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Forgotten Gems: Wizardry 8 Review
Review - posted by Role-Player on Mon 27 November 2006, 02:57:42Tags: Sir-Tech; Wizardry 8
Out of Time
It was around this time back in 2001 that Sir-Tech finally released the anticipated sequel to their long running Wizardry series and the final chapter in the Dark Savant trilogy, Wizardry 8. The patience of the series' followers had been finally rewarded but at the expense of Sir-Tech Canada itself. During the game's development cycle Sir-Tech went bankrupt and lost its US publisher, which lead to several complications throughout the game's production and ended up with the company signing an exclusive publishing deal with Electronics Boutique for a direct distribution of the title. Misfortunes throughout the rushed development stage led to several problems such as a litany of bugs and balance issues on release, as well as data corruption caused by inferior quality CDs.
While fan and critical reception was generally positive, and dedicated support of the developers allowed Wizardry 8 to be largely purged of its technical issues, the game unfortunately remains a forgotten gem - an enjoyable, stable and quality product that despite a dated presentation and some questionable design decisions will appeal to gamers looking for a classic dungeon crawl that has overall managed to keep up with the times.
Theme From Retro
The Wizardry series is best described as dungeon crawlers which share some similarities in setting, narrative and gameplay mechanics. While originally based on the medieval fantasy themes and rules of AD&D, an added layer of complexity was added in the series' sixth title, Bane of the Cosmic Forge. The title introduced a new villain, characters and expanded the scope of the narrative to encompass powerful alien races, factions and even space travelling. While it closely follows the events of Crusaders of the Dark Savant, Wizardry 8 requires no knowledge about the previous titles to be played. The game has you controlling a group of adventurers amidst a galactic conflict between alien civilizations fighting for control over cosmic artifacts created by the aptly-named Cosmic Lords. This time the party finds itself on the planet Dominus in search for the Savant's whereabouts along with the artifacts after they have been shot down by his Black Ship. Walking out from the wreckage, the party will find itself in the forgotten remains of a Higardi Monastery. The Monastery itself has its fair share of creatures to fight and secrets to uncover, and serves as a nice training ground because it gives players a taste of all the situations they will come across during the game.
But the starting place of the adventure may not be the Monastery at all for some. Veteran players of the series will be pleased to know they can import their characters from Crusaders of the Dark Savant, so if by any chance you've managed to store those save files for over a decade you can continue the adventure. This feature has been used throughout the trilogy and besides being a clear nod to longtime fans, also preserves the tradition of exploring the decisions you made in past games and provides different starting points and minute changes in storyline accordingly. There are various cutscenes detailing this, as well as a standard introduction for those who are starting fresh to the game that establishes the party as adventurers suddenly thrust into the story.
The import feature is not without its problems, though. Imported characters will be neutered back to level 1 and many items have been removed in an attempt to balance the game. Since the skill system has been revised and some skills are gone (you can forget Climbing, Swimming and Mapping to name some), points must be allocated anew. Fortunately, every character in the party will have an experience point boost to get a head start, and will find equally impressive weapons along the course of their journey, though they are allowed to retain some of their original equipment. Also, while the game takes into account your past alliances, these only affect your immediate starting point. You are free to follow your own path at the start of the game but the option to work for your past employers is still open to you. A beginning area of sorts will be available to you in any case with perhaps the Umpani one being the more fleshed out and useful, as the T'Rang don't really send you on a training course. Even so, both factions have their own agenda and the tasks they present to you are a nice way to send new parties travelling through Dominus and unearthing its secrets.
The T'Rang and Umpani missions are some of the best in the game, but betraying one to the other is not without its dire consequences
Once that's out of the way and the gameworld opens up, you'll soon get acquainted with all the necessary backstory, along with the predominant races of Dominus and their cultures; what blanks remain will be filled along the way. Players can expect to interact with a couple of unique races such as the Trynnie, a tribe of friendly creatures with a mystical background; the Rapax, a hostile and vicious demonic race; and the Mooks, which can be best described as Chewbaccas with psionic abilities. The T'Rang and the Umpani will also be present in Dominus as they are in pursuit of the Dark Savant, and other races - such as the Rattkin and Rajin - will no doubt pose some threats to the party. Nearly all of the races have a well defined society, each with distinct rules and ways of life you may need to adapt to in order to be accepted by them, or may instead want to subvert to suit your needs. Interactions with these races often wield interesting results, and befriending one may well compromise your standing with others.
