Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 5: In Fear of Little Naked Winged Women

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 2, 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.

So now we come to part five of my play-through of the ‘classic’ mainstream CRPG, Wizardry 8 – which proved to be the final chapter of one of the oldest computer RPG series. I missed the game when it was first released seven years ago (Editorial Note from 2015: At the time…), and I’m having a blast playing it today. The graphics may have aged, but the gameplay is still solid. As a designer, I’m taking notes.

Most of my party is now around 10th level. And I’m living in mortal terror of little naked winged women. Leaf Pixies, to be exact. But not all – they apparently spawn with different spell load-outs. The ones that were stalking me for hours may have finally de-popped after I spent an entire night hiding from them, huddled in a fetal position, praying they wouldn’t discover me. I’d battled them about a dozen times, trying different techniques, and nothing worked. These things are FAST – once they spot you, they WILL run you down like the dog you are. And then they’ll open up a can of fairy whup-ass on you.

In this case, it was a group of five pixies. They’d always go first each round. On the first round, most of them would cast Eye For An Eye on themselves, which would reflect any spells you cast on them back against yourself. Maybe one or two would sit out this round of buffing and instead web the entire party, so only about two or three party members would remain free to actually act.

Round two – the last pixies without Eye for an Eye would cast it on themselves (in case you had any funny ideas about targeting individuals with spells), while the rest would pelt the entire – usually bound – party with Armormelt, Whipping Rocks, and the occasional Crush or repeat of the Web spell.

Usually, everyone would survive round two, though occasionally I’d lose my bishop or mage if they were targeted by Crush spells. Round three was the endgame. Sometimes – if enough of my party was free of the webs by then – I could finally take out a pixie. Once, I’d even taken out two! But by the end of round three, the Whipping Rocks and Crush spells would have wiped out both of my principle spellcasters, knocked one of my valkyries unconscious, and probably taken out the bard or the gadgeteer. With maybe one character left alive, conscious, and unbound, I’d close the chapter on this sorry situation and reload.

And get clobbered again.

Wiz800005-732028This was all happening in Trynton. Lo and behold, I made it to Trynton. It was nothing like I expected. I thought it would be another city, and it is. But it is not just another city.

I was in a conference once with Tracy Hickman – the co-author of the Dragonlance series (amongst many others) and creator of the legendary (and notorious) Dungeons & Dragons module, “Ravenloft.” He commented on how, if you were to take the castles from most of the classic modules of the era and model them in 3D, they’d come out really “dumpy.” He found that the best way to really confuse players was to make them work with the vertical. It threw off mapping, and human brains have a tougher time dealing with 3D space (even though we live in it).

The designers of Wizardry 8 may have listened to that same lecture. Trynton is a city of tree-houses. It is highly vertical. Though the 3D graphics make it easier to deal with than text-descriptions of pen & paper D&D, it can still get a bit confusing. But even with the primitive, EverQuest-era graphics of the time, it just looks cool. While it’s also kinda cool fighting on a rope bridge allied with a half-dozen or more Trynnies, it makes moving into melee with some enemies almost impossible.

Really, the only things I don’t like about Trynton are the marauding bands of Leaf Pixies, and the lack of shops. Although Fuzzfass’s potion shop is nicely stocked. I’ve not completed all the quests here (and I’m not sure I can, yet), but I have managed to make it to the illusionary “seventh bough” and meet the legendary shaman who told me my destiny.

My destiny, apparently, is to die – repeatedly and awfully – at the hands of tiny naked women with wings.

Actually, no, that’s not what he told me. His answer was the biggest non-surprise so far: My destiny was intertwined with that of Marten, and the Destinae Dominus. I have to follow Marten’s trail. For this, I battled spiders, pixies, vampire bats, rapaxes (rapaxi?), and blinding wasps all the way up along a giant tree? Still, redundancy is better than getting lost and confused. I accepted the quest and left a tip in the jar. Not that there was any jar, but I tell ’em that to get their hopes up.

