"The permadeath feature is one that will attract an audience looking for a challenge."
The long-running Wizardry series has an interesting history, shifting from being a primarily western-developed RPG to an eastern one, jumping from PCs to consoles, handhelds, and mobile devices, and now from an offline single player experience into a full-fledged MMORPG. Developed by Gamepot and published by Sony Online Entertainment, Wizardry Online aims to take the classic series into the massively multiplayer space with style.
Wizardry has always been a game for the hardcore, and this is a design philosophy that Gamepot has carried over to Wizardry Online – and nothing makes this more apparent than the game's permanent death. Upon dying, you have the opportunity to arise again as a spirit that can attempt to hunt down your body; failure will result in an untimely and very final death. That's right: if you die in the game, your character is dead for good. My preview version of the game didn't seem to include this feature, as I killed another player in the demo network several times over, but surely the permadeath feature is one that will attract an audience looking for a challenge.
Visually, the game is quite distictive. Dark, dreary colors greeted me in the zombie-filled dungeon whose depths I plumbed, and I was certainly impressive with the art style. Fusing an anime-inspired style of character design with a very gritty, Dark Souls-like environmental presentation very successfully captured the Wizardry atmosphere. Unlike the other games in the series, players are free to explore in either first or third-person, and I found both views to be mostly viable, although some situational awareness was certainly lost in the first-person mode.
Portions of the user interface were still untranslated, but it certainly didn't look like it was going to set the world on fire. If you're familiar with any recent MMO, you should be right at home here. However, there were some nice features. Hotkeys for different weapon sets were very welcome, and allowed me to quickly swap from my knuckle weapons to a sword and shield combo in the midst of the action RPG combat. Locking on to enemies was accomplished with the tab key, and allowed me to easily strafe around foes and avoid their attacks. The mapping system requires special items in order to complete your area maps, as well as to call attention to hidden pathways. There was a very muted, hand-scribbled aesthetic to the interface as a whole that I found appealing and consistent with the game's art style.
Combat was a bit mashy, with the handy lock-on feature letting me easily run circles around my zombiefied foes as I mashed on my attack keys. The standard attack combinations look attractive and have a nice sense of weight when you connect with your foes. A hotbar on the bottom of the screen offers a number of special attacks, potions, and other abilities – in other words, par for the MMO course. One quirk I noticed was that even after killing an enemy, the lock-on stays active, which can lead to odd situations where your character refuses to break stance and move in the direction you'd like them to until you manually release the lock.
Other interesting details included the fact that there will not be any global play for the title; servers will be restricted by region. New abilities are acquired in classic Wizardry fashion: via good old leveling up. Many dungeons will be public, though a few will be instanced, much like other popular MMOs. The game currently features four classes: warrior, wizard, rogue, and priest. I was told that the game will eventually be expanded to include up to eight classes, though, so there should be a good bit of variety once the game hits its prime.
I enjoyed my brief time with Wizardry Online. It certainly felt like it had all of the trappings of a standard MMO, but the aesthetics, combat, and style all felt very distinctly Wizardry. The game will be free-to-play when it launches later this year, so if it sounds like something you might like, be sure to check it out!