As you might expect, aside from being an author, I’m also a voracious reader–but that’s not my only recreational activity. Sometimes, I’m a gamer. And since I write fantasy, it should come as no surprise that I like fantasy role-playing games.
I’m also a nostalgic gamer. While I admire the ingenuity and breathtaking graphics of recent games, I spend most of my gaming time playing my old favorites, including Wizardry 8. What tends to differentiate such games from their modern cousins is that they are more likely to be turn-based and to feature multi-member parties. It goes without saying that the modern games have better graphics, but they often focus on a single character, eliminating the strategic thinking required to create an optimally balanced party and possibly reducing replayability. In addition, the realistic combat is great if you have good reflexes and hand-eye coordination. For people like me who don’t, a slower pace that doesn’t rely on reflex and puts more emphasis on thought is preferable.
That’s not to say that modern games don’t provide scope for thinking, but the battlefield pace certainly makes it more difficult. Both styles of gaming have their advantages and disadvantages. If you like the modern approach, the purpose of this post is not to convert you. I’m just sharing some of my experiences with my fellow nostalgic gamers. Those of you who aren’t nostalgic (or weren’t alive when Wizardry 8 came out in 2001) but who like variety might be interested in giving it a try.
By the way, for those of you who want to play or replay Wizardry 8 but don’t have the original product, it’s available on both Steam ( https://store.steampowered.com/app/245450/Wizardry_8/ ) and GOG ( https://www.gog.com/game/wizardry_8 ), both of which have a lot of other retro game content (between them probably all the games that are legally available at this time).
Wizardry 8 Introduction
Wizardry 8 is the culmination of Sirtech’s Wizardry series, which began way back in 1981. It’s part of a trilogy that also includes Wizardry 6 and Wizardry 7, which took the franchise in a different direction. Unlike most fantasy rpgs from that era, the trilogy gradually incorporates elements of science fiction. Wizardry 7 is set on the planet Guardia. Wizardry 8 begins with a flight from Guardia to Dominus. the spaceship is shot down by the Dark Savant, a villain introduced earlier in the series, but the player’s group of characters survive the crash and must try to thwart the Dark Savant in an unfamiliar and often hostile environment. It’s possible to import a party that finished Wizardry 7 but just as good to start with a fresh one, since the character classes have changed somewhat.
A player begins with a six-person party, into which two NPCs can be recruited. The eligible ones are called RPCs (recruitable player characters). The original six can be drawn from several different races. Humans, dwarves, elves, faeries, hobbits, lizardmen, and gnomes are familiar from many other games. To that mix, the later Wizardry games added dracons (human-dragon hybrids), felpurrs (humanoid cats), rawulfs (humanoid wolves), and Mooks (wookie-like natives of Guardia). The party meets a wide range of other groups with different agendas and capabilities. The Higardi (the humans of Dominus) have an uneasy relationship with two races unique to the planet, the Trynnie (humanoid mere cats or hamsters is the closest I can come to describing them), and the Rapax (humanoid bulls reminiscent of minotaurs). All of these groups are joined by other races from Guardia, including the Mooks, the Umpani (humanoid rhinoceroses), the T’Rang (humanoid spider-slug combinations), and the Rattkins (humanoid rats). In different ways, each group seeks the same thing–three mystical objects that enable someone to enter Ascension Peak and ascend to the Cosmic Lords, godlike figures who will bestow similar status on anyone who can reach them. The Dark Savant is determined to make himself the only one to ascend.
As with other role-playing games, characters play different roles based on their profession. Fighters are pure warriors, and rogues are pure thieves. Gadgeteers are technicians who can build and use various gadgets that produce a variety of effects. Bards achieve a wide range of effects through the use of different musical instruments. There are four different kinds of magic users, each of which has some unique spells and abilities: mages, priests, psionicists, and alchemists. There are also hybrid classes, part fighter and part magic user: samurais (have some mage abilities); monks (have some psionic abilities); ninjas and rangers (have some alchemical abilities); lords and valkyries (have some priestly abilities). Another type of hybrid, the bishop, has the ability to learn spells in all four schools of magic.
