Pure wizardry gold, that’s what.
This post is part of the 2009 Game Cryer Holiday Gift Guide. Check out some goodies for the gamer on your holiday shopping list. – KO
Not unlike the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the publishers and developers at KingsIsle Entertainment, Inc. have brewed up a surprisingly delightful game that’s cast one powerful spell on the residents of this household.
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
As described on Kingsisle’s Wizard101 website:
Wizard101 is an online, multiplayer, Wizard school adventure game with collectible card magic, wizard duels, and far off worlds! The game allows players to create a student Wizard in an attempt to save Wizard City and explore many different worlds.
Wizard101 offers a Free Trial that never ends! Subscribers can complete Wizard City and explore far off worlds or individual areas can be unlocked forever with “Pay-by-Area”. Sign Up and start playing right away! For more information about Subscriptions and Pay-by-Area, click here.
Sounds simple enough, but before we delve into the world of Wizard101, allow me to elucidate you on how this interesting little game managed to become a central entertainment feature in my house.
How we were introduced to Wizard101:
The game came to us quite innocently enough as a means of getting a bonus to another online game.
I won’t go into too much detail on this as I’m still a bit jaded over the other game and I don’t want my opinion of the one to interfere with my review of the other. – KO
But suffice to say I decided to give this game a try. I’d seen commercials on TV for Wizard101 and considered it a bit childish and figured that the images shown couldn’t really be true in-game quality. More on that later.
The download and the trials therein:
After downloading the install base, I was faced with updating the game to the current version. And this is where I was faced with a near game-ending event. For the record, I am a techie. I was the Senior Build Manager for a Fortune 500 Company. I have managed websites and software releases and know a thing or two about such activities. So when I tell you that it took a long time to update the game; too long for me to get started playing the game the very night I tried to start, I’m not kidding. In fact, I almost deleted the game off my computer and moved on. Why the updates couldn’t be re-bundled with the install package routinely will forever baffle me.
Note to developers and software publishers everywhere: I nearly missed this gem because of an easily avoidable technical glitch. – KO
However, once the game was updated and running properly, I dove right in and began creating a wizard to challenge this new and mysterious world. In short order I was charmed by the game on many levels. And it soon became readily apparent that this game was a keeper. In fact, I found myself justifying my playing by claiming that I was, “Testing the game for possible play by my kids.” In reality, the magic was already at work and I was rapidly becoming charmed by the game.
The Basic Gist:
The game essentially plays out much like Magic: The Gathering where all fights are done in duel format and spells are cards drawn from a deck that is completely crafted by the player based on specific spell schools.
Easy to understand quickly, and with a good variety of bright, colorful spells, the mechanics are quick to pick-up, but surprisingly deep in strategy and tactics.
Spells can be categorized a number of different ways; by spell school, by cost, by type, as well as by target(s).
For example, the various spell schools are Fire, Ice, Storm, Life, Death, Myth and Balance. Each school has strengths and weaknesses. So, while Storm has the capability of doing the most damage in a single spell, but storm wizards have less health and their spells fizzle (fail to cast) more than any other school, Ice spells are more protective in nature and as a result ice wizards have higher health, but less powerful damage spells in their decks.
Each spell costs a certain number of pips that equates to the general power level of the spell. Players generally start each fight with a single pip and accumulate them over the course of a duel at the rate of 1 pip per round. Casting a spell spends pips in the duel. As with most magic-oriented games, wizards have a mana reserve that they draw upon over the course of play to cast all spells. Each pip spent is equal to 1 point of mana. Some items grant the wizard Zero level spells that allow the player to act within a duel and build up pips for higher, more powerful spells.
Players have a variety of spell types to craft their deck including damage, charm, curse, shield, and trap spells.
- Damage spells are exactly that. They deal damage to one or more targets. The bulk of the spells cast are damage spells.
- Charm spells affect a wizard by augmenting their next spell or all spells of a specific type. For example, each school has a charm that increases the damage of the next spell of that school.