The narrative that unfolds as you advance in the game isn't very compelling unfortunately, although for most of the game you won't really care. It gives you a reason to keep exploring and it's good enough for either newcomers to the series or to long time players waiting to see how the trilogy ends. As you advance, a series of missions pertaining to your main quest will become available and mostly necessary to complete. Initially you are tasked with finding the Destinae Dominus, and while a good portion of the game centers on acquiring this object, the artifact is basically what sparks the struggle between several factions interested in either acquiring it for their own use or as part of a plan to get back at the Dark Savant. There's enough adventuring, questing and combat to last you a good time though the main storyline is pretty much set in stone. The advent of multiple endings comes from how you interact with some factions and what you decide in the later stages of the game.
Regardless of whether you are importing a previous party or starting anew, character creation and development is a key aspect of Wizardry 8. It spans eleven races, from the stock Human and Tolkienesque Elves and Hobbits to more uncommon races such as Lizardmen, Fairies, Dracons and Rawulfs. Some have their peculiarities. Dracons can breathe acid upon nearby enemies at the cost of their stamina. Dwarves have a naturally high resistance to damage, while Faeries have higher magical recovery but being so small means their weight carrying capacity is reduced. These elements help distinguish them and also impact gameplay when it comes to character planning, though other than these statistical differences most of them generally play and feel the same. If you're looking for more diversity then it's the classes that really shine.
There are fifteen classes ranging from fantasy hallmarks such as Fighters, Rogues and Mages, to atypical Ninjas and Samurais, to a new class that's exclusive to Wizardry 8: the Gadgeteer. A nifty class, these characters can assemble unconventional though unique items to assist the party which are technological counterparts to some spells. Merging two items will allow the Gadgeteer to create a Searchlight which acts the same way a Detect Secrets spell would, at the expense of the character's stamina instead of a spellcaster's spell points. They also have their own custom weapon, the Omnigun, which increases in power and functionality along with the character's power. At later levels the weapon will be able to use multiple types of ammos and cause various status ailments.
But the Gadgeteer isn't the only one to shine as the other classes are not without their own special abilities. Alchemists will be able to create potions and powders to help party members or hinder foes, Bishops can dispel Undead and uncurse items, and Rangers can scout for enemies in the vicinity, telling the party in advance what numbers and types of enemies are approaching. Even vanilla classes such as the Fighter have their own tricks such as being able to go berserk and knocking out opponents. Bards, other than sharing some affinities with Fighters and Rogues, also have access to magical musical instruments that much like a Gadgeteer's items can mimic certain spell effects. Besides, it's just cool to see Bards live up to their namesake and play all sorts of musical instruments in a CRPG which is something we don't see a whole lot.
The character creation system, while still reliant on its AD&D foundations, is easy to get into. At core it's a class-based system where acquiring experience through combat and solving quests will enable characters to level up. Each level awards basic improvements to stats such as hit points and stamina, and also gives a number of character points ready to be spent on attributes, skills, and spells. Attributes represent the inherent nature of a character and are classified as Strength, Speed, Intelligence and so on. Skills are abilities a given class has open to it. They also increase by use, meaning you can improve them manually through character points at level up or repeatedly practicing the skill in the field. Or both, even. This means a character may improve his Sword, Artifacts, Mythology, Close Combat and Shield skills by successfully using them in combat - but he may also increase these during a level up. This might suggest some powerplay and lack of balance but in reality it just means a character is not tied to a single way of improvement, as the system allows for individual party members to be multifaceted rather than narrowed down. Besides, not all skills are raised in the same way or at the same speed. Individual weapon skills such as Sword or Axe are raised by successful use of the weapon in combat but Close Combat dictates success with all kinds of close combat weapons and is dependent upon the Senses attribute, so it's not simply a matter of using weapons in combat to improve it.