With that many combinations, you can see why it can take a lot of experimenting to find the party that best fits your playing style and gives you the best chance of winning. Wizardry is unusual for its era in the number of choices it gives for race and class. Nor is that its only appeal. Players adventure through a wide range of different areas, find a variety of equipment and encounter a myriad of different opponents. The plot is interesting, but it doesn’t force linear play.
Introduction to Wizardry 8 Mods
All of that said, Wizardry 8 as originally marketed is a good game rather than a great one. To be fair to the developers, from what I’ve read, the company ran out of funding, forcing them to complete their work in a hurry. As a result, there are some odd features, like monsters being able to do things player characters can’t, such as fire spells around corners or through solid objects. I doubt that was intended behavior. I’ve even seen monsters walk right through solid objects. This kind of glitch would doubtless have been fixed if the company had stayed in business. There are also some balance issues, as well as underutilized features in the game.
Enter the modding community. When I played Wizardry 8 back when it was first released, modified versions didn’t yet exist. A key development that made Wizardry 8 mods (and 6 and 7, for matter) possible was Mad God’s development of the Cosmic Forge Utility in 2004 ( https://mad-god.webs.com/ ). The Cosmic Forge makes many Wizardry 8 features editable, and it wasn’t long before several brave souls sought to improve on the original game. The process for making major changes can be time-consuming, however, and so only a few large-scale mods were ultimately created. You can find the downloads for these mods on one convenient page, maintained by Snafaru at http://www.zimlab.com/wizardry/mods/wiz8mods.htm. I haven’t played them all yet, but the ones I have played all bring the original game from good to great. Which one or ones a player might prefer depend on individual taste. They are vastly different from each other, and each brings at least one unique innovation to the game.
The Christian Coder’s Mod
The Christian Coder’s Mod (developed by Jeff Ludwig) is a good choice for a player who wants to play a mod with the feel of the original Wizardry 8 but with more varied and balanced options. RPCs no longer have the odd area restrictions that make them less useful in the vanilla game, the variety of weapons has improved considerably, and some of the character professions have been revised. Bards, for example, can cast mage spells as they were able to do in Wizardry 7. The monsters are a bit tougher, but a variety of opportunities help to compensate. For instance, modern weapons are available much earlier in the game. In vanilla, you weren’t likely to see a modern weapon too much before midgame, and then it was a musket at best. The few more powerful options, like the frontier phaser, might never show up at all, and if they did, they typically showed up too late for a character to train to use them effectively.
Deathstalker’s Mod (developed by Deathstalker) is a good choice for a player who wants a much more nuanced game world. In the vanilla game, certain races, like rattkins, were always evil. Not so in DM, where each race has several factions, and mobs tend to be composed of a wide variety of creatures, rather than just one or two. DM also introduces a subplot revolving around creatures who have escaped from a fey plane of existence to wreak havoc on Dominus. There is also an assassin’s guild that didn’t exist in the original game. In general, the challenge level is much higher because the monsters are much tougher. DM maintains balance in three ways. First, the weapon options, even the early ones, are far better. (This mod particularly shines in the number of innovative ranged weapons that don’t require ammo.) There are also merchants in a number of new places, and some of them even early on sell impressively good gear. Second, there are a wider variety of RPCs, and they are available much earlier. There are three choices in the monastery (first area) alone. In the vanilla game, a player had to complete the monastery, get all the way down Arnika Road, which is tough for low-level parties, and reach Arnika to find the first two–and one of those was a character who wouldn’t travel with the party into most of the really tough areas. Third, there are roving parties of good guys, and they are as diverse as the monster mobs. As a results of all these changes, fights that would have been impossible get scaled back to very difficult. (The first approach to the Umpani base is so incredibly tough that no party will survive–unless it’s smart enough to wait for the Umpani war machine to lumber into close proximity before approaching the fort.)
