Wizard 101 is a children’s MMO created by Kingsisle Entertainment but one of the most engaging MMOs I have yet to come across. Playing a young wizard, you are going to school and having adventures in Wizard City and its surrounds. Harry Potter anyone? If you’ve ever wished to be a young wizard wielding a wand, going to school for Conjuration or Transformation, learning from the different schools and engaging in spell duels, you might find this game intriguing.
You, young wizard, are discovered by the Headmaster of Ravenwood Academy, Merle Ambrose and drawn into the world of Wizard City. Character customization is simple with a voice-over of Merle Ambrose walking the new player through it. There are limited choices between faces and hairstyles, colors and the starting outfit; the hat, robe, shoes and the color of the trim. Then you are asked a series of questions Ultima style and sorted into the right school of Magic for your personality. There are seven schools of magic to choose from, and these are Fire, Ice, Storm, Life, Myth, Balance, and Death. You can also by-pass the question and answer session by simply choosing your school.
A short description of each school of magic is available when you select it. For example, the school of Myth is the summoning school and you can summon assistants to help you in your duels. The school of Life is a healing school, the school of Death has a nice vampiric life tap, and the school of Fire is all about fire damage.
The naming system is a choice of first name and two word combination for last name, or simply a first name if a player so chooses. So do not be surprised to run into 20 Blaze “something or others” in the course of one night’s play.
Young wizards all have the ability to learn not only from their own school of magic, but gain training points that can be spent at various other schools and instructors to gain spells in other types of magic, wards (buffs) and debuffs. The important levels where you gain new spells from your school are every five. In terms of in-game character customization and development, players can buy color changes to their clothing and trims as well as fashion articles. Some equipment can also be bought but better will drop from Boss mobs.
Controls, Graphics & UI
Navigation around the world is done by the WASD / Arrow keys, a map, a compass which points out the various places and buildings on a map, and teleports. Players can also teleport directly to a friend on their friends list. Wizard 101 is a children’s game, so the graphics are not cutting edge, but that is not to say that they aren’t good. The graphics are crisp and bright, and the characters animated in cartoon style. Headmaster Merle Ambrose if your quintessential wizard with pointy had, beard and owl pet. The city guards are reminiscent of characters seen in Shrek and spell animations are slick. Very slick.
The UI is minimalist with large icons at each corner of your screen which brings up your tool bar and options, each which fills your entire screen. No swapping out inventory slots while on the run in this game.
Gameplay and Combat
The gameplay mechanic is simple and elegant. Combat is turn based and your spells cost power points. The more powerful the spell, the more power points are required. You gain power points at a point a turn. Buffs, debuffs and fizzles cost nothing, and you also have one low damage value spell which costs nothing and has a 100% chance of casting.
Each spell is styled like a collectible card, each having a piece of art and providing information about that particular card, including such stats as the school, the percentage chance of casting the spell successfully and power points required, and these spells are arranged in a deck which can be upgraded as you level.
Also available are Treasure Cards which are one-use spells. They are dropped or can be bought at the library, and arranged in your deck as well. To bring these into play, a spell is discarded, and a random Treasure Card drawn during your turn.
The duels revolve around casting buff and debuff spells and building up your power points to cast your high damage spells, and these are usually the ones learned from your school although some high-cost Treasure Cards are very powerful as well. NPCs have magic icons at their names, so a player can tell what magic it uses as well, and ward against that.
To enter a duel with a MOB, a player runs into aggro radius and both you and the mob will square off at opposite points in a circle. Up to four players or combination of players and minions can cooperate in a duel by running into that circle and appropriate number of NPCs will join in if there are any close enough. A great deal of tension builds as you can see the spells chosen by players and the NPCs they are targeting. Spells can be selected, discarded and changed during the turn during the 30 second countdown timer. Seven spell cards are randomly drawn from your deck at the star of each duel and as you use one, another fills the slot. You can also discard a card for a random Treasure Card to fill the spot.
The cooperation is interesting as players simply jump into the duel circle, or if entering an instanced area, jump into the teleporter at the same time. This takes away the need to form a group before hand and most players simple ask others playing in the area to take on a boss after they’ve played a few duels together.
You main stats are health and mana. These are replenished after duels by running into red “health sprites” that fly around the dungeons and blue “mana sprites” that fly around the town areas. The first newbie area you encounter has both types of sprites. Health regenerates quickly in the town areas as well. Otherwise, both health and mana can be replenished by playing mini-games in the games area, or by paying to have your potion bottle filled at the games area and using it. You don’t die, by the way. You are defeated. Your health and mana goes down to zero, you are teleported back to the Commons – right next to the Mini-games area, by the way.