The character attributes now go all the way up to 100 while skills cap at 75, meaning there is a lengthier power scale. After maxing out a particular attribute the game unlocks Expert skills, powerful extensions of their original attributes which give added bonuses to characters and can be increased the same way as standard skills. For instance, once you max out a character's Sense attribute you'll unlock Eagle Eye, which bolsters the ability to hit and penetrate a creature with a ranged weapon. A slight blemish to this otherwise nice concept is that Power Cast - increased effectiveness and duration of a spell, along with making it more difficult for enemies to resist spells - is only really useful for spellcasters so there isn't much incentive for melee-based characters to invest in it; an alternative would have been nice. Also, the skills themselves grant multiple bonuses which just feel overpowered. While it could be argued this is acceptable since they will only be available late in the game for most parties, perhaps a better way would be to break down Expert skills into two variants and propose specialization based on the bonuses it provides rather than stacking various bonuses simultaneously. As an example, Iron Will could be broken down into mental and physical resistances instead of outright granting both.
Another major quibble I have with the system is that melee-based combatants get screwed when it comes to combat options. Spellcasters get to learn new spells from different realms of magic but fighters are stuck with simple attacks and berserking. Other character systems usually have all sorts of melee combat options such as different types of attacks or combat styles. It wouldn't be too difficult to add analogues to D&D's Power Attack, Riposte and Disarm feats, or styles that traded damage output for finesse and vice-versa. Fighter types shine in raw damage but other multiskilled classes which can also double as fighters or multiclass usually have more to offer. Speaking of which, multiclassing is present in the game and if you feel inclined to do so you may halt a character's progress so he can develop more skills in other class. This type of progression means that a character that changes class will stop growing on their previous profession and will only grow in the new one, with skills of the past one only being reactivated when he reaches the same level of experience in the new class that he had in the previous. The better part of going this route is to allow certain character classes to gain skills that will benefit them, such as the vanilla Fighter, but this considerably increases the classes' weakness because it might be a long time until the character can reactivate his old skills.
Finally, Rogues deserve a small but important mention here as they have a very specific and fun way of opening locks and disarming traps. When they chance upon a locked door or chest, a part of the interface will illustrate a series of tumblers that simulate the inner part of the lock. Characters need to push tumblers up but must do so in a timely fashion and order, as pushing some of them up will make others descend. This might seem like the trivial systems found in Splinter Cell and Thief: Deadly Shadows, but the Rogue's pick locking skill actually determines success with this. As for traps, this is even more interesting. When a container is trapped, a small audio cue will indicate there's danger and the interface will show a list of possible traps along with the required mechanisms to disarm. The Rogue must inspect the safe carefully to discern what type of trap is installed. Once he learns of it, specific parts of the chest will highlight and must be disarmed. More of a game of chance at the initial stages, once again the Rogue's skill will matter in this scenario since the higher it is, the better he is at understanding what trap he's dealing with. Then it's simply a matter of disarming it, and holding your breath hoping that something like Dagger Scatter doesn't kill half of your party.
It's a shame that only the Rogue and characters that can use both of these skills have this kind of depth to an otherwise basic existence. Not even potion brewing or bomb making is this complex as all that's involved in that is dragging one item on top of the other and an Alchemist will immediately combine them into something new. Something like Morrowind's method of potion crafting would have been interesting to see here, with multiple ingredients having different effects.
A Rogue inspects a chest before someone with the Knock Knock spell decides to hold tumblers in place
Still, the diversity in character classes opens way to some very specialized parties. While it's expected of games of this genre that you can create and combine certain character archetypes which result in several party concepts, Wizardry 8 gets into the thick of it by presenting an intricate character system. Since all races have their own statistical strengths and weaknesses, especially against certain types of spells, these must be carefully contrasted with some classes' potential benefits and handicaps. Sure, a Lizardman Fighter might seem a good idea due to their Strength but the race is particularly weak against spells of the Mental magic realm so you may want to consider if you want the frontliner crying like a baby or being charmed into executing your spellcasters. On the other hand, having a Dwarf's natural damage resistance stack with the Monk's own damage resistance may provide good results. And since a Samurai develops both melee combat and spell casting, it's up to the player to decide which he will focus on depending on what use he has to the party.
Of course players are free to disregard statistical complexities and develop characters for flavour (nothing quite like creating a coterie of Gnomish Bards or an all female group and adventuring with them) or just plain fun. Fun, by the by, is present in the game's Personalities. Much like Sir-Tech's Jagged Alliance 2, characters will often speak their minds during a multitude of events, from the standard acknowledgement of orders and enemy sightings, to internal schisms in the party, to party and NPC interactions. While not as indepth as they could have been (ie, the personalities do not dictate what type of interaction will occur, just how party characters will comment on a given event or interaction), they nonetheless provide very amusing reactions. When resurrected, my male Fighter with the Chaotic personality told me all of my dead relatives sent me a big hello, while my Cunning Rogue offered to tell me about the afterlife in exchange for a monetary reward. Each of these personalities has a corresponding soundbite that you can select for a character - two voices for each personality and gender - and most of the voices are pretty good, though a small amount is pretty forgettable.
