Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 8: Dances with Rhinos

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 8, 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.

I am continuing my first-time play-through blogging of Wizardry 8, the classic ending to one of the longest-running CRPG series of all time. This time I report on my adventure amongst the Umpani.

I neglected to mention in my last post about a wonderful thing that happened while leaving Trynton. I was attacked by a bunch of those horrible leaf pixies. And, with a little bit of help from a Trynnie patrol, and the use of the newly-acquired spell “Spell Screen,” I kicked their little winged butts! It felt very good…

Unfortunately, while the trip along the Arnika Road has gotten a little easier, it has become no shorter. If I don’t feel like running, I’m being engaged of groups of nearly 20 monsters at a time sometimes. Duking it out can take ten minutes. Running doesn’t take much less time. Frankly, it’s a long and annoying trip.

But I could tell I got to Umpani territory when I saw a very industrial-looking bridge with electric lights. Sounded about right. Past this, I found a fort at the base of Mount Gigas, with units of sometimes a dozen Umpani marching around it. The Umpani have changed a little since Wizardry 7, but they still resemble a humanoid rhinoceros. With military uniforms, swords, and black powder pistols. And computers and space ships, of course. Kinda steampunk.

Once inside, I found the Umpani didn’t really want to talk to anybody who wasn’t part of their military. Not too unlike the T’Rang.

Ah, well. Who wants to live forever? I signed up. I also found myself facing a cute little female Trynnie named Sparkle, who was enlisted with the Umpani as a ranger. I asked her to join up, and she agreed. She was much lower level than the rest of the party, but I figured she’d level up quickly (and she did – she quickly moved from being a liability to an asset, and gaining four levels by the time we left Mt. Gigas).

The niftiest thing about the Umpani Base – and the caves nearby – is that there are a ton of locked and trapped lockers and chests to practice my larcenous skills upon. I think I gained another four or five points of locks & traps skill just from robbing my comrades-in-arms blind.

My first task was to go through training. Great. Here we’ve been battling untold monsters and the robot-soldiers of the Dark Savant, and now we need basic training. It involved an obstacle course – with some death traps! The Umpani don’t play around! It culminated with a battle against training dummies. Who fought back in lethal (but not very difficult) combat. Again, the Umpani don’t play around. Surviving training evidently promoted us to second class rank.

Our new task? Kill a T’Rang, and bring back a body part as evidence. Oh, hey, didn’t I have an arm left over from a previous adventure? I pulled it out of my back pocket, and impressed the sergeant enough that he promoted us again, and sent us into the Mount Gigas Caves for more training.

Okay. The Mount Gigas Caves – there are some optional (I think) tunnels in those caves that I decided to explore. This was off in a section that warned that it was unexplored territory – and it was not lit by electric lights or patrolled by squads of Umpani. It was a maze of twisty passages all alike, in the lower caves. I spent about five hours exploring these caves. It wasn’t the size of these caves, so much as the frequency of combat. It was like the Arnika Road all over again. Fortunately, in the confines of the caves, it was harder for the larger monsters to surround us, which caused them to bunch up in front of us where cone-shaped spells could do all kinds of damage against them. This was good. But with the scaling difficulty level, we now encounter a lot of monsters in every combat. Monsters that take their time to attack, sometimes. However, there are so many nifty items to be found (including some much-needed spell books), it really was worthwhile.

One nice thing we discovered while searching through the caves was a teleporter which took us back out to one of those houses along the Arnika Road that I couldn’t get into when I first began the game. Finally! While that alone was kinda cool, what was cooler was the weaponry I found there. We found a really powerful bard instrument that I cannot yet play, and a musket. The musket was much more powerful than the old zip gun that the Rattkin gave us, so my fighter is now pretty potent in long-range combat.


My real goal was in the upper caves. There were some monsters in the patrolled section of the upper caves as well, which led to some nice, long combats with Umpani contributing to the fight. It is a peculiarity of turn-based combat that the more allies one has in a battle, the longer the battle actually takes in real-time … quite the opposite of how it “should” be. At least the magical energies of flame and frost can tell the difference between friend and foe, and magically ignore any friendly units in the explosive radius. It feels pretty weird to drop explosions at one’s own feat to clear out a surrounding enemy, but it works.

