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Once upon a time, in the land of role-playing games, three brothers ruled supreme. They were known around the land as Ultima, Might and Magic, and The Bard’s Tale. But there was a fourth one, called Wizardry, whom only a few knew and revered. Sporting crappy graphics and incredibly difficult gameplay, he always stood in the shadow of his more beloved brothers. But that would change in 1990. Clad in shiny 16-colour EGA garments and armed with a fresh interface and an interesting storyline, Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge set out to claim the throne of RPGs for himself. He never made it that far, but that’s a different story and by no means his own fault.
One hundred and twenty years ago, an evil lord, who was also a wizard, lived in a castle with his queen, and from there ruled with an iron hand and evil magic. In his quest for more unspeakable power, he made a pact with another wizard, and together they acquired an ancient item called The Cosmic Forge. The Cosmic Forge was a magical quill or stylus imbued with the power of creation, and everything that was written down with it became instantly true. So powerful was this item that it made the two wizards jealous and afraid of each other’s powers, and they started fighting one another. In the end, they both vanished, together with the queen and the Cosmic Forge as well. The castle has been abandoned since, a derelict ruin which no-one dares to go near.
Enter you! You and your party of adventurers will go where no-one has gone for over a hundred years. You will bravely face the decaying castle, fight its monstrous inhabitants and loot the treasures hidden deep within! But be warned: the castle is not as abandoned as people think. Besides the inevitable vermin, rogues have made the ancient halls their home, the undead also roam the dusty corridors, and even more sinister and evil things await as you explore the castle from its highest spires to its deepest dungeons and beyond. Danger lurks behind every door and round each corner, and still no one knows what has become of the two wizards or the Cosmic Forge…
Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge is a classic first-person role-playing game of the time. You will recruit a party of six adventurers, lead them through different levels of the wizard’s castle, solve riddles, talk to NPCs, collect treasures, and fight monsters in turn-based battles. That's nothing new. But there are a few things that set Bane of the Cosmic Forge apart from other RPGs.
First of all, there are the characters. Besides the mandatory Dwarven fighters and Elven mages, the Wizardry universe always offered something more. When taking a look at the races, you have Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Gnomes, of course. But you also have some more unique races, like the sturdy (but dumb) Lizardmen, the feline Felpurr, the noble Rawulf, the pixie-like Faerie, the acid-spewing Dracon, and the Mook (a race of strange creatures resembling a mixture of a Wookiee and Sesame Street’s Yip-Yip Martians, though you wouldn’t want to shout that in their faces, should you meet them).
The same goes for the classes available. You can stick to the more typical ones like Fighter, Mage, Thief, Ranger, Bard or Priest, but you can also choose a more powerful (but harder to master) class, like Lord, Bishop, Valkyrie, Alchemist, Psionic, Ninja, Samurai or Monk.
Characters have abilities like Strength and Intelligence, and skills like Swords, Axes, Scouting, or Alchemy. These evolve by spending points when gaining levels, as well as through repeated use, which is quite unique.
Something else I’ve never seen in another RPG (except subsequent Wizardry titles) is how lock picking and the disarming of traps work. Usually you would just click “Pick lock” or “Disarm trap,” and according to your skill or dexterity, the computer would tell you if it works or not. Here, both are a bit like games in themselves.
When trying to pick a lock or open a door by force, it’s all about timing. You’ll have to push a key at the precise moment when all the lock’s tumblers are correctly aligned or when your own strength outgrows the door's.
Disarming traps is even better. First, someone with the skill and high intelligence inspects the trap, giving you a more or less precise idea of what sort of trap you’re dealing with. After that, you’ll have to disable the device yourself. I found both lock picking and disarming highly enjoyable and quite exciting, much better than having the computer do all the work.
Another thing that’s quite nice is the way you communicate with NPCs. You really get to talk to them and not simply choose a predefined answer. For example, if you wish to know who you’re talking to, you ask, “Who are you?” or “What’s your name?” If you want to know what the NPC knows about a hidden treasure, you ask “Where can I find the treasure?” or “Where is the treasure buried?” The only other games which let you interact with NPCs like this were some of the older Ultimas, and there you could only use keywords. Here, you can say whole sentences. Of course, some of the people you meet are friendlier than others, and sometimes you’ll have to change people’s attitudes towards your party before they will tell you anything useful. You can even steal people’s items!
