Wizardry IV: Endings

Heavy spoilers for the endgame here.

When I saw Hawkwind of Skara Brae in this game for the first time, I wondered about him. I had previously seen the name Hawkwind and the town of Skara Brae in the Ultima series, and possibly also knew Skara Brae as the setting of The Bard’s Tale. There had to be a connection, but it was harder to get information about such things in the days before the Web. About all I could learn was that Skara Brae was the name of an archeological site in Scotland.

Things are easier now. The common factor is Roe R. Adams III, who worked on all the games in question. Hawkwind is his gaming persona, and thus his appearance here is a self-insert, and a self-insert of the most comically aggrandizing sort. Hawkwind is completely unaffected by all attacks, physical or magical, and in battle he just ignores you: instead of attacking, he performs such actions as brewing a cup of tea, reading the newspaper, and taking a nap. His only weakness is the weakest monster in the game, which makes for a substantial and satisfying puzzle, because there are several other encounters between Hawkwind and the nearest pentagram, making it difficult to keep the fellow alive.

Hawkwind is far from the only bit of inside-jokery here in the final chapter. A party called “The Softalk All-Stars” is obviously a shout-out. There’s a whole slew of encounters with various Orders and sundry nobility, all of whom are individually named not just in combat, but in the text that appears before, just to make sure you see everyone’s names even if you don’t fight them. According to sources online, all these are the personae of Adams’ friends from the Society for Creative Anachronism.

These various Orders and Barons and so forth provide one route to victory: by means of a bunch of optional tasks in the dungeon — including, but not limited to, that witch’s brew puzzle I’ve mentioned before — you can gain the favor of the groups, one by one. They’re not loyal to Trebor at all, it turns out, and will gladly make you king if you can give them all what they want, a touch that comes off as satirical. (Heck, the password to enter the castle is “Trebor Sux”.) One group will support you in return for a million gold pieces, which was a bit of a shock — you get gold from each encounter, but it’s mostly useless, and the few places where you can spend it ask for such paltry amounts that I hadn’t been keeping track of it at all, but it turned out that my entire ascent of the dungeon yielded less than half what the Captains were asking. Fortunately, there’s a fixed encounter in the Training Grounds that yields gold way out of proportion to its difficulty, presumably included just for this puzzle. But for the most part, this route is the least fighty and most puzzly way to end the game, and doesn’t involve challenging Hawkwind or the All-Stars at all.

It’s also in some ways the least satisfying: becoming king means abandoning your quest for the Amulet. Is it really absolute power if you can’t do the one thing you’ve had your heart set on from the very beginning? No, let us not be satisfied with being a mere king when godhood is within our grasp.

Of the four remaining endings, three are just minor variations on each other: the Amulet is in the hands of a statue of the god Kadorto, who you confront with a set of essential key items and one of the three swords from the altar atop the ziggurat. The choice of sword determines what happens, and the endings contradict each other about the nature of Kadorto and of the Amulet in ways I’d find troubling if the game weren’t doing so much to keep us from taking it seriously at this point. But all these endings, including the one where you ingratiate yourself with the nobles and become king, end with the same words: “Have you forgotten something?” It’s a clear ploy to make even the most satisfying ending unsatisfying, to let you know that you should really be going for the fifth ending, the Grandmaster ending.

The Grandmaster ending is another variant on the three sword endings, but using a secret fourth weapon, the Kris of Truth, that you get from a secret eleventh dungeon level underneath the spot where you start the game. The ending begs the player to not reveal the details, and I took that seriously for a time, but the statute of limitations has definitely run out for this one. Level 11 is a network of small rooms joined by hallways, with one bending path leading through all the rooms, at one point crossing a deadly void that can only be traversed with the right equipment. In each room, a person asks a riddle. For example, in the first room, you get:

You are in a yellow room. Before you stands a being dressed from head to toe in deepest yellow…

“I am Discrimination at my best, and Avarice at my worst. I symbolize the part of the body upon which all the rest stands. What part am I?

