Blast from the Past: Wizardry 8, Part 2

Here is the update on Wizardy 8 mods that I promised long ago. (If you found this post before reading the original one and want to read it first, you can find it here).

Lunastrilis

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This is the mod Qusari did before Reforged, and many of the added areas are basically the same as those that he used in Reforged. However, because he changed the plot considerably, Reforged doesn’t include some Lunastrilis elements that have a charm of their own. It’s definitely worth at least a playthrough–assuming you like modern weapons.

Unlike Reforged, Lunastrilis begins on the monastery beach just like the vanilla game. But you are immediately confronted by a djinn that has been temporarily possessed by the Astral Dominae so that the AD can ask you for help.

That’s just a sample of the creative touches in Lunastrilis that didn’t make it into Reforged. Did you ever wonder why the only signs of the crashed ship are a few scraps of metal here and there? If you look out to sea, you will notice smoke rising from the crashed ship, a large part of which is sticking out of the water. Yes, the crashed ship is an explorable area in this mod. That and the djinn encounter once the AD lets it go starts you off with a few levels worth of experience. The mod isn’t by any means as massive a redo as Reforged, but there are definitely surprises, even for Reforged players.

The one drawback is that the mod emphasizes modern weapons so heavily that it dictates the makeup of the party more than I’d like. The suggestion I saw on Postcounts for an all-ranged party (three rangers, two gadgeteers, and a bishop, with Vi and Sparkle as the RPCs) didn’t make sense to me until I played Lunastrilis. Unlike Reforged, which has great modern weapons but also a lot of other great gear, Lunastrilis provides a huge range of powerful modern weapons but doesn’t make getting a great non-modern weapon any more frequent than in vanilla. In other words, good luck finding any epic swords or bows.

You can see the rationale behind the all-ranged party: almost all modern weapons in the mod are ranged, and certain PC classes have no modern weapon skill (all the primary casters, bishops, samurais, ninjas, monks, bards, and rogues). Rangers are preferable to others because they get the ranged critical hit ability. The single bishop is there mostly because sometimes a high-level caster is needed. The mod would be better if it offered more support for different playing styles, but, as I said, it’s still worth at least one playthrough–more if you like the modern weapon emphasis. And you can vary the pattern a little, since fighters, lords, and valkyries also have modern weapon skill. 

White Wolf’s Mod

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The mod designed by Frostguard (earlier known as White Wolf) is just as ambitious as Reforged. The beginning doesn’t vary as much as Reforged in that the game still begins on the monastery beach. However, Thywann the priest is waiting there to join your party, and you’ll find another RPC and some additional quests in the monastery.

Frostguard designed the mod so that the areas he added could be skipped if someone wanted to stick more closely to the original plot structure. Personally, I wouldn’t skip any of them, but it’s nice for the modder to give players choices. In any case, as with the monastery, you’ll find a lot of different equipment, shops and quests in the original areas. For instance, Arnika now has a thieves’ guild with an excellent store, opportunities for assassination quests–don’t worry, the targets are all evil–and some lucrative equipment quests. Right across the street is a magic guild that sells every single spell book, though the prices are steeper than elsewhere. There’s also a subversive religious cult–dedicated to another fallen cosmic lord, Wanir–that you have to infiltrate at the request of monastery school’s headmaster. Other vanilla areas have been enhanced as well.

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WW is the kind of mod that gives you great gear and scales up the monsters accordingly.  For example, you’ll run across large groups of ninjas that are not only deadly fighters but also high-level alchemists. If they don’t critically hit you with their shurikens, they may kill you with their quicksand and tsunami spells.

The modifications in the vanilla areas by themselves would make the mod worth playing. But the added areas are nothing short of spectacular. Frostguard, who seems to have a dwarf fixation, included several new dwarven areas: Khyz Muril, Khyz Amul, Muraz Baryk, and Dul Baradir. They can be reach through the mountain wilderness and in turn lead to other areas, such as the Northern Wastes (a winterscape where it is constantly snowing) and the Witharin Mountains (featuring an otherworldly night sky). As before, the treasure is great, but so are the challenges.

