These reviews I am republishing on my blog were originally published on texasteamplayers.com (now teamplayergaming.com) and are my copyrighted work. Please do not repost or use these reviews in part or whole without my consent.
I’ve played MMOs. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade playing such MMOs as Ultima Online, EverQuest and World of Warcraft to name only a few. Most of them are aimed at adult and teens, even if they get their fair share up tween and younger players. From time to time there is an MMO that is targeted at kids, such as Disney’s Toontown (and I’ve played that too, it’s a brilliant game). Wizard 101 is a mystery. I can’t tell who they are truly targeting and there is something there for the kids and adults. The game warranted closer examination.
Publisher: King’s Isle Entertainment
Release Date: September 2008
Review by: Kyle “Rumble” Bousquet
A little over a year ago Kings Isle Entertainment released Wizard 101 for the PC. The game flew under my radar for a few months until my Son and Daughter came to the office and asked my wife and I if they could install this new MMO that was “Like World of Warcraft Daddy!” Since my wife and I don’t let the kids play anything we haven’t checked out we checked out their website and found something I hadn’t really seen before. Wizard 101 was a “free to play” MMO. You can play the game without ever subscribing to a monthly billing program, or pre-paying in any way. Now I’ve spent some scratch over the years on my MMO habit, not to mention my wife’s. Instead of just reading about it and deciding if the kids could play my wife and I took the game for a test drive.
The game of Wizard 101 does play a great deal like World of Warcraft in some respects. You find quests by looking for the exclamation points over people’s heads, and turn them in to the person with the question mark. Combat and zone design is much more a direct parallel to the aforementioned Disney’s Toontown. Combat is turn based, which for kids certainly isn’t a bad thing. Something we discovered right away is while the game is free initially, it only gives you access to the first few zones of the game. If you want to gain access to the rest of the game you can subscribe to a monthly fee, or buy zones one at a time for a small amount of money. There is a lot of content in the free area, but your wizard can only get so far in levels and skill before you have to start buying areas or subscribe. More on that later though.
Combat is triggered just by walking into an enemy, and sets up like Toontown, or the Final Fantasy series. You and anyone who walks into your combat are on one side of the combat area, and the enemy on the other side. There’s a timer, but it’s long enough that unless you are on the phone not paying attention you can pick your attacks in plenty of time. There can be no more than 4 people in combat at once, in the same battle. In the early zones of the game the enemies are limited to one for every player in the combat. So one person in combat and one enemy, if a 2nd person joins then a second enemy can join if they walk up to your combat area. Combat is conducted with a deck, a la Yu-gi-oh, where you can cast spells, summon monsters or use your wand to do damage. It’s a little simplistic, but the magic schools to have a varied number of spells.
You are able to choose one primary school of magic and one secondary school. Schools are in Fire, Ice, Myth, Life, Storm and Death. Your primary school will have more spells and more powerful spells than your secondary. Some of the spells you will gain access through quests, others just through leveling. Each school has strengths and weaknesses, Death being very good at direct damage, but Myth having powerful summoned monsters for instance. I found it helpful to have Life as a secondary class if you plan on playing mostly alone. I’ve found the Storm school to “fizzle” the most in combat. Fizzles are essentially spell failures. Life school gives you a hit point bonus so you can withstand more damage when trying to get off heals.
The graphics of Wizard 101 are definitely not state of the art. They are better than Toontown, being more three dimensional. I was impressed with some of the settings, like Firecat Alley and the Dark Cave. King’s Isle did a good job as far as art, working with a graphics system that is meant for the game to reach a wider audience. Clearly they have designed the game knowing that kids usualy have a much less powerful machine than the older “gamer” crowd, so they did the right thing if that was their target. However, I found myself wanting to see better spell effects and more varied monsters. In the old days of EverQuest you had the excuse of “we can’t have any more monster designs in that zone because it is too memory intensive to load so many unique models” and so you saw the same few monsters everywhere. Those days should be long gone, and Wizard 101 could do with a little more variety in both monsters and scenery.
The soundtrack for Wizard 101 is cute, since the main audience is kids. This is ok for a while, but I found myself muting the music in game, much like when I played Diablo II. It got repetitive, and if you play with a family members (in my case my wife and both my kids) the music can drive you to drink. Background sound, combat and spell effects are satisfactory, but nothing to write home about. It’s a little more than you get with Toontown, but it’s no World of Warcraft when it comes to the quality or quantity of sounds and ambiance.