To which you answer “feet” and are allowed to move on. Every riddle is like that: some colors, some seemingly-disconnected attributes, and finally the bit that, weirdly, lets you actually guess a body part. This continues until the final riddle, which is just really beautiful:

The answer to the Greatest Question is also the simplest. Upon what paths have you trod? Where are you?

In other words, where all other riddles in the entire series are embedded in the environment, this one is about the environment. Answering it requires paying attention to not just the contents of the rooms, but the map, and how it’s connected. It’s a bit squashed to fit into a 20×20 grid, but once you’re looking for it, it’s clear: the rooms and pathways form the Tree of Life, the Kabbalistic diagram beloved of 20th-century occultists in the Hermetic tradition. The diagram originates from Jewish Kabbalah, but my understanding is that it plays an extremely minor role there, whereas Aleister Crowley and his ilk were fairly obsessed with it, drawing all sorts of things into correspondence with its nodes and pathways, including the various colors and body parts seen in the riddles here.

Wizardry IV was released in 1987, in the midst of the Satanic Panic. One of the more ridiculous claims of the anti-Satanists of this period was that the magic systems in RPGs such as D&D are based on real occult rituals. Here in level 11 of Wizardry IV, that’s closer to true than it’s ever been. Not the magic system per se, but the content, at least, is drawing from the writings of real occultists, and it’s doing it to add power to an experience, to a moment of realization, by associating it with ancient wisdom and divine revelation. But honestly, I think the moment would be pretty powerful even without the cod-hermetic stuff, just by being a question that provokes a realization about what’s all around you.

In the Grandmaster ending, the newly-enlightened Werdna, on obtaining the Amulet, sees it for what it really is: an object whose sole purpose is generating conflict. And so he discards it, having moved beyond its allure. Slightly ironic, then, that reaching this ending the first time provided me with a keepsake I’ve kept ever since: the ending provides a code that, once upon a time, you could use to send off for a special certificate of completion. I’ve seriously thought about getting this thing framed and hanging it on the wall like a diploma, even if I am somewhat less in awe of the game than I was back then, and more willing to call my inability to solve some of the puzzles a fault in the puzzles rather than a fault in myself.

But then, if I’ve relied on hints more than I’d like this time through, it was to some extent simply because my relationship to games has changed. One of Wizardry IV‘s main repeated tricks, starting way down at level 9 and continuing to the castle roof, is simply expecting the player to diligently check every single instance of a pattern to find the one exception. And that was a much more realistic thing to expect of me when I had fewer games, and needed to eke out as much play from each one as I could. I can’t really recommend the experience today, but it was amazing thirty years ago.

Wizardry IV: Breaching the Surface

You spend the bulk of Wizardry IV with one goal: reaching the surface and escaping the dungeon. But achieving that goal isn’t the end of the game. It’s just the start of the endgame, set at the castle that was the player’s home base in Wizardry I, with all its familiar features: the Training Ground, Boltac’s Trading Post, etc. I spoke of the lower levels in Wizardry II as a power fantasy where you wipe the floor with immensely strong foes. The castle levels have another kind of power fantasy: facing off against low-level characters for the first time in ages and seeing how far beyond them you’ve become.

Where the Cosmic Cube gave us the first multi-layered experience in the series, the castle takes things a step further by giving us a coherent three-dimensional space: three levels designed as a geometrically unified whole. Where Wizardry III gave us a castle that was obviously fake, just a flat diagram of a castle, Wizardry IV gives us towers that are actually towers. And it’s made all the more satisfying by the way it pays off the unfulfilled promise of the three previous titles, turning the least real of places, a menu tree that we had to pretend to believe was a place, into the most real.

