Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 3: Vi Domina Tricks

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 26, 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.

After running the gauntlet along Arnika Road (and finding another bolted-door building along the easier Arnika-Trynton Road that may or may not be capable of being entered at some point), I am now in civilized territory: The formerly thriving town of Arnika.

I’m still not exactly sure how it is pronounced. The residents all pronounce it a little differently. Most seem to pronounce it ar-NEE-ka, but I’ve also heard AR-nee-ka and AR-ne-ka. While it’s a small thing, it’s noticeable. We’ve got a town west of Salt Lake City called “Tooele.” Everyone in the region pronounces it correctly – at least after being corrected once after trying to call it “Tool” or “TOOL-ee”. It’s pronounced, by the way, “Too-ILL-a.” Don’t ask. We also have a town called “Hurricane” which is pronounced “HURR-i-cun.” Actors might screw this up, but residents never would.

wiz8talk-796620Arnika is a lot more fun than my last session. There are people to talk to. There are abandoned houses to clear out. There’s a rogue named Myles whom I found myself grouped with. Since I already had a rogue, it enabled me to turn my rogue into a bard. I’m not positive how long Myles will stay with our group, but for now, he’s with us.

The big quest Myles had for us (though he’s talked about robbing the bank) was to rescue some girl by a crashed space ship. We had to fight off a group of Savant Guards – robots with blades on their hands. Definitely challenging, and they don’t scare easily. There were also some bandits – Higardi raiders – monkeying around outside the ship that we had to fight our way through. Fortunately, they do scare fairly easily. We had to use every bit of tactics I could come up with to defeat them without losing anyone in our group (I actually took them on before bringing Myles on board).

One bummer about fights in Wizardry 8 is that the enemy can flank and surround you, but you can’t really do the same to them. You can change your formation to reduce your vulnerability when flanked, but it’s not like you can separate your party into two or more groups. You can, however, dictate a lot of the terms of the fight – maneuvering with your back to a wall (or better, a corner) to limit their frontage, force them to come to you while you pelt them with ranged attacks (especially magical area-effect attacks), and use temporarily disabling spells like fear spells or sleep spells to disrupt them from attacking.

In Arnika, you can also try to maneuver your fights to within earshot of the friendly guards or monks in the area. They are quick to rush into a fight, draw off a little heat off of your beleaguered party members if you need it, and add their own firepower to assist you. If there is an XP hit to receiving their aid, it’s not been that noticeable.

Wiz7Intro_ViDominaAt the crash site, we rescued the girl from a bunch of savant guard robots, though she was kicking butt pretty well. Once we rescued her, she turned out to be Vi Domina, formerly appearing in Wizardry 7 (pictured in the intro to the previous game on the left). She joined the party – and turned out to be merely my own average party level (6 at the point she joined us). Somehow I thought she was a much bigger bad-ass than that. I guess skills atrophy over time.

She joined the party, gave us gold, scads of experience points (taking some party members to level 7), and asked us to escort her to visit friends. Free XP for a milk run, plus a chance to get introduced to characters who can use less-than-generic dialog with other NPCs. This was a cute design trick, actually. It gives the NPCs a bit more personality, and helped turn them into “characters” rather than “information and quest dispensing machines.”

Except they keep treating us as “junior adventurers.” Smirking a little about how we “rescued” Vi. Like we’re the kid brothers playing pretend adventurers, and couldn’t really handle any real danger on our own. Okay, granted, they probably have a point. We are wusses compared to just about everything else around us (except rats and green slime). I wonder if that will change later? It seems like our quest involves ascending to godhood. I’ll bet people won’t smirk and be all condescending THEN!

We had to pay off Myles’s bar tab, which wasn’t so fun, but it was a lot cheaper than pair of leather boots purchased from the rapax arms-dealer in town. And we also went to visit the tower of the Dark Savant. It was naturally guarded by his robot troopers. They repeated a warning Vi Domina gave us earlier about there being a bomb in the tower that would blow up the entire world if we tried to enter it.

I think they’re bluffing (Editorial Note from 2015: Nope. Not bluffing) . But… after dispatching the guards, I couldn’t find an obvious way in, so I didn’t try to call them on it.

Now, given the era that this game was released – just shortly after Baldur’s Gate II – I can see how some players might be dissatisfied with the simplicity of the quests thus far, and the necessity of hunting them down a bit.

There is a large menu of options to interact with every NPC, from topics of conversation to trading and even recruiting them to join your party. Morrowind players would have felt right at home. Granted, the majority of NPCs you can talk to in this town are nameless, disposable guards and priests. But I do like the depth of interaction of named NPCs. As the game progresses, the number of things you can talk about increases. They may have nothing but bored “blow you off” responses to the new topics of conversation, but the impression it gives is that these NPCs might grow more interesting as the game advances – rather than the opposite, as is usually the case in RPGs once you’ve “used up” the NPC’s conversation tree.

An artifact of the technology is that the city is pretty sparse. Buildings are spaced far apart, and it is difficult to make out more than four of them at a time through the fog. This is actually a response to the limitations of 3D rendering of the era – you have to be very careful with how is visible at any time. It’s still a problem today, although now we tend to have far more elaborate objects. From a gameplay perspective, this wasn’t very different from Wizardry 7, with the rectangular walls of the city forming odd-shaped buildings that were only visible to a range of about five squares.

All-in-all, Arnika has been pretty fun so far. I’ll have to take Myles up on his bank-robbing idea and see what other trouble I can scare up. There’s plenty of surrounding countryside and stuff to explore, yet, so I have not yet run out of things to do. At this point, I am having a little bit of trouble figuring out the next direction to take, so I’m gonna have to play adventurer and beat some bushes a little to find something.

Design Notes:

(Editorial Note from 2015: This is all new stuff, trying to keep things consistent between the articles)

 

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Wizardry 8‘s party-based gameplay was no longer in vogue when it was released. I guess it’s still not in vogue, but it’s been regaining steam. Anyway, Wizardry 8 joined its contemporaries from Bioware to embrace the party-based design, and embrace┬árecruitable non-player characters (RNPCs).

The cool thing here (and with the Baldur’s Gate series of the era) was that adding an NPC to the party wasn’t just an extra warm body and extra attacks. They came with something of a personality, including an unwillingness to go to certain locations (baggage!), and also with some quests surrounding them. While Baldur’s Gate may have really spearheaded this concept and did an excellent job of it for the time, it always felt like the other characters were just random folks looking for something to do. Many of the RNPCs in Wizardry 8 are tied into the overall storyline and setting, at least peripherally.

This helps compensate for the fact that the player’s characters are created by the player at the beginning of the game and can’t therefore be neatly folded into the plot. They are kind of forced / shoehorned in as best as possible, but it’s not an organic fit. So instead, the party can “adopt” pre-created characters who are already woven into the fabric of the game world. That’s a clever way to get the best of both worlds.

Plus, it’s a lot more interesting to do quests tied into a party member than some random NPC standing on a street corner.


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