Yesterday marked the launch of (yet another) new MMORPG. This one is based on the old Wizardry franchise of single player dungeon crawl RPGs. I've only every played one Wizardry game (Wizardry V for the SNES) and it was brutal but fun. From the sounds of things Wizardry Online is aiming to nail down the brutal half of the equation. If it'll hit the fun half remains to be seen. Some of the taglines in the FAQ really get my blood burning...
"This hardcore MMO will be the ultimate challenge for even the best RPG players in the world."
It then goes on to talk about how the game claims to be the hardest MMO ever. You don't automatically heal. Or level. There are no safe zones, and the world is flagged entirely PvP. Oh, and death can be permanent. You can steal from other players and there's some sort of crime/bounty system that comes from that. It claims to have lots of dungeons, puzzles, and traps...
This all sounds very interesting to start. I can remember losing my party in Wizardry V and having to restart a level 1 team from town. Who then had to enter a dungeon with most of the low level quests and stuff done, so I pretty much just walked in a circle grinding levels. Until I reached the point where 5 of the new people were strong enough to venture down to where my original party had died... Search up the corpse of one of them, bring them back to town. Pay to resurrect them in the temple. Repeat. Oh, and your guys all got older and lost stats as time went on. Oh, and sometimes the priests in the temple would fail the resurrection spell and reduce your people to ashes. You could try a super resurrection on the ashes but if that failed your guy was gone. Kaput. And you couldn't use any save/reload shenanigans! So my memories of Wizardry are definitely pretty hardcore. I did eventually beat the game, and I remember needing to draw maps because this was mostly in the ancient time before internets. It was a good feeling to win through all the frustrating obstacles the game threw at me, and I wonder if Wizardry Online can pull off the same feeling.
I'm always wary of MMO launches (or I should be... I still buy in on the first day way too often) but Wizardry Online is free, so it can't hurt to give it a spin, can it?
About being free... There's been a recent trend for games to go 'free to play' with the ability to pay money for extra things in game. League of Legends works this way where you can pay money for faster leveling, a wider variety of champions to play, or new costumes for the champions you have. League of Legends is definitely 'free to play' and avoids being 'pay to win' since someone who doesn't pay a cent isn't disadvantaged while playing the actual game. They may have fewer champions to play each week, and it may take longer before they can start playing ranked games, and they don't get to wear a Megaman costume, Slash's top hat, or dress Olaf up as Brolaf but they're just as good at playing the game. Will Wizardry Online be 'pay to win'?
The first clue is in their banner at the bottom. The game is not 'free to play'. It's 'free to die'. On the surface this is probably just a clever little banner bringing to light the fact the game is hard and you're going to die a lot. But in a game that advertises the possibility of permanent death I don't know that you want to link 'free' with 'die'. The website doesn't list the contents of the in game item shop so I can't tell for sure if you're paying to be pretty or paying to win but there are some clues...
Here are the three example items they list for things in the shop: a healing potion, a bag, and a talisman of security. The healing potion calls out that people will need healing potions since the game has no ambient healing. That's probably a bad sign, but maybe that just means you need to group with a priest. The bag just lets you hold more stuff and is probably a fair/standard MMO item shop item. As long as the free bag space is small but reasonable it should be fine. If you can't feasibly carry any loot without the item shop bag then it's worse. The talisman is really scary. It claims to let you spend it to prevent an item from being stolen when you die. The implication to me is that I'm going to get ganked by some high level dudes and then be presented with the choice of giving them my best item or giving Sony some money.
Talk about lose-lose! If I give them my best item they now know I don't have any of these talismans and am therefore fresh meat. Gank me over and over for pure profit! And since the game description implies there's absolutely no safe place to go it's possible they'll just follow me around until they have everything I own or I give up. On the other hand if I pay Sony money I get to keep my item and these thugs might even leave me alone (potentially no tangible benefit from ganking me when they could get loot out of someone else) but I'm now fallaciously pot committed. Every time I die I need to spend another one of these talismans or the first one will have been wasted. Depending on how much these things cost (and I guess on how valuable loot is) I could be looking at a huge cash sink!
Beyond the cash shop you can also buy a more standard MMO subscription. It does actually list everything you get for doing so. In particular, you and your party get an xp and stat bonus for each of you with a membership. You get a free bag. You make more money and things are cheaper to buy. You get a real money discount on something called a 'Dimento Medal' which gives you xp, stats, better drop rates, and titles. Oh, and a free one of those talismans of security just to make sure you know how they work to entice you to buy more.
Titles are definitely 'pay to be pretty' and I'm on the fence about xp and drop rate boosts. On the one hand the game is probably about leveling and finding loot so someone with a boost to those definitely has an advantage over someone who doesn't, but those just replace time with money. I don't know that I care how someone hits max level (time or money). Stats are more on the 'pay to win' side of things. No matter how much I play for free or how good I am the person with paid for stats will just be better. In a PvE game that wouldn't really matter, it would just frustrate me. In a worldwide PvP game it seems like it could be a real problem. Especially when the winner of the fight gets to steal items from the loser! Especially when the loser might suffer permanent death!
Now, scale might well matter here. Maybe the stats on those Dimento Medals are actually pretty small. Something to reward people who pay without being unbalancing. The Aardwolf MUD I played on many years ago had little donation pins with a small amount of stats for people who paid to keep the game going. Those seemed fine. But you could actually opt out of brutal PvP in that game! And maybe PvP in Wizardry Online can't actually cause the permanent death they're espousing. Maybe stealing items after a fight is a rarity. Maybe they get a random item and not your best item (which would make buying bigger bags potentially a good investment!) Or maybe this is just a game for griefers with deep wallets.
I think I may install the client and give it a try to see what it's like even though it just launched. Get a feel for how often ganking happens and what the stealing mechanics actually are. Actually find out what the costs of these things in the item shop are. But on the surface I really, really suspect this is a huge 'pay to win' game and I won't actually be happy playing it for long. 'Free to die' indeed.
Maybe I have to keep myself from getting attached to my character or my stuff. But just like with my Blood Bowl team I don't know how feasible this will be. The MMO market is pretty much founded entirely on the idea that people grow attached to their characters and their stuff. I haven't really played my gnome warrior in World of Warcraft in many years but I'll always hold on to his wrath gear, his Quel'Serrar, and his gladiator mount. Those things have meaning to me, and I don't know that I'll be able to play another MMO without becoming similarly attached. Which is probably Sony's plan all along with the talismans of security...