Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 2: Running the Gauntlet

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 25, 2015

Back in 2008, I did a playthrough of Wizardry 8, a game I’d missed the first time around. At the time, it was hard to acquire (yay for getting it brought back as a digital title!), and I felt (correctly!) that I’d missed out on a classic title. I blogged my efforts, but with the Great Blog Reboot we lost those articles. Since they’ve been requested, I’m re-posting them now. I hope that with the game now made available again via digital distribution, this may help other people discover this overlooked “final” game in the Sir-Tech series.

Since I got started on this discussion over the weekend on my recent acquisition of Wizardry 8, I figured I’d continue this “retrospective.” Though it’s really more of a first-time play-through for me, as I never played it when it was initially released in 2001. But frankly, this game was a last hurrah (from mainstream developers, at least) of a very fine tradition and style of computer role-playing games that I feel met a premature demise. (Editorial note from 2015: Since this is a repost of a years-old playthough, I guess it now does qualify as something of a retrospective. And happily, indies really have taken up the torch since then, although Ubisoft at least gave it a try again recently with Might & Magic X: Legacy.)

Now, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember how I complain about how games these days hold your hand and expect you to “brute force” your way through every encounter, never requiring you (or even allowing you) to considering alternatives that don’t require killing everything in sight?

This ain’t one of ’em.


Yeah, that’s 27 enemies, each roughly equal to any of my characters. Nine-to-two odds. The gods of butt-kicking can be capricious and cruel. Or maybe that’s the game designers?

Scorpia refers to Arnika Road in Wizardry 8 as the “Terrible Road,” and I now understand what she was talking about.

The previous location, the monastery, had a lot going for it. It was full of interesting features (including computers and an elevator), clues as to the “big picture” of what was going on and as to the history – ancient and recent – of the order that dwelt there and the world itself. While it had its share of empty tunnels (I guess the contractors thought they could ad lib a bit and get paid extra for making long corridors that didn’t really go anywhere), it was worthy of exploration. And while it had a couple of challenging encounters, it had nothing truly punishing. It was a solid, exciting intro dungeon with lots of promise for the rest of the game.

Arnika Road was something of a let-down after that. And not just because I had my kiester stomped on the second encounter. And the third. And the fourth. That pretty much defined my experience on Arnika Road, and that part isn’t all bad. It’s just unfortunate that it was pretty much the most interesting part of the journey. But more on that in a minute. Let’s talk kiester-stompage.

I tried to be far more tactical and clever after that first defeat, and started using tactical maneuvering on the third. What eventually worked was me “pulling” enemies (just as in an MMO) to a location where I could limit their ability to flank me, and then take them out well away from other enemies who could join them. I did that a couple of times, and then made a run for Arnika. Literally. I stayed to the edges of the canyon to avoid detection as long as possible, and then when combat was joined, I ran like the coward I am. It took me a couple of tries to even do that successfully.

But it worked, eventually. Which, all-in-all, represented a little under two hours of somewhat tedious play. The tedium was particularly pronounced when it came to waiting for massive groups of monsters to move, one-by-one, into position. I found myself thumbing through a book. When I talk about how cool turn-based RPGs are, this sort of thing undermines my arguments. I didn’t mind it so much when I was fighting three or even four monsters at a time. But eight… twelve… twenty-seven… that took things to an annoying extreme. (Editorial Note from 2015: This remains a problem throughout the game, even with a combat speed-up patch. This is my worst memory of this game, and its biggest flaw.)

Now, it could be that Arnika Road was designed to teach players the importance of fleeing from bad odds (Editorial Note from 2015: Actually, yes, it kinda was, I learned later from designers. See an upcoming post!). And it may be that they had some flaw in their encounter-scaling logic that overdid it at level 5. And it could be that the designers deliberately made Arnika Road a speed-bump in the game.

While I couldn’t see much of it in my flight to the nearly abandoned city, I really only noticed one “interesting” feature of this area (besides some items sprinkled across the landscape): a building with an impenetrable barred door. I can totally understand the reason why the door was barred, considering the threat level of the creatures roaming the road. And now I’m very curious as to what is inside. That’s exploration for you. You get teased by seeing something you can’t quite reach, and wonder what lay beyond.

Aside from that, Arnika Road strikes me as “filler.” There’s another path I can take when I’m no longer required to run for my life. Maybe there’s a lot more that way. I look forward to checking it out. But from what I’ve seen – it’s just filler. Not that I mind a little filler in my games. I can get kinda zen-like about wandering off into these kinds of areas and just doing some XP-harvesting. But the difficulty level seemed to get frustratingly difficult at this point, a feature which might not earn maximum gratitude from players in a game’s design. Unless, of course, the point was to learn to run like hell, in which case a suggestion that this might be the way to go at the beginning of the gauntlet might be an appropriate way to help train players for future fleeing-like-a-little-girl later in the game.

Wizardry7Box-731913Upon reaching Arnika, I’ve found that most of the citizens have fled from the city, fearing attacks by minions of the Dark Savant. As a total meta-meta-gaming aside, I have to admit – it’s cool and strange hearing about the Dark Savant in a game. The last time I *really* played Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant was back in ’92 or so. It’s almost like running into an old friend from high school. Only then, you remember that this acquaintance wasn’t actually a friend, but was a total jerk whom you always wanted to punch in the mouth. But while the desire for mouth-punching remains, it temporarily takes a backseat to savoring the reunion out of nostalgia.

So now that I’m off the road (for now), there are once again places to explore, people to talk to, and of course more butts to kick. I’m excited and ready to go!

Design Notes:

(Editorial Note from 2015: This section is new) As we find out in a future post, Arnika Road was supposed to teach players certain skills that would be called upon later in the game many times. Unfortunately, IMO, the features of the game they were supposed to teach (stealth & evasion) were not well-implemented, and there were many times there was simply no way to escape combat that I could find, at my level. I guess since I did learn to try to avoid unnecessary fights (where possible – later in the game the constrained paths and huge groups of respawning monsters left you with nowhere to hide) it succeeded on some level.

That’s how it should be, especially in the beginning of a game… efforts made to teach players a part of the system at a time, without hitting them over the head with it as in a tutorial. So even if the attempt fell flat, at least it was attempted. So there’s that.  From my perspective – given that it’s been a few years since I played through this – I’m not entirely sure what they could have / should have done better here, short of the really boring hitting-you-over-the-head-with-it approach. Maybe some NPC interaction, with more obvious hiding places (particularly at this stage of the game), where you could see scripted sequences where NPCs are dodging from place to place to avoid contact with patrols of monsters.

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