But at the same time, it’s struggling with the limitations of the engine again. When you get out onto the castle walls, you can walk off them and plummet to the level below — that much is straightforward enough. (The winged boots mysteriously stop working here.) But because it’s using the same wireframe-dungeon-corridor renderer as ever, you can’t see where the walls end. You basically have to feel out the shape of the thing by falling off the edge a bunch of times. And that doesn’t really fit with the fiction.

Sunlight makes some differences to gameplay. You can now teleport freely into the dungeon and back, the better to complete the puzzles you left behind. There are no random encounters in the surface world, just fixed ones at specific points. What was previously a sort of mixed combat RPG and adventure game is now more of a pure adventure game — that is, there are still combat encounters, but they basically fall into two categories: ones that are trivial, and ones that are themselves puzzles. I’ll go into more detail in my next post, when I describe the endings.

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.

Wizardry IV: Choosing the Potato

Around Halloween, there was a viral Twitter thread about offering trick-or-treaters a choice between candy or a potato. Just show them a bowl of candy with a few potatoes in it and let them choose. While most children choose candy, enough chose the potato that the person doing the experiment ran out of potatoes. I think it’s easy to understand why. Potatoes are different. None of the other houses were offering potatoes. I posit that the children didn’t desire potatoes specifically, they just wanted to participate in unique events.

This is obviously relevant to game design. I play a lot of games, so naturally I choose novelty where I can, picking unique character classes. I got into the habit of picking female characters when given the choice mainly because so many games didn’t support it! But Wizardry IV illustrates the potato principle in a much more trick-or-treaty way.

Every time you win a fight, you get to pick over the inventory of those you defeated, and choose which items, if any, you want to take with you. This is an entirely new UI for the series. In previous titles, if loot from an encounter included any items at all — which it usually didn’t — they were just randomly handed to any character with a free slot to hold them. But here, you have only one character who can hold things, and even after you’ve acquired the equivalent of a bag of holding, you can only pick things up into the slots for things you’re holding directly. It’s not uncommon for the drops to overflow that. So you get a choice.

And it’s usually a pretty easy choice, because most items are things that Werdna can’t use: armor, swords, shields, etc. On level 1, you pick up a staff and a robe. Later on, you have a few opportunities to pick up a better staff, but not many. Hats and cloaks are sometimes an improvement over what you have. But mostly you just look at what’s on offer, ask “Do I need any healing right now?”, and if the answer is “yes”, pick out the potions. Which frequently aren’t even healing potions, in which case you just drop them to free up room — you don’t identify items until after they’re chosen..

But occasionally, you see something unique. A “silk cloth”, say, or a “weighty cube”, or a “holy reliquary”. These are the potatoes in the candy: unique opportunities, mostly key items crucial to advancing the plot. So of course you take them!

There’s one special trick the game plays with this, and it has to do with the witch’s brew puzzle I described earlier. Recall that the witch describes all the ingredients she needs in oblique terms that the player has to puzzle out. One of the things she needs is a blender. Experienced Wizardry players will immediately know what this means: the Blade Cusinart’ [sic], one of the most powerful weapons in the series, a whirling blade that greatly increases the number of strikes its wielder gets in each round. (Wikipedia specifically cites this puzzle as defying localization.) But the Blade Cusinart’ is a drop from an encounter, and before it’s identified — when you have to choose it — it’s just called “sword”. By the time it shows up, you’ve given up on swords. They’re never useful — except this once. Most key items, you stumble into. Just this once, you have to know what you’re looking for.

Wizardry IV: Back Below

This is playing more and more like an adventure game — specifically, an old-school one with obscure puzzles that are easy to get stuck on, separated by enough geography that it makes sense to keep multiple saves at different locations to facilitate trying out ideas. Today, I gave up on the Cube for a while and spent some time in the floors below, exploring the last remaining bits of the map. It was fairly productive.