Speaking of characters, you can only have between 1 to 6 player-created characters in the group, with two additional slots reserved to RPCs - Player Recruited Characters. You'll find all sorts of characters willing to join your crusade in Dominus and most of them have agendas. Some will ask for your help in helping them solve a quest or series of quests, though some may not be open as to the nature of said quests. An example of this is Myles, a Rogue you will meet on the town of Arnika, who will quest you with various jobs of dubious nature. Other RPCs, like Urq or Vi Domina (who returns from Crusaders of the Dark Savant) are more forthcoming in their plans. There aren't as many RPCs as I would have liked but they suffice, and some are quite useful to have around. One of the better aspects of PRCs is that they won't follow you everywhere, as they will have some issue with several areas of the game. This has its pros and cons. It enforces the idea that they aren't simply meat cannons ready to do your every bidding and that they will have different interpretations of the gameworld, but you may find yourself in a situation where you went back for a RPC's skills to tackle an area yet he or she won't come along with the party. There are workarounds such as teleporting into the area with the PRC instead of walking into the area but foreseeing this, Sir-Tech made it so they will complain regardless, and their statistics will even suffer penalties to simulate they are afraid or nervous about the place.
The Death of a Party
At heart Wizardry 8 is a dungeon crawler which means combat is the focus of the game, or at least combat has been given enough importance so that a large part of the game works around it. Unlike past Wizardries which employed a step by step movement in the gameworld, Wizardry 8 has been developed in full 3D and with complete freedom of movement. The firstperson perspective is still in place but since there is no longer a fixed viewpoint you can look in all directions and appraise surroundings better. There is an interface mode that simulates the old small window of past games but you can toggle just how much of the interface you want available, and you can even have close to 90% of the screen free. But while the move to 3D was a good choice for what would be the last game in the series, the combat is somewhat uneven and some would say ruined due to some design decisions.
A Rapax Initiate is baffled by icons and numbers popping out of its head before exploding into gibs
Many classic dungeon crawls used the afforementioned step by step movement in their gameworlds, and parties had formations comprised of rows where characters would be placed. Usually fighters would be in the front, ranged attackers in the middle and spellcasters in the back. These groups would be attacked from either the front or the rear but would not be flanked since the party was for all intents and purposes as if in a corridor - if not literally then due to the game's design. This worked well in the old days of dungeon crawling but here, with total freedom of movement and wide open spaces, it doesn't work as well. The group moves as a blob and are much like past Wizardry games operating as a single unit. You'll control the entire party through a firstperson perspective but cannot separate the party characters from the established formation circle. On the other hand groups of enemies can and will operate individually, and this leads to situations such as numerous enemies swarming the party from all sides.
Sir-Tech provided a Party Formation Editor which allows players to set up party formations along 5 placement slots - point, central and rear guard positions, along with right and left flanks - which can include a maximum of 3 characters each. While it's technically sound this doesn't entirely work because while you can create several combinations many times enemies will be able to attack in ways that completely disregard any would be protection certain formations provide. You can place spellcasters in the middle row with a group of frontliners covering the front and support characters to the sides, but enemies near the frontliners or support characters can reach out and attack the weak party members in the middle. Some enemies can even flank you while remaining out of reach of your party members, which means you have to waste some time inching the whole party after them so that you can get a few hits. Too many times you'll spend minutes going for the best formation but will still get flanked while listening to your characters shouting that they can't reach an enemy that's right in front of them, which is just frustrating. You can change formations in combat but this requires the party to sacrifice one entire round, during which they just sit there being hit. To make matters worse, enemy groups have no spell restrictions which means they can cast a direct or area spell on your party when they're miles away, but you can't cast the same spells on them if you're not within the minimum distance.
