Last week I openly wondered how Wizardry Online, a massively multiplayer online game, could possibly capture the spirit of the original grid-based first-person dungeon crawler that stole my heart so many years ago. The answer, I found during a quick hands-on session with the game last week, is tension. The tension that comes of knowing that if you die your character could be gone for good.
Obviously Japanese developer Gamepot couldn't translate the first-person view of the original series into a game that requires players to band together, so instead of focusing on aesthetics they focused on capturing the spirit of the series in this new form. Players take on the role of a warrior, rogue, healer or mage traversing dark and deadly multi-level dungeons, riddled with hideous creatures and traps hungry for the unwary.
As I my Dwarven warrior took his first tentative steps into one of those dungeons he came across a sign that read "*FALLING ROCKS*". I smiled. This was definitely Wizardry.
As I swung my sword and blocked the blows of human bandits and skeletal warriors my heart raced. Even in this throwaway demo the words of Gamepot's Daniel Szkoropad weighed heavily. In this game, death can be permanent.
Every time a player loses their life they must hunt for an ethereal spirit stone in hopes of being resurrected. Every time a player loses their life the chances of this happening diminish. An attempt at coming back to life is met with a dramatic cut scene, and even though I knew I would return to the land of the living in the demo I found myself holding my breath.
The dramatic tension is heightened further by the fact that at any given time another player can kill you and loot precious items off of your corpse. They'll be branded a criminal for their actions, attacked on sight by non-player characters and players alike, but you'll still be dead, possibly permanently. If you should survive you can kill them and regain your items with no penalty, or spend a little gold on putting a bounty on their head.
I died nearly a dozen times over during my demo, largely due to the vicious bastards from EGM playing at the kiosk opposite me that refused to lay down and die when I attacked them. I was only testing the system, EGM, why you have to be like that?
There are 99 levels of progression in the free-to-play Wizardry Online, and players that reach such lofty heights will have earned every one of them. The sense of accomplishment will be exquisite. I'm sure they'll let me know how that goes.