Among other things, there is an NPC in one of these areas that sells training books. This is a feature designed for players who find a great weapon but haven’t trained anyone to use that kind of equipment. So if you find a great ax, and no one in the party has the skill to use it effectively, never fear.

Please note that the version of WW on Snafaru’s page is a very early one. For the latest version, go here (near the end of the thread). You can also find some help for the more puzzling aspects of the quests. It’s safe to say that some things that seemed obvious to Frostguard are not obvious to most people. There are hints elsewhere in the mod for the really trying puzzles, but you might never make the connection on your own. I think the thread linked above probably covers the areas where you might get stuck.

There is still one flaw which the bugfixes in the thread above haven’t yet fixed. The two keys [Wanir’s Key (#1275) and  Suzerain’s Key (#1277)] that combine to form the key to Nyrgithia, are supposed to be dropped by Wanir and the Suzerain of Malificence, but they aren’t included in their loot. Using Mad God’s Cosmic Forge, you can easily add these two items to the Suzerain’s loot and resolve the issue. The screenshot shows you the page in monster editor where you can get the job done.

This may sound like a nuisance, but there are excellent reasons to do it, not the least of which are the great battles and the absolute best gear I’ve ever seen in a Wizardry 8 mod.

These small issues aside, White Wolf is definitely worth playing. Like Reforged, you’ll probably find yourself playing it again and again.

Wizardry 8 Expanded

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Just when I was beginning to despair of ever seeing a new Wizardry mod again, along comes Frankie Stardust’s Wizardry 8 Expanded, a mod every bit as ambitious and imaginative as Reforged and White Wolf.

It may also have the distinction of being the one with the longest gestation period. Frankie has been working on and off on it for twenty years. That accounts for the sweeping nature of its revision of vanilla. Reforged retextured some areas, like Arnika. Expanded retextures them all, for a new look and feel everywhere. Frankly, the vanilla areas look better than they did in the vanilla game, and the new areas look excellent as well. (The featured image is a screen shot of a portal room that connects to locations not served by the T’rangsporter.)

Expanded also includes a massive number of new creatures, so many that you’d need several playthroughs just to see all the randomly placed ones. These also are largely done with new graphics. Since some of them are derived from other gaming communities, they don’t all look as if they belong in the same universe, but I found myself getting used to that really quickly. Anyway, I know from my own (abortive) experience as a modder that it’s hard to find consistent graphics, especially considering that no one these days designs for Wizardry 8. I’d rather see new images that fit the new creatures than recycled old ones that don’t. 

Expanded also breaks new ground in that all the new RPCs and NPCs are voiced. (I seem to recall one mod in the Russian community with new voices, but this is the first one available in English to take that step.) The voices are synthetic, so they don’t have the emotional range the original voice actors brought to vanilla and can occasionally sound odd. But for what they are, they serve well. It is certainly better than watching silent NPCs flapping their mouths.

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Expanded isn’t quite as ambitious about new areas as Reforged or White Wolf, but there is ample new content. For instance, the monastery has evidently been vacant long enough for an evil cult to build a headquarters in it. A group of undead has similarly usurped some space near the prison cells in the lower monastery. A group of necromancers has created a residence near the cupola on monastery beach. And fish men have created a little society above the waterfall.

 Expanded also changes the basic mechanics of the game more than either Reforged or White Wolf. For instance, there is now a much wider variety of ammunition. The gadgeteer can’t use bullet stones anymore but has a whole new range of bullets specifically designed for the omnigun. Each type of spellcaster also has specialized ranged weapons and ammo. In addition, a fishing system (with the monastery fish men selling the equipment) is also included, though I haven’t tried it out yet.

The classes and races have also been tweaked a little. A couple (the bard with the stunning sax and the bishop with the bishop’s amulet that casts magic missile) now have better starting equipment.  Elves now share with the faeries the faster mana recovery. Faeries are even more restricted on what they can equip but have their own shop in Arnika that gives them nice (but expensive) equipment.

