Well it just so happened that I recently managed to get my hands on The Ultimate Wizardry Archives, a collection of the first seven Wizardry games released in 1998. This is a set I had back in the day, but I never got really far in this series of games. I had zero patience for mapping dungeons on graph paper back in 1998—by the time I had access to Wizardry, I had already played much more advanced titles such as Ultima VI and Pool of Radiance, and Wizardry just seemed too basic and boring for me to put any time into it.
It doesn't help that my previous exposure to the series was through the NES port. While that is a fine port indeed, considering, I don't think as a kid I even understood the fact that you were supposed to be drawing maps of these things. I guess I figured you would just memorize the dungeons by going through them over and over.
So now, with graph paper and pencil in hand, I launched DOSBOX, started up Wizardry and—
*STONER KID DROPS BEER*
*RODNEY DANGERFIELD LOOKS ON, CONTINUING TO POUR BEER INTO ALREADY FULL GLASS THAT IS COMICALLY OVERFLOWING*
What are these colors!?!?!
I can deal with old graphics, but this color scheme is horrible. Surely there is a better way to play this game.
Actually, this is what happens when you play these games on a VGA video card. Configuring DOSBOX to emulate a CGA card gives us the following:
Much better! This is how the game would have looked back in the day on period correct hardware (more or less).
One of the benefits of playing the games from The Ultimate Wizardry Archives is that the first five of the games can be installed to hard disk (the original IBM PC versions would boot straight from the floppy disk), meaning there is no need to M)AKE SCENARIO DISK. (This also means that you can easily keep a backup of your game as you play, simply by copying the save file after you are done playing for the day).
One part of RPGs that I simultaneously dread and enjoy is character creation. If there are too many choices I tend to freeze up (with good reason, as you could easily make worthless characters in a lot of these games, wasting tons of time), and it's even worse when character generation has random aspects.
Character generation in Wizardry doesn't overwhelm you with too many options, and although there is some randomness to it, it basically comes down to, "Do I just take the average characters that the game generates for me, or do I keep regenerating until I get super characters." I have little patience for this stuff, so I ended up with what the game handed me: five average characters and one super character.
After buying equipment, I was off to adventure!
Wizardry has two types of screens. When you are in the Castle preparing for adventure, it's a bunch of text menus. The Maze is presented in wireframe "3D" where you see things from the perspective of your characters. It ain't much too look at, but moving about is fast and responsive. I found myself really getting into the game very quickly, and the B&W wireframe dungeon walls actually became quite atmospheric.
Before long you get into combat, and this is what you see. I do like that your HITS are visible at all times (a complaint I had with Might & Magic is that you need to access a status screen to view your characters in battle). You get a nice little drawing of all the monsters in the current encounter. I have to admit, I really like this art. Unlike the grim NES art, it's kinda whimsical and friendly without being goofy.
That UNDEAD KOBOLD up there appears to be doing The Robot.
At this point the combat is not very challenging. Rather than fighting powerful monsters that require you to heal up after every battle, you are fighting large groups of monsters that slowly chip away at your HITS. This makes the combat game more about resource management than tactics (at least early on).
Over the course of a couple days of playing 15-30 minutes a day, I was able to map much of the first dungeon level and gain a few experience levels. The first dungeon level is very interesting because there are a lot of things to find (the use of which is unclear at this point), and even some early mapping puzzles/challenges, such as dark rooms (where you have to "feel" your way around the room by bumping into walls you can't see), a section with a bunch of small rooms with one-way secret doors, and even some teleporters!
There is something very satisfying about the simplicity of a game like Wizardry. It's something that you really can just spend 10-15 minutes on when you have some time, thanks to how fast combat is and the snappy response when exploring.