In Wizard 101, you’re a young wizard being trained in the ways of magic at the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts under the watchful eye of headmaster Ambrose. As you learn to harness mystical powers, you’ll be tasked with saving the school from the evil Malistaire Drake. Sound like Harry Potter? Well, it is a lot like Harry Potter, at least up to a point. Wizard101 is an online game for tweens that has many of the trappings of an adult MMORPG built around an unusual card-based combat system, and it has been capturing the imagination of people of all ages.
Many elements of larger online RPGs are present in Wizard101. After creating a character you’ll find yourself tackling a series of quests in an effort to collect gold, equipment, and of course, the experience points needed to increase your level. The world has public areas, instances, mini-games, and even PvP arenas.
As you would expect, the graphics are cute, colorful, cartoonish, and easy on hardware. Although it’s a long way from Harry Potter, the art direction is bang on and the animation is excellent. There are some remarkably elaborate spell effects which are a joy to watch, even if they do get a little repetitive after a while. The user interface is robust yet minimal, giving you just what you need as you need it. The map and navigational aids also fullfill their purpose in a simple and efficient way.
Parents will naturally be concerned about the chat system in the game, and several mechanisms are in place to ensure that chat is child safe. The system can be limited entirely to preset phrases, although that can make it a little difficult to communicate. Alternatively, players on your friends list can be granted additional chat priviledges that allow you to speak more freely.
To avoid any shenanigans related to naming characters, names are similarly constructed from presets. Parental controls can be activated on an account so that settings can’t be changed and purchases can’t be made without your approval.
Combat is where Wizard101 starts to make major departures from the norm. As you approach an enemy you are snapped into a ring where combatants take turns casting spells at each other by choosing cards from their decks. Character movement is actually suspended during these exchanges. Spells are based on a deck of cards selected beforehand, from which 7 are drawn each round. Players have less than a minute to play a card or they pass their turn, so you’re not stuck in limbo if someone leaves their keyboard for half an hour.
There are 7 different types of magic in the game, and your card collection grows along with your character. Although it lacks the depth of something like Magic: The Gathering, it’s a well-realized concept that makes a powerful impression right from the start.
For more screenshots, click here.
Another way in which Wizard101 differs from the average RPG is that health and mana don’t regenerate automatically. You have several ways to deal with this. Running around catching wisps while out of combat is one option, although it’s not particularly entertaining, especially if there are lots of other players around doing the same thing. If you have potions you’re good to go again in an instant. Your health does slowly recover in town, and you can also play mini-games for mana. The various mini-games are reminiscient of casual titles like Bejeweled or Tetris.
You can download and play Wizard101 free of charge, and unlike most online game trials, there is no time limit. At around level 10, however, you will find yourself running out of things to do. If you want to explore further, you can purchase a monthly subscription that gives you access to everything, or you can purchase zones in the game one at time as you need them, which is quite unusual. It gives you ample time to decide if you want to spend money on it.
KingsIsle recently launched Dragonspyre, a new high-level area for the game that continues the storyline into an ancient haunted world that was once home to an advanced militant society. More content is always welcome, as dedicated wizards may find themselves progressing through the available zones quite rapidly.
Wizard101 has a charming gaming idea that has been beautifully executed and lovingly polished.