Rogues can now use modern weapons and have what used to be the lord’s dual weapon specialty. They also get some new, powerful daggers, some of which are available early. Fighters don’t get as many hit points and can’t access as many weapons. This shift is compensated for to some extent by quite a few strong axes and maces that are exclusive to fighters. Lords get a big boost in hit points, making them perfect tanks, while most classes get a smaller but noticeable boost.

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However, in contrast to Reforged and White Wolf, Expanded compensates for far better than vanilla gear not just with tougher monsters, but also a certain amount of nerfing beyond the fighter’s lower hit points. For instance, defensive spells like missile shield and magic screen now cost more and last a very short time. The razor cloak spell has been made more powerful, but casters can no longer learn it. They are confined to using potions.  Summoning is the same way, except that it’s limited to scrolls rather than potions. These changes are compensated for to some extent by giving the bard a drum of razor cloak and the gadgeteer a robot builder. There are a few other charge-based artifacts for summoning as well.

In addition, monks and ninjas can no longer learn stealth. They are now dependent on improving equipment to gain stealth.

I was skeptical of these changes, though they generally work out all right in actual practice. I’m still skeptical of the new area-of-effect spells (to which monsters have far better access than PCs). AOE poison, for example, can enable an opponent to poison your whole party–and not just with the relatively mild poisons from vanilla. Some of these poisons can take off thirty points a round. (Divine casters with heal all and others with amulets of healing are a must.) There’s also an AOE draining spell that drains hit points, forcing you to invest a lot of money on renewal potions.

The game is still winnable, even with these changes. One just has to be careful when approaching unknown monsters. A lot of critters you wouldn’t think of as spell casters can do some casting in this mod. It’s also important to use the eye for an eye spell early in combat. With any luck, the AOE poisoners will poison themselves!

Frankie is willing to listen to input and made some changes between version 1.0 and 1.1 that have balanced the mod better. It’s still tough, but the odds of the party being overwhelmed without a real chance to fight back have been greatly reduced.

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Another significant improvement in 1.1 is a reduction in crash-to-desktop situations. There are still four areas to watch out for, three of which are definitely battles that take a level 20 or higher party. The first is the pyramid. Until 1.2 comes out, just skip it. One of the creatures in there will provoke a ctd if it is on screen for more than one round. The second is the nearby bandit camp. There the key is to save right before the main battle. That battle is a long one and has a tendency to crash, but whereas it took me twenty-five times to get through it in 1.0, it now takes only two or three. The third is the sea caves opening battle, which is much tougher than in vanilla. Like the bandit camp, it has a creature that keeps summoning skeletons, which I suspect is the problem. In this case, that’s the banshee. Kill it early to avoid a ctd. The fourth is the fish leader’s headquarters in the underwater city. The fish leader summons–wait for it–skeletons. However, this area seems a little more stable than the others. In any case, you’re unlikely to be able to knock out the fish leader as fast as you could the banshee. It’s best to move to one side of the door and let the enemy forces come to you. When you’ve thinned them out, make a charge for the fish leader (who tends to move closer to the door as the battle progresses). Once you kill him, mop up whoever’s left, skeletons first if possible. 

If anyone is tempted to grumble about having to deal with issues like this, it is important to understand how modding works on a game as old as Wizardry 8.  Unlike games such as Neverwinter Nights,  Wizardry 8 wasn’t designed with modding in mind and isn’t at all a friendly environment for it. The more ambitious the mod, the better a chance that the old game engine will act up with unpredictable results. As with other mods, it’s important to save often in Expanded, just in case. But I’ve found the mod is more than worth the occasional technical difficulty.

Since this mod is relatively new, I’ll add a few suggestions regarding party composition.