On the fifth floor, I found an oxygen mask. It turned out to be pretty close to the stairs up, but when I found those stairs initially, I just stopped exploring the fifth floor. As an experienced Wizardry player, I understood the significance: the KATINO/MAKANITO/LAKANITO family of spells are all described in the Wizardry I manual as operating by changing the air around the target. KATINO isn’t much of a problem — only very low-level enemies seem to ever use it — and MAKANITO simply doesn’t affect you once you’re past level 8 or so, but LAKANITO was a frequent source of frustration in the Cube, as it gave sufficiently-powerful casters a chance of just killing Werdna instantly. Well, no more. I wish I had found this mask sooner.

Down in the minefield of the third floor, I took advantage of those winged boots I had found. Even when you’re flying, you’re notified when you’re above a mine, allowing me to really complete my map. Moreover, I found a chunk of amber in the shape of a dragon, and immediately knew what to do with it: at the top of the ziggurat, there’s an altar to the Dreampainter, with three holes just waiting to receive gemstones in three colors. This is a place where the game trolls the player. Shortly before you reach the amber, there’s a pyrite deposit, which, unlike the amber, is reasonably visible to and reachable by someone who isn’t flying. Like the amber, it’s yellow, so it’s natural to try it in the altar, but I suppose the Dreampainter doesn’t appreciate being called a fool, because it results in immediate death. The game is fond of this sort of monkey business. Another example: When you equip items, the game asks you if you want to invoke their special powers. When you put on the winged boots, for example, you have to invoke them to fly. Now, the UI doesn’t support just equipping one item; you have to choose everything at once, and then it prompts you about each invokable item. If you’re carrying the winged boots but not equipping them, it asks if you want to invoke them just so they can fly away without you if you say yes. As far as I know, this is the only item in the game that you can invoke while it’s unequipped, and this special case was made just for the sake of a practical joke on the player.

Finally, while in the ziggurat area, I went and did what I consider to be the most unfair puzzle in the game: getting inside a doorless chamber by abusing the already-abused paradigm of the level even further. I actually had to get some help from online for this, even though I half-remembered the solution, because the solution only works from a specific location, and the only indication of this is a too-cryptic hint from the Wandering Oracle. I know that I said before that the game isn’t as hard as it’s cracked up to be and I didn’t have that much trouble with it the first time around, but now that I see this again, I remember having to consult hints about it then too. I wonder where I got them? Not off the Web; that didn’t exist yet.

Wizardry IV: Cosmic Cube Continued

By now, I’ve thoroughly mapped out the Cosmic Cube. Past a certain point, you can be pretty sure when you’re on the right track simply because it becomes harder to follow. You get choices about where to go, and most of them lead back to things you’ve seen before, the maze trying to shake you off. It’s a familiar pattern — the level immediately before the Cube, the Wandering Maze, does something similar, the final approach to the stairs onward being lined with one-way walls just to make you redo large portions of the maze if you make a single misstep.

But I followed things to their conclusion, and I was rewarded with a sign telling me that I had finally found “THE EGRESS” — right at a blank wall. I know from my maps what’s on the other side of that wall: a staircase leading up, which I saw early in my explorations, but was unable to reach, due to a couple of hidden chutes that send you deeper into the maze as a sort of prank. It’s the prank aspect that really convinced me that it was in fact the actual egress, and that the sign marked the place I could access it from if I solved one more puzzle — one that I didn’t remember at all from my first playthrough, decades ago.

I said in my last post that the whole Cube section begins with a Smullyanesque logic puzzle, but it didn’t seem to make a difference — no matter what passageway you took, they’d join up after a while. Maybe the choice really did matter? In earlier titles, this would be impossible: there was no persistent state other than your characters and their inventory. But I had evidence that Wizardry IV was different. Throughout most of the game, Werdna is hunted by the ghost of Trebor, who moves about slowly and intangibly, making threats as he approaches and providing a new purpose for the old “locate dead people” spell that would otherwise be useless in this game (and was barely useful even in Wizardry I). He’s generally easy to avoid if you keep moving, but it’s still a relief when you find a way to get rid of him for good: by applying a relic of Saint Trebor. (Saint? The Mad Overlord? History is written by the victors, I guess.) The point is, once Trebor’s ghost is gone, it’s gone, even if you ditch the relic. And that means the engine is capable of setting flags.

