We recently had a chance to visit KingsIsle's Austin studios (they've taken up residence in a corner of the complex formerly inhabited by Origin Systems) and enroll in the Ravenwood School for the Magical Arts for a day to get a feel for the game. Though this game is aimed at kids ("tweens" that are too old for the likes of Club Penguin but too young for their parents to feel comfortable letting them loose in Barrens chat), its turn-based combat system and trading card game elements may interest you, too. So what makes Wizard101 different from the proliferation of MMOs on the market? A few elements of the game caught our eye...
KingsIsle plans to keep things kid-friendly from character creation to the level cap.We're a long way from the Barrens! Naming options are restricted to pre-defined mix-and-match selections. When chatting, users are again restricted to pre-defined selections. However, there are enough options available for basic conversation and gameplay, from telling people you're interesting in doing specific quests to thanking people for a group.
If you're interested in more open chatting, the game will also allow you to enter your own messages, either filtered against a whitelist of words and phrases or completely free -- your ability to do so is controlled at the account level, allowing parents to control what their kids' can say and see. No matter what the person standing next to you is saying, you'll only see the portions of it deemed acceptable by your current chat settings.
The heart of Wizard101's combat system is a card game. As you level up, you acquire spells in the form of cards and collect treasure cards from monsters you defeat in combat. If you've played a collectible trading card game in the past, you should be familiar with what happens next: you pick and chose your best cards to build a deck of cards to crush your enemies. Though we didn't have enough playtime to refine our deck-building strategies, the game felt similar to many a physical TCG we've played in the past -- only with much more entertaining spell casting animations.
You begin combat by drawing a hand of cards. You chose a card, pay the price in mana and pips (you gain one pip per round of combat -- so there will be some spells you can cast immediately and other spells you'll have to wait several turns to cast). As you might have guessed by now, combat here is turn-based. Each person in combat takes turn casting spells until the combat is resolved. (To keep things moving, there is a timer on deciding your action, as seen in bright red above the hand of cards in the image above.)
Above, you see the combat system in action. As you can see, most spells allow you to summon powerful creatures, all of which have unique animations (with variations from summon to summon.) But there are a multitude of different creatures you can learn to summon, such as the tree, below
And the unicorn, below.
And like any good card game, there's a player vs. player element where you test your skills against other wizards-in-training in a duel. Once you've tired of combat, finished your quests, and exhausted your mana pool, however, it's time to head back to town to collect your rewards.
In town you'll find mini-games with a practical purpose in the game world -- spending some time playing them in the fairgrounds restores your mana after combat! But they're also... well... just plain fun! These classic game lookalikes are simple and compelling. We probably spent as much time playing the mini-games as we spent playing the game proper
We have to say that our favorite part of the game is the art style -- especially the doodle-y, stick figure art style found in the mini-games and the game's maps. We're pretty sure we made the same sorts of doodles in the margins of our schoolbooks when we were younger.
We don't know exactly when Wizard101 will be going in to beta, if we've piqued your interest, you can sign up now. In the meantime, here at Massively we'll be looking for the next opportunity to get our hands on this unusual turn-based, card-based MMO.