Wizardry: The Knight of Diamonds – The Second Scenario

Wizardry: The Knight of Diamonds – The Second Scenario
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Game Name: Wizardry: Knight of Diamonds
Platforms: Apple II
Publisher(s): Sir-Tech
Developer(s): Sir-Tech
Genre(s): First Person Dungeon Crawler
Release Date: 1982
Availability: Second-hand

You didn’t need the benefit of time to declare Wizardry an influential hit. It was popular on release and stayed that way, so a sequel was definitely going to be in the cards. Yet it seems clear that at least one was always planned. See, Wizardry’s original structure is divided into “game” and “scenario” disks loaded in sequence. Presumably, you were supposed to buy Wizardry and then could buy new scenario disks in coming years. For whatever reason, it doesn’t function this way (you can’t mix original “game” and sequel “scenario” disks), but as far as content goes, that definitely feels like what they were going for with The Knight of Diamonds. Virtually nothing about the original gets changed here. Featuring only a new maze, plot, and handful of new items, it feels a lot like an early expansion pack.

Knight of Diamonds is for veteran players, so it’s not pulling any punches.

You’re also going to need to have played the first. Despite being a standalone game in function, Knight of Diamonds expects you to import characters from the original game. There is no character creation ability here whatsoever – only the first Wizardry can make new ones. Further, you cannot progress past the first floor without the Mage’s teleport spell, granted at around level 13. Enemies on the first floor are tuned to players around that level (as the character importer warns), so don’t think you can just make some brand new Level 1 characters and kick them over. Remember also that permadeath is in full force in these games. In this case, it means if your party dies here and you’re playing honest, you would have to go back and make a new party in the original, grind them up far enough that they could beat the original again, and only then port them to the sequel.

Early Wizardry is absolutely fascinating for these sorts of crazy, archaic decisions that assume a stunning level of commitment and free time. Sure, you can – and should! – make a backup of the scenario disk to restore your characters. Tools within the game allow you to do this. But if anything goes wrong, in game or with your physical media, you are hosed in a way that astounds from a modern perspective. On top of this, the characters that you port over are deleted from the first Wizardry and can never go back. Hope you’ve grabbed everything you wanted first!

The original Apple II Wizardry does another interesting bit. When you beat it, you have to give up all your inventory and most of your gold. Stoo’s Ring of Undead Protection? Gone. Uncle Dave’s deadly Muramasa Blade? Gone. This restriction is removed in later releases of the first game, but it makes some sense as the sole game in the series at that point. It’s clearly a way to encourage you to replay it in a sort of “New Game +” – you keep your levels, the main boss is gone, but go forth and loot some more. But when a sequel comes knocking and you haven’t touched the first game since you beat it, well, starting with all your best gear gone comes off a bit raw.

In this scenario, our brave lads find themselves in the kingdom of Lylgamyn. An evil baddie has done a thing, causing the fabled Knight of Diamonds’ six pieces of enchanted armor to become scattered across six levels of dungeon. As you’ll find through a message in the center of the first level, the goddess Gildna gives a simple task: reassemble the armor, bring it back to her, save the land. It’s a nicely focused task, giving you a reason to travel to and map all six levels. Culling those levels down from ten largely useless ones to six critical ones is greatly appreciated and makes exploring them feel less like busy work.

You can’t just collect the armor pieces – each one is a tough boss fight.

The first thing you’ll want to do is use the game disk to create a new scenario disk. You’re clearly not buying Knight of Diamonds new, while the same uploaded copy appears to be passed around the various abandonware sites. This copy has already been beaten. I should have done this for the first Wizardry, but I got away with it because Werdna was programmed to appear if anyone who hadn’t beaten him was in the party. But for the sequel, the Knight’s armor pieces appear once, and when they’re taken, they’re gone. If you try to add some new characters to the downloaded scenario disk, you’ll never find the armor pieces because some other character has them or sold them. Make a new scenario disk before you start.

The Castle again acts as your base of operations, with its functions (and names) unchanged from the original. You still assemble your party at Gilgamesh’s Tavern. Boltac’s Trading Post sells exactly the same gear. In the Apple II version, you’ll bring all gold, experience, and weapons with you into the sequel. You can buy some basic gear at Boltac’s, but it’s probably a good idea to level and gear up in the first game before jumping to the second. While the first level has enemies (and XP gains) equivalent to the 9th or 10th levels in the original, the loot you get definitely isn’t on par and definitely doesn’t compensate the risk.

See, Knights of Diamonds wastes no time in trying to destroy you. You’ll fight Mages on the first level that can cast party-wide attacks that will annihilate low level characters. There’s Samurai that can land instant decapitations. I fought a Troll that had hit points somewhere in the hundreds. The game expects you and your party to have already earned all the tools and knowledge to beat it. If some party members die and you’re lucky enough to have some high level members left, they could probably chaperone some newly-created ones to leveling pretty quickly with the first level’s hefty rewards (battles earn somewhere between 7 and 14k XP). But if the whole party wiped, time to load that backup disk. If not, you’re starting over in the original.