Dodd the Slayer Modd
Dodd the Slayer Mod (developed by Adrian Dodd) has a completely different feel from DM but is just as innovative. In the beginning, the game feels similar to vanilla, though there’s an RPC gadgeteer waiting to be recruited pretty close to the opening–the first sign that DSM places a bigger emphasis on the gadgeteer’s unique abilities. The second difference a player might notice is that the mobs are a little bigger. Where you might have met two slimes before, you’re now facing five. Then you notice that some monsters are appearing earlier. For instance, the monastery is infested with ghosts and seekers, two types of adversary that didn’t appear in vanilla until somewhat later. The difficulty keeps escalating faster than in vanilla. The bosses may be tougher themselves and always have tougher henchmen. The random mobs, though, are truly horrendous and scale rapidly as the player characters level up. The difference is conspicuous in Arnika. In the vanilla game, Arnika has mobs of various kinds of Savant minions and an occasional group of Higardi outlaws. In DSM, Arnika is like the wild west. You have to sneak around town to avoid getting ripped apart by a party that’s too high-level for you to possibly beat. At around level 18, I once encounters a large group of level 45 rapax knights.
As in DM, DSM balances the monster difficulty with greater resources. The weapons aren’t better in the very beginning, but there are some key differences as the game progresses. First, DSM introduces an amazingly well-developed crafting system. In the vanilla game, there is a little crafting. For instance, a gadgeteer with high enough engineering skill can merge two light crossbows into a double-shot crossbow and add another for a triple-shot crossbow. Gadgeteers can also merge what looks like random junk into useful gadgets. Alchemists can make potions, and anyone with alchemical ability can combine potions into more powerful or more advanced products. And…that’s pretty much it in vanilla. DSM, on the other hand, lets everyone get into the act. There are a number of upgradeable weapons and armor, and a wide variety of skills are needed. Some upgrades take wizardry skill, while others may need divinity, psionics, or alchemy, and I can think of it least one that takes different skills at different levels. Some even require a specific weapons skill to upgrade, like swordmanship. There are also upgrades that involve combining two lesser weapons into a greater one, usually with artifacts skill. Gadgeteers have upgradeable gadgets, and even bards have upgradeable instruments.
Another way in which DSM makes some otherwise impossible battles winnable is by accelerating the process of leveling up. As with weapon improvements, a player won’t notice this change at the very beginning. By midgame, though, the difference is obvious. DSM doesn’t tinker with the number of experience points required to level up. Instead, its high-level monsters greatly increase the available supply of points. I’ve sometimes earned a million and a half experience points from one battle in Arnika. In the vanilla game, leveling was pretty draggy at high levels. In DSM, it’s much easier to reach a higher level faster. As a result, the game feels more fluid and exciting.
Unlike DM, which adds some subplots but keeps the main plot the same, DSM somewhat changes the sequence of the main plot, introducing additional quests that delay some main plot elements, though the basic structure remains the same. For instance, the entrance to Ascension Peak in now blocked by Zorcan, a level 50 ally of the Dark Savant. An RPC named Lana gives three quests that require exploring the retro dungeons (which were optional areas in vanilla). Completing them helps Lana assemble a weapon to defeat Zorcan and join the party. It is possible to bypass that sequence because Zorcan can be beaten without the weapon if a party is high-level enough, but if you want to play the mod as the designer intended, you have to go through the retro dungeons. But there’s more–the entry to the retro dungeons now involves defeating three high-level packs of outlaws to obtain what you need to enter. There are a few other points in DSM in which the path to victory has additional obstacles. There are also new areas, such as Rapax Island and Ravinia Bay, to explore.
Wizardry Reforged (developed by Qusari) is by far the most ambitious of the Wizardry 8 mods I’ve played. Like the others, it makes game play more challenging and increases resources to meet that challenge, though it does so in a somewhat different way. Like DSM, WR introduces new regions, including the Ninja Fortress and Necromani Realm (optional areas), as well as new areas required to complete the main plot (Ice Canyons, Dwarven Country, Pirate Island, Primary Rocks, and Savant City, the last two of which are in outer space.) The main plot is rearranged to a far greater extent than in DSM, and it’s wrapped in a brand new series of quests that affect the structure of the whole mod.