A preferable method of combat would have been to allow the party members to move freely, even if they were constricted to a small radius, so as to allow some mobility and a fair degree of tactics. It would be preferable to have a better view of the battlefield and a bit more control of the party members than to idly watch them being attacked. I am aware that this will irk some old-school fans since the 'firstperson blob party' is part of what makes up Wizardry's gameplay - and I also enjoy it - but here it simply feels like a throwback to a kind of design that they moved away from, yet decided to keep this particular element intact. Some helpful extras such as skulking in the shadows to scout for nearby enemy groups and laying traps for incoming enemies for the Rogue and Ranger classes, respectively, would have been welcomed. It's also puzzling how a system that's based on AD&D does not allow some form of animal companion to scout ahead for danger; though there is the possibility of creating ghostly watchdogs to alert the party of approaching monsters, awakening sleeping members and reducing the chance of being surprised, it's only available as a spell called Shadow Hound or as a Gadgeteer item called Watchdog Alarm.
Most of the time you need to take advantage of your surroundings and find cul de sacs or uneven terrain to exploit in order to get some advantage over enemy mobs, leading enemies into positions where you can comfortably get an upper hand. While this isn't particularly appealing it nonetheless works and can lead to some decidedly challenging confrontations. You won't always have the opportunity to do this though, so careful planning regardless of terrain advantages is required. Planning ahead is actually important in Wizardry 8's combat because every new enemy mob you encounter may be your last. While combat isn't particularly difficult - and it may be, in fact, the easiest Wizardy in the whole series in this aspect - it can prove fatal. One of the new changes to combat is that enemies are no longer static groups of enemies that suddenly materialize in random encounters. For the first time players can see them approach and you can try to run away from them, try to pass by them without alerting them, or even ambush them. They can also ambush you as well so some care is required. This approach is akin to what one would find in MMORPGs with mobs of enemies roaming the countryside and also carries one of its flaws. During a confrontation with an enemy group you may attract the attention of some other group in the vicinity, which will then proceed to attack you as well. Challenging no doubt, but when a low level party finds itself surrounded by 40+ enemies it will be a slaughter.
The sheer number of enemies you may confront in a single battle also carries another aspect worth bringing up but which may or may not affect your stance on it. Combat in Wizardry 8 is phase-based, much like that of classics like Wasteland and Bard's Tale. It bears some resemblance to turn-based but instead of taking turns, combat is segmented into phases: the planning phase and the execution phase. Whereas in turnbased a sequence is broken down into individual time units wherein a character can act only when it's his turn, in phase-based all character actions are decided at the start of a round and are then executed automatically when it begins. Simultaneous actions here will no doubt please those who believe turnbased to be too slow, and while this may not appeal to those looking for the faux realism of realtime it still does away with the abstraction of turnbased to some extent. However, animation speed also factors here and the more enemies the party has to contend with, the longer a fight will last. This isn't too bad considering that many fights are fairly quick but longer battles (and there are a few of those during the game's main story) will really drag on. Thankfully most of these battles are towards the end of the game and there is also a slider that regulates enemy animation speed so not all is lost.
But much as there is wrong with the combat system, there are some highlights.
While the combat does have its drawbacks, there is a certain level of challenge that comes from negotiating this. The combat's problems indirectly contribute to a more challenging game that has players negotiating party mobility, terrain, and enemy AI. Many of the problems discussed before will gradually disappear as you progress. The lack of spell restriction for enemies is annoying but as the party grows in power spellcasters will learn magic that lessen this problem, such as spells which add resistance to all spell realms or protect against mind influences, among others. Often when travelling through certain locations you can also rely on nearby neutral or allied NPCs to join any combat that may have sprung. For instance, Higardi law enforcers will help you fend off Higardi Brigands or robots in Arnika, while Umpani soldiers will bring their kind of justice to any vicious wildlife that attracts their attention while attacking you. Aside a few special cases the need to take so much care with surroundings will be gone eventually, and combat does open up a bit.
