The Great Campaign Ch. V – Wizardry I (1981)

Part of the Great Campaign – A Playthrough of the Greatest RPGs Ever

Previous RPG: Rogue (1980)
Next RPG: Ultima IV – Quest of the Avatar (1985)

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Developer: Sir-Tech
Release Year: 1981 (“Forerunner” title)

My Playthrough:

  • System: PC (DOS box)
  • Version: DOS (1984)
  • Hours Played: ~5
  • Completion Status: Played

Legacy

Wizardry drew inspiration primarily from Dungeons & Dragons as well as the 1977 RPG Oubliette. That being said, Wizardry was one of the first truly comprehensive D&D-inspired games, and one of the first big commercial RPG successes. It went on to be the start of an 8-game series spanning 20 years, and helped inspire everything from later dungeon crawler RPGs to Dragon Quest.

Where’s the RPG?

Wizardry is a classic RPG through-and-through. It’s mechanics are based on tabletop-RPGs, with 8 classes to choose from, multiple races, and a bevy of statistics to sort through such as Strength and Agility. You start the game by forming a party of adventurers, seeking to balance out melee fighters with magic-users and support characters. In the story department, there is limited narrative or dialogue – not surprising for a game of its time. The also-limited lore revolves around adventurers exploring a labyrinthine maze in search of treasures and the like.

The game is based around dungeon-crawling and exploring the maze. You’ll find monsters and treasure alike. Combat is handled in a turn-based fashion with party members and enemies switching off attacking and using spells. Party members can gain experience and level up, and the party can be customized with a variety of equipment and spells.

Wizardry shares many similarities with the other big RPG of its day, Ultima. Overall, it definitely fits into the category of “dungeon crawler” style RPG which was popular at the time.

My thoughts

I was excited to try Wizardry, because I now understand how much of a legacy the game has. For all of these 80’s games thus far, the manual has basically been required reading, and Wizardry’s manual does not disappoint. Reminding me of a Dungeons & Dragons source book, it’s filled with funny little drawings, interesting descriptions, and lots of very useful gameplay information. I really appreciate how the developers really attempted to emulate a tabletop RPG setting with this one. I love creating characters, thinking about organizing my party into different classes, gathering equipment, and the like. The various keyboard inputs for doing different tasks were not too difficult to learn, as most text as an indication of which button you need to press to activate that function (unlike Rogue, for instance).

I followed much of the manual’s instructions to a T, more or less because it said if I didn’t I’d “have a bad time”. I’m sure an experienced player would be able to fill out their party in a variety of ways, but I went with a basic set up of two fighters, two mages, a priest, and a thief. There are also elite classes that sound pretty cool to have in your party, but have a handful of prerequisites to create. After arming myself and doing all the preparation necessary, I headed into the “maze” – the sprawling dungeon and focus of the game.

The trickiest thing about exploring the Maze is that you, the player, must manually map out the dungeon as you go along, or you WILL get lost. This relatively common for games of this sort at the time. I actually had some fun doing this, despite it being tedious, and it made me feel confident in where I was going most of the time. Battles are pretty standard for turn-based RPGs, with attacks and spells going back and forth. It felt like a solid system overall.

The graphics are definitely dated, but the maze and enemies that show up are displayed in front of you as you move through the Maze. It’s unfortunate that you can’t see your own characters but again, that was typical for this time.

Overall, playing Wizardry was a fun novelty that I sunk a few hours into. I can tell this game by modern standards would absolutely be a grind, especially considering the manual map-making aspect, but I can really appreciate the mechanical depth that went into the game. This would be a game I could see many players getting totally lost into in 1981, just as gamers today get lost in the worlds of the Elder Scrolls and the Witcher. It doesn’t hold up truly well today, but for the time, it seems like a true gem.

Verdict

Retrospective Quality: 5/5
– A detailed, tabletop-inspired role-playing game circa 1981. I can only imagine how invested players got into this game. This level of detail, plus the party aspect and descriptive visuals, for the time, make this a true classic.
Timelessness: 1/5
– Brutal difficulty, required manual map-making, limited battle options, and obviously dated visuals make Wizardry an antiquated experience in the modern era.
RPG Soul: 5/5
– A game that captures much of the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons, you’ll find diverse classes, various statistics, turn-based combat, dungeon crawling, spells, and more RPG foundations here.
Influence: 5/5
–  Wizardry, along with the Ultima series, had a profound effect on RPG development in the 80’s and beyond. Both Western and Eastern game devs took inspiration from the classic.

Great Campaign Level: Lv. 16 Champion

Thanks for reading!

-Brandon

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