Wizardry II is Mean

If I had to make a series of movies based on the Wizardry games, Knight of Diamonds would start with the heroes from the previous film. Flush from their success against Werdna, they descend cheerfully into the dungeon under Llylgamyn, encouraged by how relatively easy (but not trivial!) the opposition is. There are a few close-calls, followed by laughter and back-slapping camaraderie. Then they all suddenly get killed. The rest of the movie concerns a completely different team, inexperienced and nervous about attempting the quest that even the famous slayers of Werdna couldn’t complete.

It’s not just that the game is eager to kill your characters. That’s been a factor from the beginning. The impressive thing is how it springs it on you suddenly and unexpectedly. I found an item that, when used, grants the user a bunch of experience — not enough to gain a whole level, not at this point, but enough to get you a substantial amount of the way there. Afterwards, I noticed it was still in my inventory. Well, that’s actually fairly normal: magic items in this game don’t have charges, exactly, but they have a percent chance of breaking after each use. It looked like the idea was to keep milking this thing for XP until it broke. It turns out that when it breaks, it kills the user.

And not just kills, but renders them “Lost”. Recall that death isn’t immediately final in this game: you get a couple of chances at undoing it, either at the Temple of Cant (which costs money) or with your party’s own cleric (free, but has a greater chance of failure). If resurrection fails, the deceased is reduced to ash, which takes a more powerful/expensive resurrection spell to undo. If that fails, the character is Lost, and cannot be recovered. Here in Knight of Diamonds, the kid gloves are off and things can just send you directly to Lost, skipping the intermediary steps.

And bear in mind that this is a dungeon designed for characters who beat Wizardry I. You can import characters who haven’t finished the quest and killed Werdna, but they still need to be fairly high level to survive the encounters in the dungeon here, especially the boss fights against clothing. So every senseless death represents the loss of a significant time investment. The game just wants to periodically deliver a big setback, to pad out the play time.

When the game was new, there was at least a little recourse: when something bad happened, if you were quick enough, you could eject the floppy before anything got written to it. I kind of get the impression that by Knight of Diamonds then designers were expecting the players to do this, and compensating for it. But it’s not an option under emulation.

Anyway, in addition to losing a character to greed and hubris, I managed to instantly Lose the rest of my party by carelessly teleporting into solid rock. One moment a promising party that I expect to last the rest of the adventure with only occasional substitutions, then poof. The shock of it is an experience you’d be hard-pressed to find in modern games — on purpose, at any rate.

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