Wizard101 is a massively multiplayer game that really deserves the moniker of being "fun for the whole family." The gist of the game is that you are a young wizard in training who is sent off into the many worlds of the Spiral to stop an evil wizard’s plans to destroy..well, everything. Character creation begins with a series of questions designed to put you in a school of magic tailored to your personality. This step can be skipped if you already have a school in mind or simply don’t feel like answering silly questions. A bit of character customization and you are set off into the world of Wizard City.
For those at all familiar with other MMO’s you will find the game play to be similar to what you’ve seen before. The series of quests to kill x number of baddies to get to your next level to get the next piece of gear are all still there. There are some key bits where Wizard101 differs that make it ideally suited for maintaining the enjoyment of kids and the sanity of their parental units (ie us).
- Chit Chat: The chat system in Wizard101 is filtered. By filtered I mean that anything resembling an even moderately dirty thought will come out as a lot of muted thinking or stumbling blips of nonsense. Some phrases are taboo as well, such as asking someone how old they are. This really wouldn’t get you anywhere anyway since you apparently cannot utter any number other than 1. Spelling will have to be on the ball since any misspellings will not get passed the filtration. While this may irritate some players, it does have its advantages. You will never have to hear another played out Leroy Jenkins or Chuck Norris joke in game ever again. Well, at least until you hop back on WoW.
It’s casual Friday all week long: Wizard101 is great for casual gamers on several levels. In areas where monsters roam there are sidewalks that, for one reason or another, the nasty little beasts either can’t go or actively ignore. This means that if the phone rings or your kid needs to do the dishes you can run off to the side area to log off without risk of getting attacked. The grouping system also makes for great casual play as there really isn’t one. The combat is turn based and when you run into a monster you and the beast square off in a circular battlefield. Anyone can run into that circle and join the fray at anytime. The same experience, quest rewards and loot are giving to all participants in a battle so no worrying about kill stealing. Once the battle is done players may go back to soloing without the awkward goodbye.
What about the Twinkie?: There is no real way for players to get free rides with high level gear in this game. Clothing and wands cannot be traded between players. You could get some pricey cards from a high level (or a ton of gold for that matter) but at the lowest levels they wouldn’t do you any good. Not that you couldn’t use them but you’d likely be able to kill mobs just as quickly using your regular set of spells. It’s a bit like killing an ant with a sledge hammer only there’s likely another ant who will be nibbling on your bum. In the time it takes you to swing that beast of a thing you could have used a tissue to deal with both of them.
There is a lot to like about the game but as in all things there is still room for improvement.
The robustness of the card game play lacks robustness. While I was only able to make it to level 14 the cards I could see on the horizon didn’t offer much more than more than the usual dealing of damage or healing of damage. On more than one occasion I found myself yearning for some chain of spells to tie together. Magic the Gathering this is not. Whether the target audience of tweens and teenagers will even notice this deficiency remains to be seen.
Another issue is the turn based combat. As in many turn based games with spell animations things start off being cool, then tolerable and soon slide into the realm of irritating. All the monsters seem to be using the same spells as the wizards, so that evil snowman busting out of the icy field gets boring fast. Sure it’s mild compared to some of the Final Fantasy games, but certainly still present.
When all is said and done, Wizard101 is an MMO made for kids that their parents will want to play. The open beta is coming to a close soon, so if you would like to dip your toe in the water you better do it fast. No word on an official release date or pricing other than it will be a free download with a monthly fee. If you are itching to get you child into an online universe this is the one for you.