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[Review] Wizard*101* - Trading Card MMO for kids
5/9/08 10:56:22 AM
A post Beta review.

I recently participated in a Beta Test for game I stumbled on by accident: Wizard*101* by KingsIsle Entertainment.
What caught my attention initially were the Videos and Screenshots of the game. They seemed very slick, but being the gnarled and grizzled old cynic I am my initial thought was how they probably didn’t reflect the quality of the actual game play?
I was wrong.
Wizard*101* is “exactly what it says on the box”. Kudos to a developer for delivering what they promise.
So, at the risk of sounding like a ‘fanboi’, I thought I would write a review to bring attention to this game which is actually… fun!
Before we begin however, I would like to qualify this review.
This is based on my experiences in a Beta Test – it is entirely possible (though unlikely) that the game may have changed dramatically due to the pre-retail patch?
I played though about 70% of the game content as it was released retail.
In addition to the good points I will cover my concerns near the end of the review.

Now that is out of the way, on with the review!

So, what is Wizard*101*?
Well, put simply, it’s a MMO based around a Trading Card Game, aimed at 8-14 year old kids.
One poster on another forum described it as Harry Potter meets Pokemon. But don’t be put off if you don’t like Trading Card Games or are not a kid… KingsIsle seem to have done something very right with this game… it’s actually a lot of fun.

The premise of the game is that you are a young Wizard at Wizard School and some evil Wizard guy (he scowls so you know he’s bad) wants to rule the world or something…
Anyway, you start by selecting one of the seven schools of magic; Myth, Life, Fire, Ice, Storm, Balance and, of course, Death. Each school has its own story, strengths, weaknesses and spells for you to learn. In addition, you can also learn spells from other schools as the game progresses and players will find that different mixes can yield very different results.

This is where you begin to build your ‘deck’. The spells you learn are represented by ‘cards’ and you build a ‘deck’ which you draw spells from during battle. The spells all do different things too. Some are for attacking, some for defending, some boost attacks or deflect attacks, some are for healing, some affect just you and some can affect others or groups.
Then, you can also equip items to you character that allow you to add still more cards to your deck or boost certain attacks or defense.

This all sounds incredibly complex, but really it only takes a few minutes to learn and the tutorials are very well done. That said, don’t expect to master the game - ever. There are lots of little subtleties and an element of luck thrown in as well!

So, off you go on your adventure in a beautiful 3D MMORPG world populated by wandering monsters and NPCs who give you a large variety of quests and have their own stories. In Beta there were 4 worlds to explore – each with their own unique flavor and theme including Egyptian, Victorian and oriental. This is perhaps where you can begin to see that the game has a personality too – players actually dress their characters like the locals!
I would describe the graphics as cartoony, but in this case that is not a bad thing at all. It fits nicely and is often very comical (If the Ninja Pigs don’t make you laugh, you really need to get a sense of humor.)
Bare in mind the game is made for kids too, so even the ‘scary’ monsters can’t be too scary.
Some of the areas are instanced – most notably most of the Boss fights – and there are a few instanced zones as well. I would describe this as an appropriate use of instancing. The instancing in this game is always done for a purpose – not as a crutch for a lazy design team.

So, you travel around the world doing quests and fighting the local monsters. And here is where you use your wizardry skills when you find yourself in battle.

At its heart, it is a turn based trading card game, but you don’t really notice. It’s all animated in beautiful 3D.
The design is excellent with the battles flowing nicely and quickly. The ‘turns’ simply allow you to plan strategies but there is also an element of luck involved.
As I mentioned earlier, each school has different spells and strengths. Storm spells, as an example, are very powerful. But to counter that, they also have a high chance of failure. So simply playing a card is no guarantee of success, the spell could always fail with a stomach wrenching “FIZZLE”. Monsters will also resist spells from their own school (skeletons tend to be resistant to Death spells for example) so having a good mix of spells is to your advantage.
During the battle you can also build up power which will allow you to cast more powerful spells from your deck, but the trade off is that the longer you wait the more chance the enemy has to hit you too.

Every spell is animated and not just with the same animation each time either, some of the spells have different animations depending on how much damage they do. Some of these animations are superb to the point that players will even deliberately delay battles to show off spells to others. In the non-instanced areas you can simply be a bystander and watch other players do battle.

Perhaps one of the most unique features of the game is the way you can also join a battle any time.
This means you can team up and fight along side your fellow wizards!
This mechanic actually encourages teamwork. If you are having trouble with a Boss you can call in a friend to help you.

The quests and plot development are interesting and varied. Being an MMO there are a fair amount of ‘grind’ missions but again the design is good in that the travel distances are not excessive and you never seem to be put in a position where you are forced to grind to progress. New areas become accessible on a regular basis too and there are even bonuses to be had for those prepared to do a little exploring.

If you want to try your skills against other Wizards (players) there is a dueling arena and there are also several Mini Games to play – a number of which will provide a real “blast from the past” for you retro-gamers out there.

The chat system could also stand a mention here because parents have the option of restricting chat options for youngsters. Trial players and children are restricted to a pull down menu style chat system which actually works very well. A little bit unwieldy at first, but it does allow you to say what you need to say with practice. It also has the definite advantage of preventing chat spam and trash talk.

Well, having read this review you probably realize that I quite liked this game?
That is very true. There is a lot to like here and I think this game has the potential to do very well. It is aimed at 8-14 year olds but I would suggest that any child with competent reading and comprehension skills can play and enjoy this game. The trading card style battle system can teach logical thinking as an added bonus (there you go – it’s educational!).
Many adults will enjoy this game as well. The game style and pace will suit casual gamers and gamers who don’t like too much pressure. There is a fair amount of humor and references to popular culture, film and literature dotted through the game too. This really is a “family friendly” game.

On the down side, my concerns about this game are that it lacks content (for hardcore gamers) and a sustainable endgame at this point. Now, sure, a fanboi might say “games like this have new content added all the time”. Well, yes, but I am reviewing what I see now. At a guess, a ‘hardcore’ gamer could probably get through all the existing content in 1-2 months at most.
There is no crafting (per se) and the RPG element is lacking – but the counter to this is that perhaps this game doesn’t really need these things anyway?
In Beta the game still had a few bugs too (only to be expected – it was a Beta after all!) but nothing ‘game breaking’. Issues raised and community feedback seemed to be addressed by KingsIsle very well.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. There are free levels available for play – and with the download system KingsIsle use you DON’T have to download a 2 Gb client just to have a look.
I was pleasantly surprised to be playing the game within an hour thanks to the fact the game downloads in the background while you play.
The website is well laid out, detailed and contains screenshots and videos too.
There is also a “wizard creator” – good for a bit of fun and to see which school you should belong to.
You will find the game forums are tightly moderated and posting (post release) is restricted to paying customers only. Again, I suppose this fits in with the family friendly theme?

The subscription plan is also explained on the site – at this stage it is a monthly subscription rate backed up by micro-transactions for those who want it (not necessary IMHO)

Based on my experiences I would have to say that this game and the developer (KingsIsle) are worth keeping an eye on.

Free Trial levels immediately available.
Minimal download required to begin play.
Family Friendly
Casual Game play
Strategy is rewarded

Limited content (5 worlds at release)
Unknown endgame?


PS Please don’t ask for a score out of 10 – as I won’t give it.
I would rate this game as “excellent” however. It does what it set out to do – and it does it very well.



5/9/08 11:13:41 AM

Sounds like a kiddie friendly, multiplayer "Etherlords" .

Rock out with your cock out. Jam out with your clam out.

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