The magic system is something I like very much too. Spells are organized in different classes like Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Mental, or Magic. The more spells from a certain class you know, the more spell points you get in that class. The spells themselves can be cast on different levels, higher levels having a greater effect but also costing more spell points.
Of course, when there’s a lot of light, there has to be at least a little shadow too. The controls have some quirks, for example, and there are some major flaws that can be really annoying.
The first major flaw is in character creation. When creating a character, you get a random amount of points to spend on your abilities. The amount can range from 6 to about 20 points, so if you want your party to be as strong as possible, you will have to re-roll often! This can get quite time-consuming and frustrating, since you can’t just cancel a character you don’t like, but will have to completely generate it. Once you get the 20 points you're after, you still have to deal with the points you may spend on skills. These are generated randomly too, so even if your character has a high Intelligence, Wisdom and Piety, you may only get a handful of skill points to spend.
The same problem occurs when gaining a level. You may be lucky, have all your abilities raised, and get 15 points to spend on skills, or you may only get one ability raised and no skill points to spend at all.
Another thing that’s not so nice is that you can’t break up combat. Sometimes you’ll get in a fight you simply can’t win. Instead of giving up the whole thing and just restoring a saved game, you’ll have to finish it to the bitter end, which can take some time.
16-color EGA graphics were already a little outdated when the game came out, but they are very nicely done. The monsters and their animations are especially great, and you’ll be delighted every time you stumble upon an enemy you haven’t seen before. The dungeons may lack diversity, but the many descriptive texts make up for this. I get the feeling that a lot of love and detail have been put into the graphics in order to give the game its unique feel. The sound is nothing special, but it’s OK. Strangely enough, I found the sounds much better (and much more diverse!) when selecting the PC speaker instead of the Sound Blaster, so I suggest you do the same.
At first, you may have to get used to the controls and find out what certain menu items do. Replacementdocs has the manual, and I recommend you take at least a short peek inside. After you figure out how everything works, you’ll get along fine. I recommend playing with the keyboard, not with the mouse. It’s much faster and easier that way. You’ll have to explicitly turn off the mouse in the configuration or else you won’t be able to work all the menus with the keyboard.
I played this game only once before, and that was fifteen years ago. Since then, I've wanted to start over many times, but never made it past character creation. What a shame! This time I ground my teeth and finished creating a party (which took nearly a whole afternoon), and after exploring the first few rooms, the game had me hooked for days, if not weeks!
First, I wanted to rate this game with a 4, for if I gave it the highest mark, how should I rate the even better Wizardry VII? But I just can’t do it. Apart from its flaws, Bane of the Cosmic Forge is perfectly fun and entertaining and deserves nothing less than a big ol’ 5! Everyone who loves fantasy or role-playing games should give it a try, if only so they can fully appreciate Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant!
- Take your time when creating your characters. I know that this step can be tedious and you’ll become accustomed to just “clicking through” characters, but the result is worth the effort!
- Save the game before picking a lock or breaking a door open. If you fail too often, the door gets jammed and can only be opened with the correct key and I’m not sure that there really is a key for every door lying around.
- When meeting someone friendly, you should always ask them if they know any rumors. They will usually answer something like, “I heard a rumor about…” and you should then inquire further by saying, “Tell me about it,” or simply “Yes?”, so that they tell you all they know.
- Take a look at your character’s carrying capacity. I kept wondering why my Faerie Thief (with a meager Strength of 4) never scored a hit in combat, until I found out that she was completely outweighed by her armor, 150 arrows, and 20 daggers. Now she’s wearing nothing but her feathered hat and a bullwhip.
- Draw a map! This game is from a time when there was no auto mapping and every role-player always had a sheet of paper and a pencil ready! Without a map, you’ll easily get lost, since most of the dungeons look quite the same.
Wizardry VI not only marked a new era of Wizardry games; it also began the story arc of the Cosmic Forge and the Astral Dominae, which will be continued in Wizardry VII and VIII. Therefore, after finishing Wizardry VI, you can import your characters into Wizardry VII, which will begin in one of several ways, depending on which of this title's possible endings (!) you choose.
In DOSBox, I wasn’t able to save the game when C: or C:\Bane was configured as save folders. I suggest making a new directory in your Bane folder, i.e. SAVE, mounting this as drive A: (with “mount a c:\game\bane\save”), and configuring drive A: as the save folder (in the "Game Configuration" menu). This way it works.
Use WINSTALL.EXE to change the configuration and PLAYBANE.BAT to play the game.