To get to the actual training, we had to fix a malfunctioning computer. Fortunately, it just had wires in the back that had to be plugged in to their proper location. I like the Umpani computers. On my computer, when things break, it normally means spending hundreds of dollars on a replacement card, or even worse – experiencing that horrible feeling in the pit of the stomach that says, “My last hard drive backup was made about NEVER ago… I’m so screwed!” Here, they just have wires fall out.

I guess that’s why it’s called a fantasy RPG.

I had two training tasks. The first was to beat the crap out of five monsters and to pick up the flags they were guarding.

This task was pretty straightforward and easy, until we met the Djinn at the end. This guy was like six levels above us, and did half our hit points in damage (and took a quarter of our stamina) with every hit. And made us insane. I figured we were dead meat… until my gadgeteer – the most useless member of our party – got a lucky shot with his omnigun that actually knocked the Djinn unconscious in the second round. He never woke back up – though even unconscious, it took us three more rounds to kill him. He was just that tough. My gadgeteer’s middle name must be “David,” I guess. Oh, and we got a Djinn eye from him, which is a component that the Rapax weaponsmith needed. So, cool.

But that particular training session baffled me. Can you imagine the job interview for those monsters? “Okay, this is a one week contract. You are to guard a flag in a dead-end cave. You just kill any recruits that come your way. Oh, and don’t mind all the dead bodies of your predecessors.”

The second part of the training was to use a rocket launcher they issued us. Once again, we had training dummies – down a firing range this time. Unfortunately, the rocket launcher – when it hit – did so little damage to the target dummies that they actually had to be hit by something like 100 rockets before they were actually destroyed. I’m serious – we’re talking like level 1 fireball damage here. Weak!


What it really turned into was a chance for everybody to practice their ranged attacks. The combat took forever. After the nearly useless rocket launcher had run out of its current ammunition supply, I switched it out for the cool musket we found in the house on Arnika Road. I put the combat into “continuous combat” mode, and took a snack break. I came back, fixed up a couple of characters who had run out of ammo, and then let them keep on going while I read a book. Eventually – after just under a short chapter of the book I was reading – the dummies were all shattered under the arrows, stones, bolts, and bullets of the party. At least we got our ranged skill levels up.

After all that was over, we had to report back to Lt. Balbrak for more orders. Our ordeal in the Mt. Gigas caves was – at least for now – coming to an end

Design Notes:

There was a classic (or is it “trite”) puzzle in the caves that involved a pressure plate. When the pressure plate was stepped on, it opened a secret door – which closed immediately after you stepped off (to try and go through the secret door, for example.) The solution is old, but still fun – just drop something else on the plate to hold it open. I used a leather hat. Apparently it doesn’t take MUCH weight. It’s an old puzzle, but it’s still fun. (Editorial Note from 2015: Of course, now in 2015, we’ve had a resurgence of this kind of puzzle to the point where it feels trite again…)

There’s a “leap of faith” section in the Umpani caves that I enjoyed – a cave in that reveals a long drop below with no known way to return to the current level. It led to an underground lake, a couple of combats, and plenty of loot. The exit opened a secret “trap door” back up to the caves. This is another staple of heroic fantasy RPGs.

One of the problems with the less-linear gameplay (and scaled difficulty) is that the treasure and challenges don’t match up. The rocket launcher would have been extremely handy back when we were level 5 or so. By the time we got it (around level 12), the thing was almost useless.

The maze of the Umpani caves is basically filler. Now, I can’t complain too much, because it seems to be strictly optional. But the high combat density (and combats that would take several minutes to complete) and random encounters made me feel like I was playing a Final Fantasy game.

And as I’ve stated before in this blog – once upon a time I used to hate mixing fantasy and sci-fi. But I find now that I don’t mind it as much. In fact, I’m really enjoying it.

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