When I said that I would write an article about KingsIsle’s entry into the MMO market, Wizard101, I was somewhat reluctant. After all, the screens that I’d seen were so cartoonish and glaringly bright. In addition, Wizard101 had been designed as a “tweens” game, targeting the 10-13 crowd. Let’s just say I’m several deca… *coughs*, I mean years beyond that mark. But being the trooper that I am, I waited for the beta to wind up and for the game to officially launch so that I could quickly run through the free areas, write my article and move on. It sounded like the right plan. But one has to wonder why I am still playing Wizard101 over two weeks later? Why is my husband playing Wizard101? Why is our 6 year old daughter playing? Good questions. I hope I can answer them and give the game the justice it is due.
I will begin by saying that Wizard101 isn’t for everyone. If you’re utterly out of touch with your inner child or if you don’t have a kid around the house to force you to be in touch with it, then W101 won’t have much appeal for you. Similarly, W101 isn’t dark or moody or filled with blood and guts. If that’s your bailiwick, again Wizard101 isn’t for you.
What Wizard101 aspires to be and for my money reaches, is an engaging game filled with lots to do, lots to see and fabulous, and I literally mean just that, spell effects, the likes of which I can guarantee you have never seen before. It is not Harry in cartoon garb. Just entering the game erases that comparison immediately. Whereas the Potter games and movies have dark, twisted sides, there are none of those in evidence, at least not to the same degree, in Wizard101. While Wizard101 has some of the quirky humor that the earlier Potter novels have, there is quite simply no other fair comparison between the two.
Wizard101 allows characters, or wizards, to develop along a wide variety of paths. There are six schools of magic: Life, Myth, Death, Fire, Storm and Ice. Players will get skill upgrades in their chosen school for free but spells from other schools can be purchased with what amount to ‘level up points’. This allows for a high level of character customization and is helpful in battles with critters of varying resistances.
As far as character customization beyond spells, players do not have to worry about statistics on level up. They simply are granted new spells at certain set points and also earn training points to use to purchase spells outside their school of magic.
Players find or purchase robes, hats, wands/staves, shoes and even pets. All yield bonuses or resistances and can be dyed to match the whim of the wearer. My character is decked out in black and gray, my daughter in green and yellow, while my husband is in orange and green. Even some pets can be customized to match.
As with most MMOs, there are quests to accomplish and a bad guy to hunt down through the ranks of his minions. In this case, the head master of the School of Death has gone rogue and through the quests, players are brought ever closer to the ‘final battle’. Along the way there are mini-bosses and monsters galore.
Fighting in Wizard101 uses a card-based spell system. When receiving spells from a character’s chosen school or after purchasing a spell, players receive a card that is added to a spell deck. Cards give information about what type and how much damage each spell uses and are randomly displayed each combat turn. Players choose a spell with their mouse and then watch the combat progress throughout the turn. The spell effects are very well done. They are wonderful and imaginative and many of them will make you laugh out loud. The leprechaun spell is a particular favorite of my daughter and it’s a hoot as are many of the others.
On a battle’s completion, players are awarded with gold and experience if successful. If they are defeated, they are sent back to the starting area no poorer than having wasted time. There is no death penalty or loss of XP or gold. But players will need to spend time in the ‘carnival’ (mini-game) area replenishing their life and mana. There are several interesting mini games and most of them take little skill in order to be successful. Players not only replenish their mana but can earn gold and items for particularly well-played games.
Wizard101 employs a unique battle system. Monsters ramble about the streets with sidewalks being the ‘safe zone’ for player movement. When a battle is entered, a player and monster move to a circle. Up to three other players can also enter the battle along with their ‘attendant’ monster. At completion, all players are rewarded with the same loot, eliminating the necessity for the grab and run. This system is unique in that it utterly banishes the notion of grinding and being forced to wait for the quest monsters to reappear in overcrowded areas.
The only real complaint I have about the battle system is that players cannot party together and do not have the ability to find one another easily on a map, for instance. Friend lists can be created and players can instantly port to their friends but it’s a cumbersome way if you lose track of your friends. I would love to see KingsIsle consider “family parties” for people playing on family accounts (see below). But that’s something for the future perhaps.
Wizard101 is designed to be family and kid-friendly. There are parental controls on the ‘master account’. Additionally, W101 provides kids with a huge number of pre-generated phrases for communication, eliminating the necessity for off-the-cuff conversations. Character names will also be appropriate as KingsIsle does not allow players to name their characters outside of the name generator on character creation. On site forums are moderated and filtered as well.
As far as the financial commitment to Wizard101, KingsIsle has a variety of subscription models including yearly, semi-annual, monthly and free-to-play levels. According to Wizard101’s PR guru, Mike Meyers (no, not that one!), KingsIsle is also looking into a family subscription model. Pricing for a single account for a year is a modest $60.00 and quite a bargain.
As I said at the start, Wizard101 isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely a kids’ game but one that is curiously and engagingly addictive. Quite simply, it’s FUN and when you’re playing, that silly little smile on your face says it all. It looks right, it sounds right (great sound effects and music!) and it just feels right.
Based on my favored “scoring system”, Wizard101 earns a “Get it Now” award with the caveat that you might find yourself playing this over other more “mature” titles.
But There’s no reason, as I always say, to take MY word for it. Wizard101 is free to play so wake up your inner child and check it out.