Character age also starts to become an issue. You can heal your party by spending money at the castle’s Inn. A better room costs more, but heals at a faster rate. The catch is that your healing rate is measured in weeks and that time tacks on to your character’s age. This (and the cost) is why most players dip back into the dungeon to heal with their Priest, but if you were wealthy and lazy, you might have some pensioners in your party by now. If you changed your character’s class, or played a version of Wizardry I that retained the 10 year penalty for recovering an “out” party, then that’s another avenue for extra years. Point is, you’re more likely to have wizened characters by the sequel, and characters around 50 can actually start to die of old age. If your entire party carks it because they’re too old, you know where you have to go.

You’ll kick yourself when you find the answer.

Heading down into the dungeon, you’re treated to identical gameplay as the first. The wireframe walls still don’t detail anything other than doors, so squares with something important on them (stairs, a message, etc) only show when you step on them. There are no items to pick up, like the statues or the blue ribbon from the first. There are a few riddles, especially toward the end. Even though you picked up all five pieces of armor (the two gauntlets count as one), you’ll still need to plumb the sixth level for the answers to a critical riddle. If you get this riddle wrong when trying to return the armor – I’m absolutely serious – they all return to where you found them and you’ll have to fight each piece again.

There is one major gameplay change. When either side gets “surprised,” no one can cast spells in the first combat round. It was too easy to get annihilated by mages exploiting this in the first game, so I’m glad the second restricts this. It at least gives you an opportunity to throw a silence spell out there, rather than simply dying without a chance in the first seconds of a late-game encounter.

There are also slight changes to the way spells work. The spell to identify monsters can now be cast once, instead of having to recast at the start of every encounter. The Mage has an “emergency” spell that would randomly apply a benefit or a penalty. That spell now has a much greater chance to be beneficial.  The sleep spell’s chance of hitting and its length of effect is boosted, which is good, because just about any enemy encounter in this version is going to be bad news bears. There’s an NPC on the second level who will cryptically explain all this for 100,000 gold. That’s Wizardry for you – you’ve got to pay in-game cash just to read the patch notes.

Despite all this, this might be the easiest Wizardry to win. You can exploit the Mage’s teleport spell to no end. There are two levels you can’t port to directly, but you can absolutely jump to the stairs that go down to them. There are no restrictions on any level about teleporting out. Provided your maps are accurate, you can keep jumping in and out as needed to keep your party healthy and magic charges stocked. You could even take it a step further and reference maps on the Internet to jump right to the armor pieces, fight them, jump out, and win. I skipped most of the entire second level this way (finding out that 0,0 is a valid teleport location for the 3rd level). Some of the armor pieces will put up a mighty fight, but if your party is leveled enough and you’re lucky, it’s nothing you can’t handle.

Stoo would normally have spells to cast, but the first round of “surprised” combat disables them.

Given that there’s not much new to describe, I want to take a few paragraphs to highlight some of Wizardry’s systems so far that I glossed over when writing about the first one. I talked about the magic system and its charges, but I didn’t talk about the spells themselves. You are expected to type out the spell you want to cast every time you cast it. These are nonsense fantasy words, so it helps to have the manual (or in-box reference cards) out during every session. However, it’s not completely arbitrary – like Ultima Underworld’s rune letters, many spells have prefixes that offer reliable modifiers.

For example, the Priest spell DI means “Life,” and has a low chance to resurrect a slain party member. The prefix “BA” is negative, so the spell “BADI” has a low chance to do the opposite, which is to instantly kill an enemy. The prefix “MA” indicates enhancement, so “MADI” will heal any party member to full health. And “BAMADI?” Yep, it’s a thing and is guaranteed to drop one enemy to just a handful of hitpoints. Not all spells have this structure, but it’s a neat way to help remember what many of them do.

Likewise, unlocking a trapped chest requires you to Inspect it and then type the name of the trap type that’s present. If you bungle the spelling, the trap kicks off the same as if your thief slipped their fingers. If you forget the name of the trap, too bad, you can’t reinspect the chest. Since there’s a chance the Thief can mis-identify a trap, there’s also a Priest spell (CALFO) that will check as well – useful to verify particularly dangerous traps like Teleporter. If you type the wrong trap name, even if that’s what the game told you, it triggers. I’ve read that some players get around having a Thief in the party at all by simply using CALFO and deciding if they can handle whatever misfortune the trap brings. Since all loot is randomized, so a more dangerous chest doesn’t necessarily mean better treasure, this is actually a pretty viable strategy.

The sequel also helped me realize my biggest criticism of the series so far, which is the short amount of time you actually get to spend in the dungeon. Remember that every enemy hits hard, while some can breathe fire on the entire party, drain characters of levels (ugh!), or instantly kill on a critical hit. The limit of magic charges combined with the game’s constant high level of risk means, one way or another, you’re forced back to camp pretty quickly. In Wizardry I’s early game, you have paltry hitpoints and no spells to back you up. In the late game and the sequel, you’re facing the toughest enemies with the strongest attacks, which quickly sap your limited charges of the most powerful spells. True, it’s easier to get back into the dungeon once you can teleport in and out of your last square, but it never stops feeling like you can only take a handful of steps, or just a few encounters, before it’s already time to pack it up and head back.