The depth of the character system really allows for some good party design and this shows in combat. There are all sorts of combinations one can pull off that take advantage of the strengths of party members. You can focus on going for direct damage spells to quickly take out single targets or use status changing spells to reduce enemy resistances then send frontliners to clean them up. You can have spellcasters depend solely on spells at every turn or equip them with ranged weapons to cause some damage while saving spell points for more drastic situations. Or just have Bards play their instruments and Gadgeteers use their gadgets while spellcasters cast Stamina on them. Working with each character's skill levels is also important. For instance an Alchemist may create potions but if he is not skilled at throwing them he may fumble and drop it on the party instead. In which case a Ninja might be a better choice given his excellence with thrown items. Frontliners who have problems with our of reach enemies can invest in ranged weapons, bomb throwing, or protecting weaker members by taking blows directed at them. You can also hire RPCs which may benefit the party by bringing in skills no one else in the party has. Eight characters not enough? Open a can of Canned Elemental on your enemies too. Dozens and dozens of ways to handle combat are available. And honestly, how many other games allow you to play as a Faerie Ninja?
Each area utilizes a scaling system which means enemies also grow in power along with you. This helps establish character advancement by allowing the player to compare how hard it was for the party to deal with specific creatures earlier on and how it manages to deal with them some time later. After all, there's an undeniable pleasure for gamers to be able to return to old stomping grounds and realize how their characters have grown, and in discovering what lies in wait. It also manages to suggest a certain balance in the ecology and the notion that while there are creatures inferior in power to the party members, there are still those which are superior. It's fun to see weaker enemies spotting you and deciding to run away in an imitation of self-preservation, though it's not as fun to be spotted by a group of Diamond Unicorns which have spell resistances between 80 and 100% in a place where only Mosquitos used to dwell.
No Distance Left to Run
But perhaps the best feature of the game is its attention to detail.
The tree city of Trynton and the mysterious Marten's Bluff share some secrets that you must uncover
Dominus is considerably vast although most of it serves as pretext for combat and exploration. Despite an aging engine Sir-Tech managed to fill Dominus with interesting sights and people. From the patrolled streets of Arnika, to the murky grounds of the Swamp, to the slimey and technological feel of the T'Rang headquarters, it looks good and distinct enough. There are some issue with clipping and colision detection. Some models seem to have weird hitbox sizes so much that you sometimes can't get past a relatively large space between two NPCs but can squeeze through a very small opening in a wall. When running towards enemies in combat in an effort to engage them in melee, you'll find that if you sometimes the party will bounce back which may waste the precious advantage you thought you had. Some of the textures do seem terribly washed out as well but more important than how it looks its how it plays, and there's some praise to be given - especially in how the gameworld reacts to some of your actions.
Factions. Your dealings with some of them can influence how you progress in the game, along with providing some different endgame slides. The two main ones are the T'Rang and the Umpani, who arrived on Dominus looking for the same as the party. Each side will have a score to settle with each other, as well as with the Dark Savant. Their missions range from diplomatic to covert to all out combat and will require you to investigate other factions and possibly exploit their weaknesses, then to report back. The final missions for each of these two factions will grow in complexity and one will take into account your past dealings with the faction that directly opposes the one you've been working for. One mission requires you to find a lost agent. When you do find him you'll discover a plot that seriously affects both factions - but it's up to you on how to decide. Do you inform both or do you continue working for one? Do you try to bring peace to both or will you keep serving your employers? One other mission is particularly difficult in that it requires parties to infiltrate and invade the headquarters of the opposing faction and compromise their facilities and ranks, but it's very nice that you can get to play in such major events and ultimately make a difference. Plus, each of these factions has some nice bonuses for the party.
There are a couple of problems, though. The first example of this comes when you reach Trynton, the tree city populated by the nauseatingly cute Trinny. You can tell their leader you are not a Rapax spy. If you say this, he will let you enter the city and the faction will be more tolerant of you but you can immediately turn back and betray him (read: stab his hamster face). I suppose this isn't necessarily bad and that I should be welcoming the choice - and consequence - of being able to do this. But it seems surprising that I can enter Trynton so easily by lying. Still, it's good to know you can make this kind of decision and still carry on through the game with no problems because the designers didn't care to include such an option. One other gripe is that siding with the Rapax doesn't seem to have much of a consequence. Sure, you can travel across their territory free of harm but considering they're one of the most feared races of Dominus, one has to wonder why the other races don't seem to mind at all. This is especially true of the Higardi which were originally responsible for banishing the Rapax into the volcanic lands they now inhabit, and of the Trynnie which were at odds with them. I wasn't expecting to be branded in the same way a Slaver was in Fallout 2, but there should have been some consequence to this.