So I tried starting over from the beginning of the Cube — I’ve been keeping a save just before the stairs in, just in case something like this happened — and this time I made sure I went through the correct path in the beginning. No dice. The egress was still unegressable. But then, the warning didn’t just warn about that one choice, did it? It said to watch my step in general and keep to the golden path, whatever that is. Maybe I had to plan my route more thoroughly? As I said before, the Cube is basically a directed graph. I’ve drawn that graph out, the better to plan. The final few steps are unambiguous, but the rest? Maybe I need a path that goes through all the “This Way to the Egress” signs. Maybe I need to avoid chutes. There are two particular places where you pick up important items; the correct route, if there is such a thing, probably goes through both of those. I have a bunch of possibilities to try, and it’s going to take a while to try each one, because wandering adventurers keep truncating my progress.

While writing this post, it occurred to me to check if I could avoid falling down chutes by wearing the Winged Boots I had picked up earlier. I can’t, it turns out. But at least they’re useful for not taking damage from pit traps.

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.

Wizardry IV: More About Encounters

The random encounters or “wandering monsters” in Wizardry IV aren’t really monsters at all, but adventurers, listed the way player characters are listed in a normal Wizardry, with their status, current hit points, character class, and even alignment. This is a lot more information than you ever get about monsters, including your allies. That’s a pretty big change for combat. In previous titles, you could see who in your party needs healing or other restorations, but not whether you’re close to killing enemies. In Wiz4, it’s the reverse. (Not that Werdna can cast healing spells anyway!)

As a result, I’m not entirely sure what the rules are governing monsters replenishing themselves. I think they don’t retain damage between encounters — which is only fair, because the adventurers definitely don’t. If you don’t kill them outright, they’ll be back to full health the next time you meet them. It also seems like spellcasting monsters don’t use up spell slots from encounter to encounter. In fact, I’m not at all sure that they have spell slots at all. Back in Wiz3, it was definitely possible for the the Priests of Fung to use up their spells and revert to physical attacks in a protracted encounter, but this was only noticeable due to anti-magic fields drawing the battle out. Fights in Wiz4 tend to end before that point, one way or the other.

What about fixed encounters? There are a lot of fights against specific enemies in specific locations in this game; in a previous title, I might have called these “boss fights”, but here, they’re really too numerous to qualify for that honor. These are mostly against monstrous guardians and sentinels of various sorts: things in sarcophagi, hellhounds, golems, something froglike and sort of humanoid. Level 5 is chock-a-block with powerful moths and/or butterflies of various sorts. But the only things really identifying them as monstrous are their name and portrait. The UI treats them just like any other encounter — and that means that every one of them is assigned a character class. That hellhound is a fighter. Some of the moths are ninjas. And the game seems to mean it, too: where the monsters on my side frequently have abilities only available to monsters, like level drain or summoning reinforcements, the enemy monsters are just monster-shaped adventurers, with exactly the powers and limitations of their class.

Wizardry IV: Going Back Down

I’m up to dungeon level 4/Werdna level 7. That means I have access to every spell, including MALOR, the teleport spell. It’s not as useful as you might think. Every Wizardry game so far has had places you can’t teleport to, and in Wizardry IV, that includes most places. You definitely can’t teleport above the highest level you’ve reached, but I’ve had only occasional success going downward too. The “occasional” part is a little maddening; if teleportation never worked, I wouldn’t be in the position of not understanding why it works sometimes. If I recall correctly, you eventually get a power-up that unlocks full teleportation everywhere, but not until basically the end.

