Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom

Going into Wizardry V immediately after the first four games feels a lot like switching from Wizardry to Might and Magic did. There’s just a lot of little changes. The wireframe dungeon graphics are unaltered, but the text font is different and the monster pics are bigger and more finely detailed. Secret doors work completely differently and apparently locked doors are a thing now, although I haven’t seen any yet. Thieves have new Hide/Ambush actions to make them more useful in combat. There’s a whole system of weapon ranges to complicate the front row/back row stuff. There are bows.

The spell lists keep mainstays like MAHALITO, DIOS, KATINO, and TILTOWAIT, but throw out a lot of the useless and redundant stuff and add in new things with a greater variety of effects. There are spells that add new concepts like summoning elementals and making screens that block enemy magic — way too high-level for me at the moment, but they’re something to look forward to. There are spells to deal with the new dungeon mechanics, like one that unlocks doors. There’s a levitation spell that sounds like it duplicates the effect of the winged boots in Wiz4, but in a more baked-in, systematic way. And with all the new spell names, we get a bunch of new morphemes that I’m going to have to analyze at some point. (I don’t think they’re being entirely consistent with their word production, but that’s okay. Natural language isn’t entirely consistent either.)

Things are so changed that the game doesn’t even try to support importing characters from previous titles. For the first time since Wizardry I, the game has its own character creation system. It seems to be basically the same as in Wiz1, with the same classes and races and stat ranges, but the end result of creating a character is changed in one significant way: instead of each character getting a small amount of gold to buy equipment with, they all get some basic starting equipment, which can’t be sold for cash. In other words, you can’t prepare for your first delve by pooling the party’s gold and buying good gear for the front line. Possibly for the first time ever, I’ve sent fighters into the dungeon wearing nothing but leather armor.

Fortunately, the first dungeon level is gentle enough that leather is all you need — I’ve gotten my entire party up to experience level 2 without any deaths at all, just like back in Wiz1. Just one more sign that, in contrast to 2, 3, and 4, this game was intended as a jumping-on point for new players. I’d be thinking of it as a reboot, if it weren’t for those fan sites that described it as part of the Llylgamyn Saga.

Is it connected to the rest of the Llylgamyn Saga in plot? I don’t know; I haven’t seen any plot yet. Not even the manual contains any indication of why we’re exploring this dungeon or what the Heart of the Maelstrom is — a message in the game seems to suggest that the dungeon is the Heart of the Maelstrom, but that’s all I know.

What I am getting is a strong impression of refinement, of the designers adjusting the rules to make it a better expression of what they intended all along, in ways that they couldn’t do while it was all technologically linked to Wiz1. Even the starting equipment is part of it, forcing players to not skip the initial part of the intended upgrade chain.

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