Nor does WR stop with that. Some of the vanilla areas (most of Trynton, the Rapax Castle, and the retro dungeons) are gone, their necessary elements dispersed to other places. Most of the vanilla areas that remain have been remodeled. The game starts in a new building (Father Pontifex’s odd little home, complete with its own dungeon) rather than in the Monastery, though it’s still there. Nearby is a desert region that didn’t exist in vanilla. Every area now has added elements. The look is as different as the structure. The modder uses different textures in most places. If you didn’t know it was a Wizardry 8 mod, it might take you a while to figure that out. Some people have called it the closest to Wizardry 9 that we’re ever likely to get.
I don’t know how long it took the other modders to create their mods, though I would suspect it was long time. In Qusari’s case, it took a year to develop Lunastralis (an earlier mod that includes some of the new areas) and two years to develop WR. Having poked around in the Cosmic Forge utility, I can see why. Almost everything is editable, but revising the terrain can be tricky. It’s easy to create seemingly viable landscapes where open areas can’t be walked through or where solid areas can be. (The motions pathways have to specified independent of the terrain itself.) That’s just one of many possible complications. I think it would take me months just to to get marginally proficient with that kind of editing.
Anyway, the monsters are the toughest I’ve seen (with the possible exception of a few optional encounters at Ravinia Bay in DSM). If I recall correctly, the other mods cap their monsters at level fifty. In WR, monsters above that level are common, with some going as high as one hundred. Random encounters don’t escalate the way they do in DSM, but the boss fights more than make up for that. As a consequence, the weapons are also the strongest I’ve seen. This mod is particularly great for modern weapons, some of which are usable early on, so characters can develop skill with them. There are also modern weapons powerful enough to be useful in those final battles.
WR also includes new epic weapons that do huge amounts of damage–with the caveat that you also have to have high stats to use them. This is a mod that definitely rewards a balanced party in which the fighter types specialize in different weapons and have trained with that weapon from early in the game.
Nor does WR neglect the magic system. The mod also includes some new high-level spells that, while they won’t take down a big boss, will do better than the vanilla ones with the henchmen. Unlike the earliest Wizardry games, Wizardry 8 has a consistent problem with offensive magic losing effectiveness during the late game. No mod completely mitigates this problem, but WR makes a good effort. (You may wish to take a look at the comments for an alternative view of offensive magic in the vanilla game. It appears there are some strategies that make it much more effective than I had previously thought.)
Which Mod Is Right for You?
I like all of them, but different players will have different tastes. Here are some quick reminders of the most obvious features.
If you want a playing experience as close to the original game as possible, CC is the one for you. The one you’re least likely to like is WR, since it departs most radically from the original.
If you want a longer, richer playing experience, WR is the best bet, but DS and DSM are also worth a look.
If you want a more nuanced society with all kinds of new factions, DS is the best choice.
If you want the most sophisticated crafting system, DSM is the best choice.
If you want the widest possible variety of RPCs, with choices even at the beginning of the game, DS is the best choice.
If you want modern weapons to reach their full potential, WR is the best choice.
If you want the hardest possible encounters, WR has the toughest boss fights. DSM has the toughest random encounters by late game.
All of the mods lead to longer game play, enable you to reach higher character levels than you’re likely to in vanilla, and have a wider variety of experiences.
By their nature, mods increase the possibility of a game crash, and the more elaborate the modifications, the more likely you’ll hit an occasional glitch. You can reduce this problem by saving frequently.
What Comes Next?
Looking for more mods? This post doesn’t include mods I haven’t played yet, like Flamestryke’s and Lunastrilis. I’ll add them once I’ve played them.
The developer of White Wolf has more time now and may make a final version of the White Wolf mod, definitely something to look forward to from what I’ve read. Earlier versions are still available, but the discussions I’ve seen suggest that they have some glitches, though they are apparently playable. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, since this mod does have some very innovative features and would be well worth a final version.
Qusari wanted to come out with a new version of Wizardry Reforged but couldn’t find the time. However, Townltu, someone who worked closely with Qusari, has been working on a new version. Townltu knows the mod inside-out, going back to his days as a beta tester, and he’s putting a lot of work into it, so that’s definitely worth looking forward to.
Beyond that, good Wizardry 8 mods are so time-consuming to make that I doubt will see any more of them–unless of course a hardcore Wizardry 8 fan with enough time (maybe you?) takes up the challenge.