Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

[Archive] Wizardry 8, Episode 14: Storming the Castle

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 27, 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.

Here’s a bit of a summary of my continued explorations of the “old-school” RPG, Wizardry 8. It’s a fairly hard-to-find title these days, as the publisher has long since ceased to exist as anything more than a legal entity. But their memory lives on… as do game CDs on a PC. (Editorial Note from 2015: Within the last year or so, it’s become available on popular digital sites like GOG.COM and Steam, so difficulty-of-acquisition is no longer a problem like it was when I first wrote this!)

The Demon Goddess
I made a lot of progress since Part XIII – and somehow thought I’d blogged it all, but evidently I had failed to do so. My bad. And now I have to go from memory.

We used the beckoning stone to summon a gargoyle named El Dorado. He exploded nicely under our combined firepower. Following that, we made our way to the demon-goddess Al-Sedexus. She seemed to debate a bit about what to do with us, but then gave us a quest set our faction so that we would no longer be attacked by Rapax Templars. Go us.

A bit more hunting led us to the courtyard of Castle Rapax.

Storming the Castle
The courtyard started out okay. There were archers along the wall which rained arrows down on us and were hard to kill. That was annoying. Pushing forward a bit more resulted in us getting surrounded by Rapax and attacked by an ever-increasing throng of Rapax.

The main floor of the castle was largely the same story – infuriatingly long combats. Rapax are minotaur-looking beasts which have some of the most infuriatingly boring combat in the known universe. They are – tough. Very tough. Most magic barely touches them. They hit like a ton of bricks. They have hundreds of hit points. And I usually end up fighting them a couple dozen at a time. I blow through most of my magic in each combat. Usually the best spells are buffs, heals, and insanity spells – since if even one or two Rapax berserkers go nuts and begin wailing on their comrades for a couple of rounds, It can shave precious minutes off of an hour-long fight.

The only thing interesting the Rapax have going for them is that they have classes. Which means you have some spellcasters going at it. This usually means putting up an element shield in the first round, as I’ll be sitting through about six to eight fireballs every round, plus the occasional Crush.

After literally hours of practically non-stop combat, I made my way to the upper floors. I embarrassed the prince, who I caught in his harem. He fled, and sicced his concubines on me.

Yes, his concubines. What a total douchenozzle!

Eventually, sheer tedium and frustration made me flee to the upper floors which were much more interesting – though I had left some halls of the main floor unexplored. The upper halls and the cellar had a lot of interesting things going on, and most of the Rapax were not hostile to me. I guess they were aligned with the templars.

An adventure-game-esque sequence followed. I found myself going through a zoo, hitting the cellar and jail areas, participating in a barroom brawl, discovering that the Rapax King and Queen seemed to be running counter to each others’ purposes (in fact, it looks like the King was trying to arrange the death of his dear wife… I do not know whether or not he succeeded). After finding a lot of secret portals and bizarre items with strange uses, I managed to open up a teleporter near the King’s chamber that opened up a portal to the inside of the Dark Savant’s tower back in Arnika.

Dah Bomb
Among other things, the Dark Savant’s tower houses a bomb capable of destroying the entire world. For such a big deal, the tower was kind of a let-down. There wasn’t much there – just robots serving the Dark Savant, and a combination lock to deactivate the bomb.

At this point, I teleported back to the Rapax Castle, and fought a few gazillion more Rapax, before getting bored and leaving back the way I came.

Design Notes:

The castle sequence is a major set-piece to the game, but it is fatally flawed on the main floor by some really tedious combat – not unlike Rapax Rift and the Bayjin Shallows. The designers wisely set it up so that the upper levels (and cellar) were not nearly so bad – but it does make you wonder how you could slaughter something like 400 Rapax on the main floor (and how does the castle HOLD that many???) and almost nobody bats an eye about it one floor up.

But I really did enjoy myself a lot on the upper floor. The combats were few but a little more interesting (the zoo animals were largely creatures I’d fought before, but at least they broke up the monotony a bit). And the locations and notes gave a lot of clues as to what had been going on for the last few years. It helped make the world come alive.

The Savant Tower was something of a letdown. Here’s a hint to game designers: When you introduce something early in the game that’s clearly a major goal for later, you really ought to put some more effort into making it cool. Visually, it was cool, but from a gameplay perspective, there wasn’t much to do there. Unless I totally overlooked something.

I have already whined enough about how boring the Rapax are to fight. But this illustrates something about enemy design at which I have personally failed many times in the past. It is EASY to make a bigger, tougher, harder opponent. Beef up their armor and hitpoints, throw in a solid claw / claw/ bite attack (an old-school D&D reference), crank the magic resistance up to 11, and viola! A super-challenging monster!

And a super-boring one, too. Oh, sure, if used sparingly, they can be fun, and even interesting in their own way. But ultimately, what makes enemies interesting to a player are the same things that make them nightmarish for a programmer – unique behaviors and abilities (or combinations of the same).

If you look at some of the most popular (and feared) monsters in Dungeons & Dragons, they usually fall into this category. Dragons are not only ultra-tough, but also have the classic breath weapon and flying ability (and, often, spells, an aura of fear, and other special abilities). Mind Flayers with their uber-nasty psionic blast and the whole brain-eating thing. Beholders with their ray-shooting eye stalks (and the anti-magic cone from their primary eye). Vampires and specters with the level-draining ability. Medusas (yes, in D&D, Medusa is an entire race, not just an entity) with the gaze that turns adventurers into stone. Mummies with their mummy-rot and fear aura. Dopplegangers who can assume the form and behavior of friends. Harpies with their charm powers. And various kinds of demons with their spell resistance and other special abilities.

Those special abilities are what makes them interesting. Wizardry 8 is no exception. The psionic abilities of the Rynjin were infuriating, but it made them stand out… except for the fact that practically everything in the Bayjin area was also psionic. Nessie – I still haven’t taken HER down yet. But she was not boring. Creatures that swallow my party members whole are rare, scary, but definitely not boring.

Giving the Rapax some character classes and abilities in Wizardry 8 was definitely a step in the right direction. Frankly, after killing hundreds of these things in a row, they’d be getting pretty tiresome no matter how cool their design. Persona 3 did a great job of doling out strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities amongst opponents – and the expansion did an even better job of putting them together in interesting combinations that took some (minor) tactical planning to work through. And those still got pretty boring after a while.

So take my criticism with a grain of salt – or a small Siberian salt mine…

Filed Under: Archive, Wizardry 8 - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Cuthalion said,

    I keep finding that in tabletop RPGs, when I throw a high-HP or high-armor or high-evade monster at the party, it is not nearly as interesting as it sounds. It’s just longer.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Cuthalion – EXACTLY! The only way it is interesting is if it gives the combat more time to evolve in a particularly interesting way. For example, if you have an enemy with a really wild, scary, unusual ability but it dies before it really manages to use it, then… lame.

    So you need a few rounds for things to get interesting in any case… but then beyond that, long is just long.