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Control & Gameplay
Sensibly (I guess) they used a variant of the first person shooter standard control scheme for Wizardry. They DID have to modify it, since you need to be able to mouse around the interface a lot. So all you do to use the mouse to look around and turn is hold down the right mouse button, which hardly takes any getting used to at all. And the normal arrow-cross keys on the keyboard will handle movement. There are keyboard shortcuts for most functions, but the mouse interface is a lot more intuitive.
Combat can take place in two modes, depending on the player's preference. "Continuous" mode reminds me of putting everything on autopilot; there is no pause between each turn. Instead, everything flows smoothly, without interruption. Commands can be given to a character at any time, but will only be executed when that character's turn comes up in battle. This can be REALLY nice, especially for all those "little" battles where all you want to do is beat on the enemies until they die, without wasting any magic or items, but it's important to keep a close eye on things when in a serious fight. And I will say right away that most of the fights in Wizardry 8 count as "serious."
The other combat mode available is known as "Phased" combat. In this mode, combat is divided into turns, during which each character/enemy will perform his or her selected action at a particular point, depending on their speed and initiative ratings, just as in continuous combat. The difference here is that it's divided into "phases" which basically constitute turns or rounds. When the phase is over, everything stops, and you have time to carefully look at your characters, and the position and health of the enemy, and give everyone new orders before hitting the "go" button to start the next round. SirTech made an excellent decision with these two combat modes, knowing that some players might prefer one over the other. They also went the extra mile and made it EXTREMELY easy to switch between the two modes, by placing a button for that very function in the lower right-hand corner of the screen during battle (it doubles at the "Begin Phase" button in phased combat mode.
Combat is very intuitive, so long as you keep your head about you. Weapons have specific ranges, and whether you can hit an enemy will depend on where the enemy is, and where in your formation the character is. It's also important to keep track of the direction a character is facing, since attacks to someone's back will deal extra damage.
Dealing damage to the enemy's back isn't readily available to anyone in your party however, because the party either moves as a unit or doesn't move at all. This is one of the few parts of the game I didn't like, especially since SirTech has plenty of experience with movement-based combat, by creating the Jagged Alliance series. A miniature version of this engine could have been used as a combat engine to give the combat even more depth with a near-zero increase in learning curve. I sat in combat simply LONGING for the ability to move my characters individually, instead of huddling in a group while 12 enemies surrounded us. Luckily, at that point, I had recruited 2 nice NPCs into my party, and the battle was taking place in a town, where (to my great surprise) some guy jumped into the fight on our side. Not only that, but this town had its own security forces, and they came running into the fray as well.
Designating enemy targets is a simple matter of point and click, so long as they are within your current weapon's range. Your characters will remember their selections from last turn when playing in phased combat mode and will automatically attack the same target again unless given orders to the contrary. Spells are one-shot deals: when they're cast, the character will go back to defending or melee combat (whichever was the last action) automatically. However, there is a quick-access button that will order the spellcaster to cast the same spell at the same target as previously done.
The magic system here is one of the more complex ones, given the game's style (which seems to be closer to console-style RPGs like Final Fantasy). There are six spell "classes" which contain several spells. Each spell has several power levels at which it can be cast, and the chances of successfully casting the spell decreases as the power level goes up. However, the interface gives you a quick visual guide...the buttons for the levels range from green (100% chance of casting) to red (is your insurance paid up?).
The chances are dependent on several factors, so it's important to pay attention to which spells you cast often when leveling up. Spells have several effect areas, from a single enemy or ally, to a conical area of effect, all the way up to hitting everything around.
When your characters increase their level, they get a certain number of points to add to their current stats. But where they go is NOT automatically decided; instead, you as the player must decide. This means that if you want your Mage to be able to swing a club and actually do something you can add some Strength, but keep in mind that adding points to Fire magic will not help you in casting your Divine spells. Speaking of spells, you also decide which spells your characters will learn when they level up (or you can save your "spell picks" for later levels).
Equipping and using items is easy during normal play, but somewhat more difficult in combat. In combat, characters seem to mainly be limited to using whatever items might be in their own inventory, and the Equip command must be given before that round of combat starts for each character. But outside of combat it's simply a matter of click and drag, while right-clicking to see extended information about whatever item is under your pointer. Items hat can not be used by the currently selected characters have a red background, so it's easy to tell with a glance whether you should keep this item around or give it to someone else to hold. Characters are restricted to 8 item slots, plus whatever weapons and armor they might have equipped (there is also a limit to how much weight they can carry). The party inventory bag seems to have no item limit though, and can be filtered and organized by type of item.
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