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As you notice from the screenshot in the featured image, I use a deployment patterns once I have my RPCs recruited that pushes party members toward the front and has one character on each flank, able to strike toward front or back with an extended range weapon. This enables a party to make as many close-range strikes as possible. When it comes to picking RPCs, that makes Vi Domina desirable because of a Valkyrie’s polearm bonus. It’s also good to have your RPCs in place early to have as long as possible to develop them, particularly in a mod like this one, where most of area restrictions are removed. Since this mod adds no new RPCs, the only ones available early enough are Vi, Myles, Sparkle, and Saxx. Since this mod has a great spear useable only by a Trynnie, Sparkle becomes the obvious choice as the other flanker. (Madras is available later–in this mod, much later–and gadgeteers don’t gain skill with polearms.)

In the past, I’ve generally used one bishop, but I’m coming around to the notion that it’s better to have two in a mod like this, where healing and buffing are so important. It is also be a good idea to have all four spell schools covered, but a bishop trying to be equally strong in all four would advance very slowly. With two, each specializing in two different spell schools, it’s possible to get to the highest spells around character level 19 or 20. I have one do wizardry and psionics, while the other does divinity and alchemy. I find this to be a nice combination, but I’m sure other arrangements would also work.

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One of my bishops is a faerie and one is an elf. the faerie uses a faerie distance weapon once he can afford it and a whip of pain (extended range). The elf uses a quarter staff and has the new little monster as a distance weapon. But both are spellcasting most of the time. Items that boost mana recovery normally also lower armor class, but they are worth it.

If you use two bishops, that leaves four spaces. Because of the unique capabilities of the bard and the gadgeteer in this mod, you’ll probably want them to be two of those four.

Focus the gadgeteer on modern weapon skill, ranged combat, and engineering. It’s not a bad idea to give the gadgeteer a quarter staff for when he’s out of ammo. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good quarter staffs for gadgeteers, so damage will be minimal. (Edit: the Stick of Grandeur, a guaranteed treasure that doesn’t show up until fairly late, can be used by any class and race. With a range of 8-30 damage, The gadgeteer has access to some decent swords, but unless the party is attacked from the rear or is surrounded, the gadgeteer isn’t going to be close enough to make any hits. As the game progresses, though, you can accumulate a lot of gadgeteer ammo, both from the Umpani base and the T’rang outpost. It’s unlikely you’ll run out by then. As the omnigun advanced, it can still use darts, arrows, and quarrels.

Naturally, focus the bard on music. Communication (to make better deals with stores) is also desirable. If you don’t have another lock picker, you need to develop that skill in the bard as well. But in this mod, you may also want to develop weapons capability. If you’ve been counting, in the configuration I use, you only have two slots available for front-line fighters. Even in vanilla, people sometimes put a bard armed with bloodlust in the front row. In this mod, you’ll find that the bard has a lot of sword and dagger choices, including one of the best swords in the game. (Bards also have polearm skill in this mod, but the only polearms they can use are spears and Trynnie spears, neither one of which is particularly impressive by late game.) Edit: After more play, I’m coming to the conclusion that the best bard melee weapons are the unbreakable guitar (10-40 damage) and the heavy unbreakable guitar (20-60). Both have a pretty good KO change, and both increase strength and music ability. They also have strength (50 and 60 respectively) as prerequisites, so plan accordingly. There are bard items that will help with these, and in the mod, the bard gets mace and flail skill, which is what the guitar melee weapons use. 

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That leaves the last two free spaces. I’ve tried a lord and a ninja in those positions, and I’ve also tried a fighter and a rogue. Either one seems viable. The lord-ninja combination gives you two more spell casters, the single biggest tank, and critical hits. The fighter-rogue combination gives you the fighter’s KO ability and the rogue’s backstab ability, as well as being able to offload the lockpicking to  the rogue. Good equipment choices are available for both combinations. Also, in this mod, the rogue gets modern weapon skill and has some decent choices for that, but the ninja doesn’t. However, there’s a better-than-normal supply of shurikens.

Alternatively, you can drop the bard and gadgeteer and have a fighter, a rogue, a lord, and a ninja. That makes you more destructive in combat but also more vulnerable to attack. You also lose access to some spells but gain more direct spellcasting. I favor keeping at least the bard, but as I’ve said, the game seems winnable either way.

