Wizardry IV: Cosmic Cube

Dungeon levels 3 through 1 comprise the “Cosmic Cube”, a three-tiered funhouse of a maze. The previous floors have all been theme levels, where the entire level is devoted to a gimmick like “mines” or “alternating tiles are darkness fields” or “spinners at every intersection”. In the Cosmic Cube, you get lots of little temporary gimmicks in their own walled-off sections, like pieces of a patchwork quilt, joined by a network of stairs, chutes, and teleporters. We’re still in monochrome wireframe, but if you were to do a HD remake of the game, I think you’d want to do this entire section in a variety of garish colors and mismatching architectural styles. It has something of a circus vibe to it, partly because of the occasional signs saying “THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS”.

It’s also a lot more effective as a maze than your typical one-tiered Wizardry maze that’s mostly limited by planar geometry. Those stairs, chutes, and teleporters effectively turn it from a grid to a general graph — a directed graph, even, because every connection is one-way. A warning sign at the entrance to the whole thing lets you know that once you’re in the Cube, there’s no going back. (It also asks “Have you forgotten something?”) I know this to be something of a lie; even if I didn’t remember that much from my first run, it’s pretty apparent that you have to be able to get back down when you find one of the ingredients for that witch brew I mentioned earlier. But the experienced Wizardry player knows by now not to trust signs. Those Egress posters lead nowhere in particular. The very first thing you see in the Cube is a simple logic puzzle directing you through one of three doors and warning you that choosing the wrong door could leave you going in circles forever, but in fact it doesn’t really matter which door you take. 1UPDATE: This last part may not be true. Details in my next post, probably.

There’s one bit of writing that you can absolutely rely on, though, and it’s one of my favorite puzzles in the game, because it involves mapping. There’s a certain enemy later on that can only be defeated in a certain way, and the key to it is said to be in “letters of stone”, which you might think means carved into a stone tablet or something, but in fact it means letter shapes formed from the solid rock areas on levels 1 through 4 acting as map-tile-sized pixels. By the time you find the entrance to the Cube at all, the first-time player has probably explored level 4 enough to notice the giant “K” laid out, and wonder about it. Mapping out each letter bit by bit feels like an act of excavation, revealing partial shapes at first, then completing and making sense of them.

One other thing: The way that the Cube takes up multiple dungeon floors, and keeps pinging you around from one floor to another, changes your relationship to encounters. Adventurers can be killed, but their death lasts only until you either go to a different floor or quit — and recall that the game only gets saved when you quit. (It lets you keep up to 8 different saves, though, which is handy when you can’t go backward.) On a normal level, I’d try to fight the difficult full-party encounters early on just so I could explore freely without worrying about meeting them again. But when you’re only going to be spending a little time on the level before falling down a chute, there’s not much point. You do still have to challenge and defeat the stronger enemies at least once, but only because they’re carrying plot-critical items.

1 UPDATE: This last part may not be true. Details in my next post, probably.

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