Wizardry 5: Heart of the Maelstrom

a game by Ascii

Platform: SNESSNES

Genre: Adventure/RPG

See also: Wizardry Games

  • Manufacturer: Sir-Tech
  • Machine: Apple II, IBM

Wizardry V - Heart of the Maelstrom (HOTM) leaps from the shelf as the latest offering in the popular series. Designers Dave W. Bradley and Andrew Greenberg stick close to the formula seen in previous versions of Wizardry. While this game is accessible to first-time players, it does present new features for seasoned players.

The plot is fairly standard. The renegade Sorn has unleashed a magic vortex that threatens to engulf the world, and the Gatekeeper, the arch-mage who's supposed to prevent such unpleasantness, is her prisoner. The game begins in the castle. From there the player can go to the Training Grounds (to create characters), Gilgamesh's tavern (to round up a party), the Temple of Cant (to raise characters killed in action), Boltac's Trading Post (to buy and sell equipment) or the Adventurer's Inn (to heal up and promote levels).

The menu driven commands march the game along smartly. As opportunities arise (in training, camp or combat) new menus pop up to list the player options available. Most menus can be turned off after they're read, to give an unobstructed view of the screen.

Although prior Wizardry experience is not required, a player can bring characters in from Wizardry I through III. But this importation of skilled adventurers is at a steep price: they lose all items, gold, experience points and spells which were acquired in the previous scenarios.

Wizardry veterans will find that even small activities are now much harder. To provide some assistance, the walls are periodically decorated with clues that can be decoded.

Sadly, graphics are substandard in the latest incarnation of this venerable game system. Monsters literally pop up in the center of blank rooms which are minimally drawn with a few straight lines. Also disappointing in this new game is the increased difficulty in routing the party through the encounters. Mapping is now a major challenge, as levels no longer fit neatly on a 20 x 20 grid map.

But many of the new features add dimension to the playing experience. Pools may hide treasure, and can magically kill or cure; therefore, swimming ability has become a vital skill instead of just a helpful accessory. New spells and monsters have been added, and these enrich the gaming experience. For example, multiple groups can be in the dungeon simultaneously (even launching rescue parties). Combat is also livelier, because there are more options now, with long-range weapons and ambushes providing more fire power to the party.

The biggest challenges are the noncombat encounters. The dungeon is densely populated with non player characters (NPCs). Although computer games have a long way to go to produce truly interactive NPCs, the entities in HOTM are colorful and complex. The Duck of Sparks, the Laughing Kettle and the Loon will keep a player so amused that it's hard to get frustrated by attempts to interact with them. Completing the game requires gaining items and information from these denizens, but brute force won't work. Players must use charm, bribery or theft to get what they need, and the wrong approach can spell disaster! The NPCs will remember the encounter and act accordingly if you meet them again.

Unlike many games where a player must follow a narrow path from beginning to end, Heart of the Maelstrom allows greater freedom of choices, including the possibility of more than one successful conclusion.

The game comes with an 86-page manual designed for the novice player. A four-page, "quick-start" pamphlet is included for those who've played previous versions, briefly pointing out changes and the new features.

The IBM version comes with three disks and the Apple has five. The disks are not copy-protected; a "magic word" must be entered once to play. Alas, the game will not run off a hard drive. Though saving the game mid-session is easier than ever before, this hardly encourages playing a "quick round of Wizardry". Hopefully, there will be a hard-disk option for future games in the series.

The attention given to design, plotting and detail prove that a game doesn't need whiz-bang graphics and sound to be a hit. For a person starting out in computer role-playing games, this is a good way to cut one's teeth. Yet Wizardry - Heart of the Maelstrom will please even grizzled veterans.

Other games by
Ascii

Wizardry 5: Heart of the Maelstrom Downloads

SNES Wizardry 5: Heart of the Maelstrom download
  • Machine: SNES
  • Manufacturer: Capcom.

This is for avid AD&D fans who get bored with pretty RPGs and who long for the days of endless campaigns in dark musty dungeons. You get solid adventure that leaves you screaming and tearing out your hair for days on end.

reggie posted a review
  • Manufacturer: Capcom
  • Machine: Super NES

A faithful adaptation of the old computer adventure game. This is a very slow-paced RPG. There are plenty of options, but this cart is for garners who like more deliberate strategy RPGs. This game is for fans of the genre.

reggie posted a review

Capcom's SNES version of Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom is a faithful adaptation of this classic 3D dungeon crawl. That's good news in most respects...and perhaps not quite as good in a couple of others.

Party of Six, Table Near the Maelstrom?

You create a party of up to six members who descend from a surface Sanctuary into a nine- level dungeon full of tricks and traps...and quite a few things to kill. You'll have to find an orb, free a Gatekeeper, wipe the floor with an evil magician, and restore balance to elemental forces. All in a day's work, eh? Ask for overtime!

ProTips: Spend a good amount of time planning your party and study the requirements for advanced characters. A well- balanced one should include a pair of fighters, a thief, a mage, and a cleric.

It's the third Wizardry to make the transition from computer to console (I and II came out on the NES, and no one's translated III and IV). On computer, Wizardry V was the bridge between the great early Wizardries and the modern breed (Bane of the Cosmic Forge and Crusaders of the Dark Savant) and included a wide range of improvements, most of which seem to have been preserved here.

  • You can't advance a level just anywhere -- only at the surface inn -- so keep returning there to recharge the batteries and upgrade equipment. (It starts to feel a little like commuting.)
  • Map this baby. It'll come in handy during your quest -- especially since the levels are now irregularly sized and sometimes downright rambling.

For instance, not everyone you'll meet down the stairs needs to be turned into a bright red spot on the floor. Some monsters will share information and even trade items. There's also some pleasant Zorkian humor here, along with the clever riddles and puzzles that made Maelstrom so different from its hack 'n' slash predecessors.

Once Upon a Dungeon Dreary

The graphics are something of a mixed bag, but a step up from the original. Some of the monsters are quite well drawn, while others are virtually unidentifiable. You'll have a choice between dingy, grainy brown walls and featureless line drawings that hark back to the early Wizs. Go with the Brown Look; it definitely adds atmopshere. The music, poignant and mournful, sounds just great.

  • Save your game before your characters advance in a level. That way, if you don't like the way their attributes are enhanced, you can always go back and give it another shot.
  • You'll find the Orb of Llylgamyn in the southern central portion of the first level.

The conversion also preserves a couple of old-fashioned Wizardry conventions that may not sit well with home-system role-players. For instance, you still don't progress through the dungeon as much as plunge into it repeatedly, reaching greater and greater depths as your stats and equipment permit.

Workin' in the Troll Mines

The other thing to bear in mind is that in Wizardry V, dead means dead. When you save a game, any earlier saved game is removed from the battery backup. Purists will appreciate the realism, but less experienced role-players may not break out the champagne when they find the party they've built up so carefully has been decimated by one rogue monster. Caution, folks. (Naturally, if you have enough dosh from your monstermatic activities, you can buy resurrections at the Temple of Cant. But if you're caught short, you Cant). Sound like too much trouble? It is. Wizardry is enough to keep you underground for a while, but despite all its improvements, it does not compare to state-of- the-art SNES RPGs like Final Fantasy II.

reggie posted a review
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