- Curse spells affect an opponent by hindering their spells. For example, Weakness is a spell that decreases the damage of an opponent’s spell by 30%.
- Shield spells protect the wizard by negating a percentage of the damage of spells cast upon them.
- Trap spells affect spells cast at a specific target by increasing the damage of spells cast upon them by a given percentage.
Spells can affect a single target, all enemies, all players, or all participants in a duel. Be careful, for spells that boost the effectiveness of all participants also increases the effectiveness of the spells of your opponents.
Like most Collectible Card Games, Players draw 5 cards at the beginning of a duel and use the spells (cards) up each round, drawing from their total deck along the way.
This variety in spells grants players a wealth of depth in crafting decks that harness some strategy that suits the player’s style.
How free is the free trial?
The game allows players to experience the beginning of the game with, as they put it, a Free Trial that never ends! For the record, I’ve experienced a number of “Free Trials” that were not really “Free” at all. Here Wizard101 breaks from the mold and offers a true Free Trial allowing the player to explore a section of Wizard City without ever paying to play the game further. And while limited in scope, the free trial lasted for quite a few days before I finally broke down and bought some Crowns (the in-game currency to unlock areas and buy special equipment if you don’t have a subscription.) And if I’d wanted, the free trial would have been permanent. Unlike other games with a time-limited trial, Wizard101 offers a permanent trial that never ends.
Even here the developers have done something rather interesting, players can either subscribe, or pay as they go to unlock areas. The subscriber option even allows for the option of a Family Plan with a single Master account with sub-accounts to encourage family group play. And for the “Pay as you go” player, any area purchased under an account is permanently unlocked; even for other characters in that account. And each account is allowed a total of 6 different wizards. So there’s plenty of opportunity to experience the game from different schools and with different tactics. In fact, some equipment can even be shared with all the wizards in a single account via a shared bank feature; a handy and well liked bonus to the game.
My family has chosen to be a Crowns account and play as we go with (as of this review) three separate wizards under a single account. The only drawback to this is our inability to play at the same time. But for us, it is an economical way of experiencing the game without making a monthly or yearly commitment. At $9.95 per month ($6.95 per month per account for a family account) however, as online games go, the cost of a subscription is relatively inexpensive.
Actual game vs. the impression:
Originally I thought the game would be more online card game and less actual game-play outside the card-based dueling. Much to my surprise the game plays out not unlike the TV advertisements. In short order I was hooked. The game is easy to play and quite intuitive. The quests are a mixture of “go here, speak to so-and-so” quick tasks interspersed with tasks to seek out items, craft various pieces of equipment, as well as duel different creatures. But there’s also mini-games to play, as well as PvP duels against other players. All-in-all there’s little time you’re not engaged in some activity.
What I’ve discovered that I like about the game:
- The developers have done a great job making the game quite accessible to kids and adults alike. The ease of game play/ease of understanding the mechanics is something to be noted. If you can’t figure out this game enough to have fun with it, then I’m not sure what level of game would suit you. Seriously, my 3-year old daughter likes to pick the spells and change the colors on the pets. And while she’s quite bright (in my opinion) she’s demonstrated no super-genius capabilities to date. I’ll grant that the difference between a trap vs. a charm vs. a shield gets lost at times to my 5-year old son, but the resulting difference to his game experience is negligible when he misidentifies the buffs that it’s almost not worth mentioning.
- Everyone is basically on the same leveling curve because while you might get some nifty cool stuff, you can’t really buy your way to the top like you can in some online games. Dropping a credit card on the game won’t make it any easier to play or assure you superiority over those of us on a budget. However, advancement is basically linked to time spent on the game performing various quests and dueling the creatures. I like that the developers didn’t put a limit on the time a player can perform meaningful activities in the game.
- Fights aren’t decided on a single flip of a coin. Most play out over a few rounds where strategy and nuance can come into play. There are very few “this fight is over” mega-spells that can’t be countered by weaker, easily obtainable spells.