So I am now to continue doing… well, what I was doing. Except now I think I have to head into the swamp. But FIRST, I have to head back to Arnika and sell some stuff. And I have to figure out what’s up with that graveyard near Trynton. I found runes on some of the headstones, and I could press them and … uh, turn them off or whatever. But after finding about six of them, they still didn’t make the spirit running the graveyard go away. I tried asking around in Trynton to see if anybody knew about it, but they all gave me the “huh?” response. I’ll see if I have any more success in Arnika.

Design Notes:

I have always been a proponent of having adventure-game style puzzles in RPGs. Maybe that’s just because I’m old-school where the two genres were both far more vibrant and far more interconnected. Wizardry 8, like many of its predecessors, has this in spades.

There’s got to be a balance, though. In graphic adventure games, there is usually not many obstacles to moving between areas to fiddle with objects or hunt for missed clues. In a 3D game, the “hunt the pixel” problem is increased by an order of magnitude due to the third dimension, and getting between areas can be pretty tedious. And treacherous. Particularly when the game scales up the difficulty of the encounters to match your average party level, as Wizardry 8 does.

This makes backtracking pretty time-consuming. Most RPGs, including this one, compensate for this by keeping the puzzles either pretty simple or optional. Or maybe they hoped to generate additional revenue from the strategy guide back in the 90’s.

I personally prefer staying in-game for finding out how to solve puzzles, and it’d be cool if the game could offer redundant hints as to solutions or the next move. As Wizardry 8 did, back in Arnika, when both the priest and the aging HLL officer suggested your next course of action. This is hardly universal – after all, nobody in Trynton will even suggest how I should start mending the broken rope bridge. I worry it’ll involve inventory items I don’t have and don’t have a clue where to look for them.

The difficult / dangerous / time-consuming slog from area to area is a reason why I don’t enjoy the concept of specialty shops in RPGs – even though they sound cool on paper. My team is accumulating a lot of useless junk I’d like to sell, but the potion shop in town won’t buy my crap to help finance a potion to restore a drained comrade. More realistic? Sure. But when the guy is about the only shop in Trynton, and the Rapax back in Arnika is possibly a half-hour or so of unproductive running around and fighting, the convenience factor outweighs the realism.

As I also mentioned, I highly approve of the use of vertical space in the game. The treehouse city is just cool and quirky and alien. And awesome. It gives the game – and the Trynnies – some real character, and brings them to life.

Anti-magic zones are a staple of “old school” RPGs (I remember hating the anti-magic LEVEL in Ultima Underworld). The battle in an anti-magic zone in Trynton seems designed specifically to encourage the player to seize an unfair advantage against an otherwise nearly impossible combat. It doesn’t take much, but you can position yourself just outside the anti-magic zone, but force the hordes of monsters to fight just inside the zone, incapable of bringing their spells to bear.

Fighting with allied but uncontrolled NPCs in can make for some pretty epic battles. A little slow, but a lot cool. I also like the illusion that I’m not the only guy in the world capable of and willing to battle evil.

Oh, yeah – and having the nastiest, most fearsome opponents in an area be itsy-bitsy little faeries: Definitely worth some bonus points, there. Horrible, toothy, slobbering monsters are always great, but itsy-bitsy naked winged women are just all the more terrifying.

Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Maklak said,

    Hehe, I remembered this title. It is funny to read about fairies dusting (that was a pun) the party by web / sleep / charm person and magic missile. It would be even funnier to witness a DnD campaign with players developing paranoia against good aligned forest that rivals only their hatred of Kobolds. But then modern RPGs (be it computer or PnP) seem to be built by accountants to be “balanced”, “challenging”, “fun”, provide “rewards” and “charcter progression” and no one has the balls to do stuff like this anymore. It would be frustrating as a player to face so many unwinnable fights though.