Success in combat is still a little too reliant on hoping spells hit (or don’t).

This also means filling out your map is the game’s ultimate goal; the true measure of progress. I feel like how much you like Wizardry will be defined by how much you like mapping. Combat, loot, and leveling sort of happen in the periphery, while even a short stint into the catacombs has value if you fill in just a few more squares. This is true even when the vast, high 90% majority of those squares are barren – just boxes on a grid – and you’re mapping 399 totally useless squares per level until you find the one with the armor. Yet following along a downloaded map feels pointless and tedious. There’s no more reward for putting your party in constant peril and no satisfaction of seeing the level come together on your page.

Reusing the same characters also drove home a major weakness in how I designed the party. By not having three fighters up front, I was crippling myself. Ubergeek as the Thief was always meant to become a Ninja and fill the third melee role, but I didn’t reroll him enough in the beginning to offset the random stat losses characters can get on leveling up – it became literally impossible for him to hit the stat minimums. Thieves have no ranged abilities and cannot learn spells, while being generally poor at combat through a very limited selection of usable weapons and armor. Sticking him in the front line got him killed. Sticking him in the back meant he had to pass on every single combat round. There’s new loot items in the sequel that can change characters to the advanced classes, but I never ran across one. He was baggage until he was needed to open a chest.

I did beat the game with this team, but I definitely felt this handicap here, far more than I did in the original. I could have dropped Stoo as the Bishop, but you need a Bishop to identify items for free. That Bishop needs to level up to identify higher level items and avoid cursed ones, and I knew I wasn’t willing to level him up separately. So with two Fighters and a Priest up front, plus a Thief in the back that contributed nothing to combat, I struggled. But I’d come this far – and when the alternative is starting over from the beginning of the first game, I decided I’d rather let the mistakes of the past just clamp its jaws on my ass and stay there.

I felt a little bad about it.

It highlights a curiosity about Wizardry, though. Anything it throws at you can be defeated with time. Time spent grinding and prepping. Time willing to recover and rebuild after disaster. Time leveling up a new party to rescue the first. Time re-leveling a character after changing to an advanced class. It’s just that those time requirements are astronomical. I’m not exaggerating when I say it could take a year to beat Wizardry completely honest, and that’s the kind of time not even a global quarantine could offer.

Still, I think this is by design. The developers don’t really expect you to grind out a replacement party and they know you’ll fudge a little on the rules, they just understand that gambling is nothing without the threat of loss. And Wizardry does this maybe better than any modern game. The highs are high, the lows are REAL LOW, but you can’t say the game doesn’t generate emotions. Suspense, tension, elation, misery – it’s the best of the tabletop dungeons that inspired it brought to digital form, and it wouldn’t be the same if you could just save scum your way through it. Even if that’s ultimately what you do.

As for Knight of Diamonds, it’s very much a continuation of the first game – both literally and in spirit. It exists solely for veteran players of the first who want to test their party in a new adventure. Stripping away the tedium of leveling characters helps a bit in getting right to the “good parts,” while the six dungeon levels definitely don’t overstay their welcome. I feel like the original has the better balance – and you’ll have to play it first anyway, so who cares – but the second scenario is worth a spin if you want more of what drove you to complete the first.

 

The Good

Every level has a reason to explore it this time. Generally fewer pits, rotating floors, and other things to gum up your mapping. Some new items (stat stones, coin of power) that can help boost party members. New enemies are remixes of the same possible attacks, so nothing to put you too off guard. Each piece of the Knight of Diamonds armor can be equipped, and does something supernaturally useful for the wearer.

The Bad

Still ruthless. Can still get overwhelmed or nuked by the unlucky roll of an invisible die. Not being able to create characters makes honest recovery somewhere between tedious and impossible. Still no defense against magic, which gets especially ridiculous with the number of enemies that use high level spells here.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Rik says:

    “It could take a year to beat Wizardry completely honest, and that’s the kind of time not even a global quarantine could offer.”

    Had a good chuckle at this (although all laughter is *slightly* nervous at the moment). And glad to see the old squad is still together! “Rik is not slept” indeed (how true that is).

    Hope you’re coping ok under the circumstances.

    • The J Man says:

      Hanging in there. Furloughed from work, so concerned about money depending on how long this drags on. Wife is a vet tech so she is an “essential employee” so I worry about her. Otherwise doing okay, healthy, lots of free time to play Wizardry and watch the U.S. social systems fall apart.

      Started Wiz 3 and it’s got an interesting twist for our gallant heroes. They need a squad name, like “The Retro Knights” but considerably better.

      Hope all is well with you.

      • Rik says:

        We’re fortunate in that we can both work from home. So just the weirdness of having to remain indoors to deal with really.

        Sending good wishes your way. And looking forward to the future adventures of [placeholder] “The Retro Knights”!

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