- Everyone starts a fight generally with the same strength and power. While higher levels allow you better gear and a greater selection of spells as well as higher health and mana scores, it is entirely possible that any level of player could conceivably beat nearly any other level of player (or creature for that matter.)
What I’ve discovered I don’t like about the game:
- The game doesn’t allow you to just say whatever you want in chat. Specific words are allowed and show up in white text while words you’re not allowed to say are identified in red and display as ellipses (…) to other players. I sometimes find it a challenge to convey ideas to other players in the chat, so at times it can be a negative. However, that’s not always the case (see As a Parent.)
- Spell selection in duels must be performed or forfeited due to a timer. You only have a given amount of time to select a spell or you pass for your turn. To be honest, the timer annoys me when I’m going it alone. I’d love to pause fights to deal with a real world issue rather than have to either flee or idle and hope for the best. I completely understand the reasons for the timer, and I know that a solo fight can turn into a group thing at any time so I get it, but I still wish I could pause a fight.
As a parent, what I love about the game:
- KingsIsle Entertainment has really put the concerns of parents first. Players cannot simply name themselves or their pets anything they like. Names are selected from a pre-generated set of names appropriate for the age-range and game. For example, in the game I play the wizard Kevin Fireforge and his pet firecat is Sir Kitty. Due to this I never have to worry about my kids asking me an awkward question to define something they’ve read in the game that they don’t understand… and I’m not ready to explain to them yet. Likewise the chat filter acts in the same manner preventing them from inadvertently being exposed to some foul-mouthed jerk who finds it liberating to display an expansive vocabulary while on the internet. In addition, the privacy filters allow me to set my game play experience to totally non-interactive when it comes to dealing with other players. Call me paranoid all you like, I like that idea when handling my kid’s activities online. And I commend KingsIsle Entertainment for providing me that option.
- The creatures are all bright and whimsical with actions and reactions that are humorous. My kids immediately found enjoyment watching the silly monsters and the wonderful spells.
- I also like that at times the game encourages cooperative play by challenging the wizards with quests in realms they may have difficulty finishing alone. Not that all areas couldn’t be done solo, but that they’re more easily handled with a group. That’s important to me.
- Nobody dies – in my home, when someone’s defeated (even the player) we say they go to sleep. In fact, we’ll routinely say, “Night-night!” as we defeat the creatures. And should your wizard be bested in a duel against the monsters that roam the realms, no worries, for you shall simply be transported to the “Common” area of the realm where you regain health every few seconds while you consider returning to challenge the creatures again.
- Leveling up isn’t very efficient if you intend to grind against the creatures. Rather you gain the best experience by doing quests and helping others. This helps to reinforce the idea that helping others is the best way to deal with situations – a positive lesson for young minds.
- And finally, another small lesson that I find positive as a parent. Each area has a “Safe Zone” where the monsters can’t reach you. In most areas this is the sidewalk alongside the road. Intentional or not, this helps to enforce the idea in younger minds that the sidewalk is safe and the street is a dangerous place to be. I found that to be a highly commendable game design choice.
So by now you should be ready to download Wizard101 and start your career saving Wizard City. Here are the requirements to play the game:
- Internet: Internet Connection Required
- Operating System: Windows 98SE or later versions
- Processor: 1GHz Intel Processor
- RAM Space: 512 Megabytes
- Video Card: Best results with GeForce 2 or equivalent
- Disk Space: 5 Gigabytes
- Game Download: The game automatically initiates a download in the background when you log in to play for the first time. The process is transparent to the player. No special installation process is required. You must, however, be connected to the internet.
And to wrap-up, my overall impression of Wizard101 is this:
- A great big “just for fun” thumbs-up
- Additionally an “I’m an addicted geek” thumbs-up
- And a parental bonus thumbs-up to boot.
This game is well worth the download and should provide hours of enjoyment for you and your family. I highly recommend it.
Wizard101 ESRB rating: E10+ (for Crude Humor, Mild Fantasy Violence)