Friday, 4 June 2010

MMOing Kid-Style: Wizard101

Post soundtrack: “Cellophane” by Ashley Slater

Well, last week I was not playing WoW because I was playing Dragon Age: Origins.  This week I’m not playing WoW or Dragon Age: Origins because I’m playing kiddy MMO Wizard101.  You know what they say:  “Look! A distraction!”

Nothing quite like winning a pair of wings (albeit limited to 24-hours use) as a boss drop to give a positive impression.

I’d read references to the game on Escapist Scrawl, but something in her last post caught my attention and convinced me to give it a try.  After a day spent installing and cursing and reinstalling and waiting (and more waiting), it was installed.  (Reading the forums, I didn’t really get the impression my experiences were typical of the install process – I guess I was just lucky)

As far as the game itself goes…  Well, let’s just say you don’t play because of the intricate plot and well-defined characters.  Anyway, the game itself looks like a cross between Pokémon and Harry Potter, as designed by Disney.  Where my interest has been caught is in the gameplay mechanics, which brings to mind a simplified version of collectible card game Magic: the Gathering where combat is played out in 3d like a low-fidelity version of the Final Fantasy special attacks.

Combat is handled in a very casual manner, and isn’t instanced – it’s quite possible to see someone in combat in the street, and you can walk onto that section of the street to join in.  If there’s another enemy mob close enough, it will also join the fight, keeping things roughly equal.  Apparently this changes at higher levels, where you may be out-numbered if you attempt to attack mobs solo – I’m still doing introductory content, but signs point to an increasing level of challenge at higher levels.

This creature was summoned by a high-level player I grouped with for one fight.  It looked even more impressive in action.

The starting zones seem fairly well populated during the day – I haven’t been reading the chat much, but there’s far less of the trash-talking you see in WoW (helped to no end by the limited vocabulary that the chat system supports – if a word isn’t recognised in the systems dictionary, it just comes up as “…” in game).

Now, the game is a pay-to-play title, but it’s a lot less offensive (personally speaking) than Allods Online was.  In that game they manipulated the game mechanics to require purchase of in-game items (perfumes) to avoid some fairly awful death penalties.  Wizard101 is more like DDO, in having either a subscription or RMT transaction to unlock locations, and use of the in-game store (and their currency, “Crowns”, not to be confused with gold which is the standard game-world currency) for other purchases.

Unlike DDO, however, there are no free areas after the initial starting zones – you have to pay for all of the areas you wish to access (including the central hubs), either by subscription (with access that ends upon termination of the subscription) or purchase with crowns (giving permanent access for all areas that you buy on that account).

Pig Ninjas!

The only real benefit of a subscription (besides free PvP) is instant access to all areas ingame; outside of that, everything else in the store is purchased with crowns.  This means the usual: gold, elixirs, rare and unusual pets, mounts (both permanent and ‘rentals’ that last for a week), player transformations, limited-duration ‘henchmen’ (good for a single fight, as best I can tell), player equipment, player housing, and ‘booster packs’ of treasure cards (single-use cards for use in combat).  (Some store items can be purchased with gold, not needing crowns, but the prices are usually quite steep.  Most permanent items are crowns-only, however)

There are normally four purchase sizes, ranging from 2500 crowns for US$5, up to 30,000 crowns for US$50.  (At the time of writing there’s a special on, 60,000 crowns for US$60, but the offer should have expired by the time you’re reading this)

And on that note, let’s see how much it costs to unlock the existing areas, using the in-game store.  (This was calculated from the breakdown of areas as listed here on the Wizard101 site)

Area Total Crowns $5/$10 Buy $25 Buy $50 Buy
Wizard City 3000 $6 $5.45 $5
Krokotopia 11895 $23.79 $21.63 $19.83
Grizzleheim 9975 $19.95 $18.14 $16.63
Marleybone 12000 $24 $21.82 $20
Moo Shu 10800 $21.60 $19.64 $18
Dragonspyre 10800 $21.60 $19.64 $18
  Total $ cost: $116.94 $106.32 $97.46

Grand total: 58470 crowns, best price (when not on special) is US$100 to buy 2x 30k bundles.  For that $100 you could also purchase two 6-month subscriptions (or one 12-month subscription and buy 10k crowns on top of that).

(Incidentally if you’re not on a subscription, rated PvP is also for-pay.  It costs 80 crowns ($0.16) per match or 240 crowns ($0.48) for a 24 hour Day Pass.  ‘Practice” PvP is free, however.)

In combat, Kymma Raindreamer and pet dragon Queen Romeo vs a cyclops in Cyclops Lane.  (The cards in the middle of the screen are bigger when you mouse over them)

I purchased 2500 crowns on Weds, and powered through Cyclops Lane, Firecat Alley and Colossus Blvd yesterday and today.  I’m divided about whether to sink so much money into purchasing areas permanently (as I do like the idea of having permanent access to the game content), or to simply subscribe (as my power-leveling play-style usually doesn’t really lend itself to long-term play of a game, and that’s a lot of money).

I’m probably going to take the responsible route, and subscribe for a month and see how it goes – the game is quite fun so far, but after only a few days I’m up to level 15 (the maximum is 50) and the second major area of Krokotopia (having picked up the feeder quests after finishing all the Wizard City quests outside of Sunken City).  But I’ve managed to dig up a little more money to put on my credit card, which I’ll put into buying crowns to purchase the Krokotopia hub and the first couple of areas – hopefully that’ll tide me over until payday next week (although I’ve a second wizard rolled and ready to level up if the need arises).

I’ve also been playing the Wizard101 tie-in game on my ipod touch, WizardBlox.  It’s a nifty (and free!) match-3 title that’s based on one of the mini-games playable within the MMO.  The MMO version suffers from not scaling with screen-size, so you’re left with a small game window in the middle of your screen (not a great look on a big screen with aging eyes).  The app version, however, is very nicely put together and benefits a lot from the touch-screen interface.  And the tie-in aspect comes from being awarded codes after each game which you can redeem in Wizard101 for gold, elixirs, and other useful (albeit randomly chosen) items for your characters.

Incidentally, if you have an ipod touch or iphone and like free games, you might like to keep these three pages bookmarked:

  • TouchArcade has a page that lists new games and games discounted (often free, although sometimes the free games are simply the trial versions).
  • OpenFeint has a free game of the day (quite often good ones).
  • FreeAppADay also features a free game each day, but the quality sometimes varies.

Aside from MMOs, I’m looking forward to the release of Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers on Steam sometime this month.  I’ve been a fan of the card game since not long after it was released, but my interest waned as the game collapsed under the weight of its many, many expansions.  However this looks to be a ‘good parts’ version, which looks to be approachable for a new player (or returning player, such as myself) while still sufficiently deep to retain the challenge of the larger game.

Well, it’s getting late (and cold), so I think it’s time to wrap this up.