During training, however, things begin to go wrong and “promising students” are asked to begin investigating the strange events.
Aesthetics – 8.5
Wizard101’s graphics are probably some of the best out there for a game of its age. I will qualify this with the caveat that the art style of Wizard101 isn’t for everyone. It’s sort of a pseudo-anime cartoon style with large headed character models and what some might call ‘simplistic’ environments. That said, however, Wizard101 is very pleasing to the eye with bright vibrant colors and eye-catching environments that belie the initial impression that they have little detail. W101 is showing its age a bit with somewhat blocky models. It’s not displeasing but it’s noticeable.
Character customization is a bit limited but given the target audience of the game, that’s an OK thing. Players can choose their character’s head, hairstyle, skin color and facial expression as well as the color of a character’s starting wardrobe. Names are selected through a series of three wheels with choices being made available for first name, and a one or two part last name. This is, of course, a nod to creating and maintaining a child-friendly environment by avoiding off-colored names.
Monsters in Wizard101 are varied and interesting. While some monster models repeat themselves throughout the game, they are always ‘tailored’ to the part of the game in which they live and are given a unique look. KingsIsle has continued to create new monster types throughout the three years the game has been in release including adding crafty crustaceans and Ninja pigs.
Where Wizard101 really shines is in the beauty of its spell effects. Watching a gigantic “Heliphant” rising out of a ring of fire or a Wyvern pulling itself across the ice before launching its signature screech into a monster’s face is simply breathtaking. Even the lower level spells are impressive and fun. Consider the Leprechaun as he comes skiing down a rainbow, toppling his pot of gold and flinging coins on monsters. Simply awesome!
Gaming in Wizard101 is a throwback to turn-based RPGs of the past but with a unique KingsIsle twist. When entering into a battle, up to four wizards and four monsters face off across a spell casting circle. From there, players use a deck of known spells from their school of specialization and/or spell cards purchased from a vendor. During each round, all players choose the spells they will cast and then the cinematic plays out with the spell animations for each player’s and monster’s chosen spell. It’s very simple really and pretty fun. That said, you have to have a pretty high tolerance for seeing the same spells over and over. Luckily, I do and still get a good chuckle out of a lot of them even three years later.
For adults, this gameplay aspect is terrific as up to a minute is spent completing each player’s and each monster’s spells which gives time to toggle out, check email, get the baby a new bottle or head to the restroom.
Character movement is fluid and smooth. The only real movement annoyance that I have found is that players can often be ‘sucked off’ the sidelines and into battle from seemingly impossible distances. This can be terrifically frustrating as running back and forth along pathways between quest and quest giver often results in players getting caught over and over again. Additionally, movement around corners or jumping tiny distances to get atop something is not possible and annoying at times.
Questing is the most frustrating part of Wizard101 as many of the quests fall into the ‘FedEx’ type and players are sent into the same areas several times before finishing a zone. Go here, gather that, come back, go back to the same place and battle these monsters, etc. There is a lot back and forth which gets pretty old pretty fast.
Wizard101 has all of the features that experienced MMO players expect including housing, mounts, pets, gardening, PvP, crafting, achievements, chat etc. Some folks have expressed a bit of dissatisfaction with the PvP aspect of Wizard101 but KingsIsle has shown a lot of determination in fleshing it out better. Players can take one another on in PvP arenas in 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 matches as well as duel one another in special designated spell circles at one’s player home.
Wizard101 isn’t particularly innovative from a gameplay perspective though it’s arguably the industry leader in family-friendly MMO experiences for gamers of all ages and features some of the most spectacular spell effects I’ve ever seen. Still, for a lot of experienced MMO players, eye candy and family-friendly gaming probably isn’t going to be enough unless time is spent in game to discover the depth beneath the surface. As said earlier, Wizard101 is a throwback to turn-based single player RPGs from the past. In W101’s case, this isn’t a bad thing, particularly as very young or much older players come into the game but it’s probably not enough for most adults playing without kids attached.
Wizard101 is very polished and bug free. In fact, I would venture to say that the only bug I’ve ever encountered in Wizard101 is one of a cinematic nature where the camera angle gets off kilter somehow. KingsIsle has obviously spent a lot of time making sure that their players aren’t going to run into bugs that will take away from their game time.
Clearly, Wizard101 is a labor of love for KingsIsle and it shows.
Already three years old, Wizard101 is still going strong. KingsIsle consistently is upgrading the game and adding new content, increasing the level cap, creating new spells, quests, items and more into the game. In fact, I would go so far as to say that KingsIsle has been one of the most assertively active developers in the market today and are constantly adding features and content to Wizard101. Endgame players are always being challenged by the new content and everyone benefits from the new cards and spells. In the past year alone gardening and player housing have been updated and KingsIsle has added three brand new zones: Wysteria, Zafaria and Wintertusk.
One of Wizard101’s most amazing feats has been the creation of a cross-generational family game that just about any age can enjoy. Without a doubt, Wizard101 has brought disparate groups of people together in a fun and engaging game that all can enjoy. In my house, for instance, my husband, daughter and I all play. Across town, my best friend and daughter’s godmother is learning to play too. From all reports out of KingsIsle, we’re not unique either. Something about W101 has created a great way for families to have fun and engage one another across distances in ways that were unheard of three years ago.
In game, players can chat with one another in one of two ways: Safe (filtered) chat and open chat. Parents can select which type of chat they will allow their children to use. Filtered chat features a selection of options for kids to use for communicating with others.
The only thing holding me back from giving W101 a higher social score is the fact that there are no player guilds, something that would actually be pretty cool. Wouldn’t family guilds be completely awesome?
There are two ways to assess Wizard101’s value: Subscription membership and the Crown Shop. There is no question that items in the Crown Shop are expensive. For instance, a pretty standard mount might cost 1500 Crowns or the equivalent of about $2.00. Additionally, areas of the game are closed off unless purchased with Crowns. Some are as low as $1.00. Now, I realize that doesn’t sound like much but when kids get a load of all the new pets, mounts, cards, seeds, etc. and want them in their collections, it gets pretty pricey! Additionally, hiring a mercenary, which is essential in some areas and battles, gets expensive as they only last through a single fight before disappearing. While the cost is under $1, it adds up VERY fast over the course of an hour or two if one is so inclined as to purchase them.
Luckily, KingsIsle often runs specials for Crowns. For instance, as of this writing, you can buy 60,000 Crowns for $60. That’s a pretty good deal and, of course, there are smaller packages available as well as prepaid time cards that almost always include a bunch of Crowns too.
As a subscription, Wizard101 is a great deal at $79.95 per year ($6.65/month) which gives players access to all areas, more chat options, advanced crafting and a laundry list of other features. It’s well worth the cost. Subscriptions can be purchased as a Family Membership, 1 month, 6 months or 12 months varieties.
Parents of younger kids and tweens will definitely want to check out Wizard101 if they haven’t already. It’s a wonderful game to use to introduce kids into the wider world of MMOs. And while Mom and Dad are at it, they should also call Grandma and Grandpa to get them started too. Wizard101 is that good and that fun for players of all ages. For this particular niche, the family-oriented, cross-generational gamer, there is no better game on the market today than Wizard101.