Enemies have damage skins to represent how much damage they have suffered. Not only is this a nice idea on its own, it also gives additional feedback to characters who aren't that good at the Mythology rating to the point of knowing how much hit points an enemy has left. A somewhat slashed texture will indicate the enemy is roughly at half his total hit points, while a more damaged texture will reveal the enemy is close to dying. This is harder to spot on some enemies that have darker textures wrapped around their models but still, these textures are a nice little touch and nearly every creature in the game has them and they correspond to the type of creature they are on. An organic creature will have slashes and bruises on its skin while a robot will have cracks and burnt circuits. Nice.
There is no dialogue in the game when it comes to NPC interactions. Instead, there are keywords the party can learn and that get added to a list for future reference. The player can also type in words and add them to the list, or simply ask an NPC about them. It's a good idea to ask about things often as different characters will have different answers and information. Some information you will have to pay for since some NPC's won't trust you well enough. Diplomacy also plays a part here with the party's ability to pay for information, increase in Communication skills, or simply casting Charm to cajole some friendlier attitudes from characters. You can also barter, pickpocket, trade goods or even attack from within a dialogue box. The dialogue system is an improvement over past games of the series and a satisfying method on its own. NPCs feel very much alive and not repetitive drones, and being able to add keywords to later ask several NPCs about is much better than being forced to ask stock questions only to get stock questions. While a lack of party member personality in dialogue is glaring since there is no dialogue to speak of, this is understandable if one considers this is a dungeon crawler that focuses on combat, not character exposition - and besides, individual party member personality is represented in other ways.
Speaking of journals, the one in Wizardry 8 is actually quite bad. It's basically page after page of loose information with nothing there to separate faction quests from unusual information from personal entries from everything else. The addition of tabs that separated entries by topic or by NPC could have helped a bit. As it stands you just have to browse all pages and find the relevant info. That is, when there is info. Most of the things written there are often just notes that will leave you wondering just what those entries are referring to. Much better than the journal is the automap which enables you to zoom in and out of a given area, along with being able to add notes to a map. It does consume a lot of memory to open it, so beware.
End of a Century
So after all this time, was it worth the wait? Yes.
Exploring the gameworld is fun with all sorts of secrets to explore, quests to solve, equipment to find, new creatures to discover and so forth. Item crafting is also a plus since it gives incentive to search for the right ingredients or materials. The different factions one can align with are generally well made and while more could be done to flesh them out, especially in regards to how some factions would accept or reject you according to the alliances you make; it's rewarding enough and does foster some replaying. RPCs are generally well made and can come off as likeable, much more so than the whiny or angsty party members of most CRPGs out there. They won't stop the entire party in a cave to tell everyone the story of their life, that's for sure. And their motivations and allegiances aren't easily forgotten as soon as they join the party.
Surprisingly, while I find myself complaining about several flaws of the combat system, I actually enjoy it. I'm not making any excuses for it - there were certainly better ways to handle it although it is manageable and fun, and on a personal note that is what matters to me. It's also worthy of note that the combat deficiencies indirectly make the combat engaging and challenging, and if you're one of those tired with piddling and monotonous combat that's found on so many CRPGs nowadays, Wizardry 8 actually has you using your surroundings to vanquish enemies. The unique party builds you can create also help alleviate most of the problems since every party will find different ways to handle combat and exploring these is very rewarding, and eventually combat will become easier to get into as the party grows in power and players get used to enemy patterns. The character creation process is deep if you're into juggling probabilities and number crunching but accessible enough so you can jump right into the fray. The classes are varied and there's something for every character to do or attain, whether it's a new skill, spell or item. And the possibility of having RPCs join also gives you more ways to manage combat especially if the RPCs compliment your party rather than bloat it. But chances are if you don't like the game's combat, you won't like the game. On the other hand I have to admit very much liking this game, warts and all.
There's a part of me that looks at Wizardry 8 with some regret, not only because it could have been a more polished game but also because there's the notion that this kind of game is a grimoire of nostalgic dungeon crawling and roleplaying that we may never see again. I can't help but store my final game saves in the hope that someday a follow up to the series is released and one day I can return to it. But another part of me also looks to the game with some joy because I know I'm in the presence of one of the last old school CRPGs that, despite some blemishes, goes out with a roar. They don't make games like these anymore. Our best hope relies on small groups that risk developing something like Devil Whiskey in this day and age, although we don't get games like those very often.