 Shift every character who is proficient in modern weapons to them as soon as possible. (There are decent choices as early as the Umpani Base. I used to think I was better off keeping Sparkle on a bow, but the best modern weapons are generally better than the best bows, at least as far as I can tell.)

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If you have a fighter, train in ax, mace, and dual wielding. Train rogues in swords, daggers, and dual wielding. Maybe do the same with ninjas, though there are also good polearms for ninjas.  Train Vi and Sparkle in polearms. If you have a lord, train him in sword and shield to take best advantage of his tank nature.

Why am I not using the monk or the samurai? I probably could. There is at least one great quarter staff a monk could use. And samurais have some nice katana choices. I’m not sure they come out better than the other combat classes, but they’re doubtless worth a try. By the way, since shurikens are fairly plentiful in this mod, and a lesser boomerang shuriken is available early, so you might be able to run a monk and a ninja in the same party.

Edit: Attractive as the gadgeteer is, I’m currently playing a party in which I’m doing without. I miss the robot builder very much, but I don’t miss the extra weight in ammo the gadgeteer created. The ammo in this mod is great but very heavy. (My bard and gadgeteer were both running low an stamina much more often.) I’m running with a fighter-bard-thief front row, Vi and Sparkle on the flanks, and the two bishops and the ninja in the back row. Ninjas in this mod get great polearms, also useable by a monk (dragon glaive early to middle, ninja scythe middle to late). That means the ninja can melee well without being in the front row. it’s a configuration worth a try.

For other tips and more information about the mod, you can go here.

Other Mods

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Yes, there are other choices as well: Wizardry Ultimate, Dfortae’s Difficulty and Rebalance Mods, and Gray Tiefling’s Mod. I’ll provide a more thorough description than what appears below when I’ve had a chance to complete a playthrough.

That said, Wizardry Ultimate doesn’t look as if it’s my cup of tea, though it might be yours. (Playing preferences are very much a matter of individual taste.) WU makes the game more difficult by nerfing the party members to a much higher degree than Wizardry Expanded. For instance, specialist casters don’t start learning spells until level 2, bishops until level 4, and hybrids until level 10. From my point of view, that’s too constraining. But much more significant is the fact that  the game is locked on expert setting, meaning the character’s effective skills are much lower than what shows on the character sheet. It took real strategy to avoid being killed by the crabs on the monastery beach.  Swing, miss; swing, miss; swing, miss. I had to keep maneuvering until I could take on each one separately. There are some consolations, like more races getting dwarven damage reduction, but it still seems like a real grind to get anywhere.

Don’t let that discourage you from the mod if you like that kind of challenge. This mod has been very popular with many people, and it’s obvious a lot of time and effort has gone into the design. Whether you like it or not depends on what kind of playing experience you like best. It’s also important to note that I haven’t played the mod much. Perhaps even I would be won over if I’d had the whole experience.

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Gray Tiefling’s mod also nerfs the characters to some extent, but not as drastically. My impression from the part I’ve played is that it’s a low gold, low experience mod, so that it takes longer to make progress. However, it’s also very imaginative. There’s a new training region at the beginning, and it’s hard to talk to anyone without getting a new quest. There are also many new weapons, particularly for the martial arts classes, as well as some new RPCs. My first impression is that the gaming environment is rich and worth exploring in greater depth.

I had intended to finish a playthrough before doing this post, but I decided to wait until later. That’s because the mod was originally composed in Russian, and the English localization is only partly completely. The quests have been translated, so the mod is technically playable, but an English-speaking player would miss out on what is obviously a detailed new back story. Also, there seem to be a few potential bugs that I think may be cleared up. I’m looking forward to playing the next release. Meanwhile, you can track the ongoing discussion here

Which one of these mods is my favorite? My playing style seems most compatible with White Wolf, Reforged, and Wizardry Expanded, at least so far. But all the ones I’ve had a chance to get into are worth playing. Gray Tiefling will probably get added to that list at some point. Who knows what else might get added in the future? I thought the era of new developments in Wizardry 8 modding was over, but I was certainly wrong about that.  There could be another surprise right around the corner.

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