And that’s a bit of a shame, because a shortcut or two back would be handy right now. I haven’t found the stairs up on level 4, despite a pretty thorough search. It’s possible that I’ve just missed them — the level’s theme is Wandering Maze, and it’s a chaotic and difficult-to-navigate mass of one-way walls and rotating tiles1A new element that rotates its walls 90 degrees every time you step on it. Distinct from spinner tiles, which randomly reorient the player but don’t change the architecture., so it wouldn’t be hard to miss a thing or two in the confusion. But unless and until I spot those stairs, I’m shifting gears from the mad scramble upward to backfilling puzzle content. There are several puzzles I’ve left behind on previous levels, largely because they require items you don’t find until later. In other words, the game is turning more and more into an adventure game — albeit one where people attack you sometimes.

Also, on level 4, the reverse happens: there’s a puzzle that requires items from previous levels that you may or may not have picked up. A witch requires ingredients for a potion, and they’re all described a little cryptically. For example, she asks for “rabbit’s fur”, which is the “magician’s hat” you might have acquired as loot in an encounter. “Tannic acid” identifies a “witching rod”, which makes sense if you remember where you found it: floating in a pool of water rendered caustic by the acorns steeping in it. So, there’s another reason to backtrack. To hunt for anything you missed, in the hope that the witch’s potion will somehow produce stairs.

1 A new element that rotates its walls 90 degrees every time you step on it. Distinct from spinner tiles, which randomly reorient the player but don’t change the architecture.

Wizardry IV: Running Away

One thing about the gameplay in Wizardry IV that’s a lot different from any previous game in the series: you run away from a lot more encounters. In the previous games, fleeing is nearly always futile — I think the chance of failure rises with the number of enemies you face, which means that the encounters where you really need to flee, the ones where you’re completely outnumbered, are exactly the ones you can’t. And when you fail to flee, you just don’t get to do anything for a combat round. It’s all set up to punish you for trying.

Whereas Wizardry IV is more set up to punish you for standing your ground. Recall that there’s no XP, that Werdna’s power, and the power of his monsters, is bound to your upward progress through the dungeon. This means it’s impossible to grind until you’re ahead of the game. Indeed, you spend the first part of each level behind it, when you haven’t found a pentagram yet. At that point, not only are you underpowered for the level, you also have no way or replenishing your spells, short of backtracking. You just have to try to explore while rationing your spell slots and dodging adventurers. Maybe this is why it’s considered to be the hardest of the early series. You can’t simply overpower it. But on the bright side, adventurers are a lot easier to escape than monsters — perhaps because you never meet more than six at a time.

In fact, each level seems to have only two or three full parties on it. The vast majority of adventurers are running solo, which is absurd, especially for fighters. And the full teams have some peculiar traits. First, they all have team names, like “Sorriman’s Sorcerers” or “Gomez’s Gorillas”, to make them more recognizable. Second, sometimes some of them will be already slain. In fact, if you fight them, kill some, and retreat, the ones you kill will still be dead when you meet the team again. But sometimes there are casualties even the first time. As far as I can tell, I’m the only thing in the dungeon capable of killing adventurers. Maybe the dead ones are ones I encountered and slew separately from the party? I haven’t really been keeping track of names.

Thirdly, sometimes you’ll meet the same party repeatedly in the same area. In particular, if you walk through a door, meet a party, flee, and walk through the door again, there’s a good chance you’ll meet the same party again. I haven’t noticed this happening with solitary individuals, but then, I tend to flee from them less often. Is the game actually tracking the adventurers’ positions, moving them through the maze? This is highly contrary to habit; wandering monsters have been mere stochastic events from D&D onward. But it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. There’s one non-combat encounter that you can actually see wandering the maze: the Oracle of Mron, who roams every level of the dungeon, dispensing puzzle hints for a fee. The Oracle is visible as the same sort of nonspecific mark on the floor as every other special dungeon feature or event, but is the only special event that changes position from turn to turn. The point is, the game clearly has a movement algorithm for this, and could well be applying it to things that aren’t visibly marked as well. But on the other hand, it’s more likely just applying a few special cases to encourage the illusion.

Older Posts »