The one highlight of the game audio is the voice acting. I played through all of the free areas, then paid to play through the next two worlds, and I found consistently great voice acting. Your first experience with Wizard 101 is Merle Ambrose who is headmaster of the Wizard 101 school. He certainly sets the tone of good voice acting, sounding every bit the part of the old wizened wizard. This continues through all of the game I have sampled. They got some great voice actors and had some good directors/producers to get such good performances.
Wizard 101 can be played without much interaction between yourself and the other players in the world, but why would you want to? After playing by myself some, with my wife a little and mostly with my wife and two kids I can say definitively the game is better with a group of people, of whom you know. Wizard 101 has some safeties in place that prevent predators from chatting up your children, so this does present obstacles if you wanted to meet and make friends in game. If you are under age your parents can limit the kind of chat you can use to just chat phrases the game has built into the system. If you are an adult this is a full featured chat system, but filters in place to prevent you from using some words and phrases. Some of those censored words and phrases are clearly to prevent people from divulging ages or locations.
The chat system aside, the further in the game you intend on playing the more you will want a group of three other people you know and can coordinate with. After the initial free area you gain access to zones where you can fight two or three monsters at a time solo, and fighting monsters in even numbers is always easier. Playing as a team also allows you to specialize in schools of magic in combinations that just aren’t practical when soloing. You will frequently pick Life as your secondary school of magic if soloing, because you need those heals when alone. If someone in your group is a primary Life caster you can combine schools like Death and Myth, and not worry about heals. So the game looks to be designed hoping you will work in teams and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
There is the very infrequent problem of griefers who join your battle when you don’t want them to, since the battle system takes the first 4 people to walk into it. If one of your group of friends is a little behind and someone else jumps in your battle you really have no recourse. As such you really need to keep your group together and not jump into a monster’s path without everyone being ready. I haven’t found much else in the way of anti-team tactics, or griefing so that’s nice. I would hope at some point King’s Isle would put some kind of party system in place so people outside your group of four could not enter your combat if someone was just running behind the group.
Wizard 101 certainly seems to be targeted to kids, but King’s Isle Entertainment should know almost any MMO, even Disney’s Toontown attracts adults. On the surface Wizard 101 offers a pretty well flushed out combat system and the novel idea that you only pay for the game if you want to. I’m not buying it though. You can play for five or ten hours and not pay a dime, but after that if you don’t pay you’ll stop playing. Even my kids started begging for money to be put on their accounts so they could buy new areas once the initial Wizard City was done. I guess I was a little offended that they market the game as a FREE MMO, when clearly it’s not free. You are getting a free trial in essence, with no way to truly play the game without paying. If you intend to really play the game to it’s fullest they you will end up paying for a yearly subscription, far from free.
There is potential in Wizard 101 though. I liked playing the game with my kids. They always wanted to play World of Warcraft, but I was not comfortable with a twelve and nine year old playing a $13/month game. If you are looking for a game to play with your kids, and you like MMOs then the family plan King’s Isle offers isn’t so bad. Just $7/month per person will get you unlimited access to the entire world of Wizard 101, and believe me, if you plan on playing any length of time that is way cheaper than the individual area unlocks over time.
So I guess if you are looking for a “starter MMO” for your kids, or looking for an MMO to play with them then Wizard 101 might be your bag. My kids are just on the cusp of wanting to play games like Left 4 Dead and World of Warcraft (if they want to spend their allowance on it), so our days with Wizard 101 look to be numbered. For now though it’s a great rainy day activity the whole family enjoys. Serious gamers might not get as much out of it.
Minimum System Requirements:
Operating System: Windows 98SE or later
Video Card: GeForce 2 or better
Disk Space: 5GB
Internet Connection Required
Reviewers System Specs:
• CPU: Core 2 Quad Q6600
• GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 216.
• Ram: 4.GB
• Hard Drive: Dual 500GB Seagate Barracuda’s in Raid0
• OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
• DirectX: 11
• Sound: ASUS Xonar X2 5.1 with Turtle Beach 5.1 Surround Headphones
• Optical drive: DVD/RW
• Internet: Broadband (8mbit cable)