Wizardry IV: The Worst Puzzle in the Game

This post is particularly spoilery.

I’ve tried every obvious potential “golden path” to the egress. There’s one route I particularly like that picks up both of the Cube’s key items and hits every single “This Way to the Egress” sign without revisiting anything. Finding that path was a nice bit of puzzle-solving, too, as it relied on a chute that I didn’t know about until I went looking for it. But it was to no avail: the egress was still a blank wall.

Finally convinced that I was barking up the wrong tree, I started looking at walkthroughs with increasing boldness. Although I don’t remember it, I think I must have done this the first time through as well. Solving this puzzle relies on having all of the following realizations:

  • The key item called “HHG OF AUNTY OCK”, found in the lower parts of the dungeon, is a reference to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (This much I remembered from my first pass.)
  • The “egress” wall, alone of all the walls in the dungeon, can be blown up with the grenade. (This I did not remember, but I did think of trying it.)
  • To use the HHG, you have to not just invoke it but drop it. It will not explode until dropped. (This is where I needed help.)
  • The above step is difficult, because the HHG is cursed, and equipping it so you can invoke it binds it to your weapon slot, preventing you from dropping it. However, one of the other key items can unstick it. (This I figured out on my own.)

The thing that makes the puzzle unreasonably difficult is that you have to have all the above thoughts without feedback that you’re on the right track. When I found that invoking the HHG at the wall wasn’t enough to solve the puzzle, I didn’t think “I must not be using it right”, I thought “I guess that’s not it. The HHG must be used somewhere else.” The thing that unstuck me was finding out that it was on the right track after all.

Wizardry IV is largely an attempt at building an adventure game in the Wizardry engine. Sometimes it does this pretty well, but the two worst puzzles in the game — the egress wall and the inaccessible room in the ziggurat — both suffer from that combination. Partly it’s the lack of feedback I just described: the system only provides so much output in response to your actions. And that’s a problem even for things that aren’t adventure-game puzzles: I’ve got invokable equipment that I have no idea what it does. But there’s one other factor that the two worst puzzles share: they both rely on one-off exceptions to general rules. Adventure games are based around exceptions, of course, but when they’re well-designed, the exceptions become rules unto themselves, and that helps guide and channel player behavior. And that’s what we’re missing here. There have been other adventure games in a similar format — Asylum, Deathmaze 5000 — and they’ve had similar problems. Like Wiz4, they took pride in being extremely difficult, even though that’s just about the easiest thing for an adventure game to be. But I honestly don’t think this is intrinsic to the format. It’s just a symptom of the time when the format was popular.

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