Itemization and Economy
The loot that you gain when you win a duel are wearables, treasure cards and gold. These are also gained in completing quests and playing mini-games. There isn’t any “body loot” or such. Wearables you don’t or can’t use can be sold to merchants, but these have very little value. Clothing are not just window dressing but can boost stats. Some items are designated as “equipment” and these are your wand, ring, amulet and athame. More powerful pieces provide additional spell cards for your deck. Pets are dropped as loot or can be purchased. At this time, they can boost stats and can provide additional spell cards, but will have a more complex purpose in the future.
Treasure Cards can be traded between players but nothing else. i.e. no Twinking in this game! Gold is easy to come by but items are not cheap. Fluff items are costly and the unwary player can be surprised at the cost of the next higher level item. For example, the general upgrade deck was 105 gold but the level 10 “School” Deck was five times as much. Kingisle also has a mini-mall where Treasure Cards and Clothing can be purchased with “crowns” which are purchased with real dollars.
Quests and Mini-games
Wizard City is full of quests that a young wizard can take on. Again, as this is a children’s game, they are simple “speak to,” delivery or kill quests. Some require defeating boss mobs and their minions, and it would be best to enlist the help of a friend.
A very elegant and simple way of keeping track of quests is provided in the quest manual with four quests to a page and two pages on your screen at a time. Each quest shows graphics of the types of mobs you have to kill, the type of item you are getting from them as well as names, numbers and location. Once you’ve accomplished that, it changes into a graphic and name of the person you need to talk to.
There are seven mini-games in the Game area and they range from a memory-match game to puzzles and simple shooters. These can be addictively compelling as the higher your score, the more gold and better chance for loot you have, besides a chance to have your character name up on the high score board. As you play these games, your Health and Mana regenerates, and your potion bottle refills.
Wizard 101 is a children’s MMO, so parental controls are provided to restrict chat. There are no guilds and no parties. Children playing on chat restricted accounts can only use and see “drop-down Menu” chat. So communication can be difficult. Chat is also done in bubbles, so don’t expect to debate philosophy. Keeping to simple short sentences will make your communication easier.
Wizard 101 installs and downloads while you create your character and go through the first parts of the game. Instead of being designed as a tutorial, you play the game and at appropriate times, a large icon of an NPC shows up. Clicking it will provide a tip that leads you to the next stage. At each stage, the game continues downloading, so there isn’t a long time to download and patch or wait to play the game.
The combat and dueling experience is rather fun, as tension can really build in a group. Throw into that, the chance of fizzling and Murphy’s law that the card you really, really need doesn’t come up in the draw. There is a certain amount of strategy employed in building your deck and use of Treasure Cards. Each spell has a spell effect associated with it as well as an animation. This animation is in the form of a monster. For example, a Cyclops who poses before thumping the ground and creating a crack that deals the actual damage, an Ice Cobra whipping its tail at you, or a Leprechaun riding down a rainbow to throw coins at you. Some spells may have as many as three animations, depending on the amount of damage being done.
Travel can be tedious at times as you can be running through three or four zones to get to where you need to go. Even though the zones are not very large, I found myself wishing for more direct routes. Getting home however, is simple. There are two icons that are found in your character screen. One takes you to your “dorms” where you bank in the school district, and the other takes you to the respawn point in the Commons, just outside the games area. I quickly discovered that sidewalks are safe areas. Cross-walks are also pretty safe, as long as you look both ways. A cute nod to real-life here.
A simple and fast way to travel is to teleport to your friend on your friends list. If he or she happens to be in a fight, welcome to the fight! This means that if you are defeated, you can flee (end up at respawn), quaff your potion and head right back with full health and mana. I wonder if this is an exploit…
All in all, I found this to be a fun and compelling game. For the hard-cord among us, I’d say that it is not a game for long periods of play, but one for popping in and out of on a casual basis. I enjoyed the use of strategy as opposed to button mashing in combat, found the graphics charming, the mini-games scarily addictive and I even liked my dour instructor of the Myth School. I am not the only long time MMO player enjoying this game. A chat at E3 with other game journalists on games we were playing all turned to Wizard 101 beta, the schools we preferred and which mini-game was eating away our review and writing time.
Wizard 101 provides a limitless free trial. In other words, it is free-to-play but you are limited to early levels and areas of the game. Do yourself and your kid (if you have one) a favor. Give this game a try for free. You may be very pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy it, and at $9.95 a single account or $6.95 each for a family account, this may be the best bang for the buck in MMOs this year.