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Wizard’s Keep #XBLIG VVG IndieVerse Review


VVG IndieVerse Reviews

“Wizard’s Keep”

By: Mr. Deeke

On this edition of VVG IndieVerse Reviews we’ll be focusing on one of my personal favorite new Xbox Indie RPG’s on the market, “Wizard’s Keep”.

This game is a great title for all RPG-fans out there, and it is like a combination of Xbox Indies that players are already familiar with: think of a cross between sprites from Bonded Realities and Dungeon Adventure‘s labyrinthine, maze-like map system.

Wizard’s Keep 80 MSP


This XBLIG was created by the same developer of the game “Miner: Dig Deep“, a  popular and fun Indie title that has been played quite frequently. Substance tries their hand at an action-RPG title this time, and it has seen mixed reviews in the community.

Utilizing an array of different weapons and armor, your character must fight his way through multiple levels and stages of dungeons all the while earning exp and learning skills to defeat perilous foes. This adventure combines many aspects of Indies together in one expansive package that can entertain gamers for hours.

Wizard's Keep

  • Developer – Robir
  • Genre – Role Playing
  • XBL Marketplace URLWizard’s Keep
  • Release Date – 2/25/11
  • Try or Buy?Try
  • Price – 80 MSP
  • Rating – 4/5

I.    Story Line

This epic role-playing adventure doesn’t have a particular linear story, but it’s more-so decided upon the player as their characters flourish throughout gameplay. Players can explore the starting town and talk to NPC’s, but there really isn’t any prominent dialogue. The questline is somewhat vague; an evil wizard plans to destroy the world with his black arts, and our hero must stop the sorcerer–the basic archetypal “Hero’s Journey” and age-old Good vs. Evil battle.

Basically, players have a list of tasks that they must complete; sort of like a journal. On this list are quest-like tasks that players complete in order to move on to the next area. All areas are shown on the map, however some are locked and require keys to open.

The main purpose of this game is to build your character up as much as possible by slaying enemies, gaining exp, leveling up and finding new items so that our hero can destroy the evil wizard in his tower. Before our adventurer can defeat the evil sorcerer he must be prepared with the right gear, and most of the game’s progression involves this preparation.

Will our hero defeat the malevolent occultist, or will he fall to the arcanist’s magical powers? It’s up to you to find out in this original Xbox Indie action role-playing game.

Image from Wizard's Keep

II.   Game Mechanics

Wizard’s Keep is quite dynamic and offers many different forms of game mechanics wrapped together. This Indie is very similar to other titles in function and gameplay–such as Stegersaurus Games’ Mega Monster Mania in map design and Epic Dungeon‘s roguelike feel–and there are a few main elements that I’d like to focus on:

EXP & Level Ups

This game is a classic RPG in terms of exp structure and character level-ups. Each kill that players attain will give them a certain amount of exp, and the higher level the enemy that is slain, the more exp that is awarded. The exp required for each progressive level is magnified as players accumulate levels; the exp required for level 5 is higher than it would be for level 4.

At each level up characters can choose to add one point into the four attributes: Strength, Speed, Defence, and Constitution. Strength is the amount of power attacks have, Speed is  maneuverability, Defence is self-explanitory and Constitution is health. All attributes affect gameplay differently and players can customize their character the way they want.

Every four level ups or so will grant a skill point–at the start there are only three abilities that are able to be picked from: Power Attack, Stun Attack, and Heal. There is no traditional mana like in most RPG’s, instead this game uses a meter that fills up over time to represent when skills can be used. There is a fourth ability that can only be attained once all other skills are maxed out.

Combat

Wizard’s Keep has a combat system that is sort of like a dual-edged sword in some ways, and reminds me of an XBLIG called The Endless Abyss (from Rickettz Studios) in that it offers real-time combat rather than being turned based in traditional RPG’s. Players can block at any time using the RT button, and target enemies using the LT button. Only one enemy can be targeted at a time, however players can switch targets at any time.

There isn’t any durability to any items–all weapons and armor do not degrade over time, and the block mechanic can be used as much as players want. Blocking (Left Trigger) is very useful as it deflects all damage, however players cannot attack while blocking–and the inverse is true as well–they can’t block while attacking.

There is a queue above enemy’s heads in the form of a red exclamation mark–this means the enemy is about to attack and players should block. This mechanic is extremely helpful especially against tougher enemies, and when a player is getting attacked by multiple foes.

There are two kinds of attacks for any given weapon–fast, rapid attacks with the A-button, and slow power-up attacks by holding down the B-button. Both of these attacks are incredibly useful, and the slower power-up attack often stuns opponents while dealing massive damage. When enemies are stunned they can be attacked over and over and are unable to block.

Loot

Loot drops are randomized in this game much like they are in certain Xbox Indies that I mentioned before: Epic Dungeon, Dungeon Adventure, and The Endless Abyss. Anything can drop at any time, and this kind of randomization offers a chance for players to find unique and rare items anywhere in the game.

There are different kinds of items that are found in this game: weapons, armor, health packs, quest and miscellaneous items. Weapons and armor can be normal or enchanted, and are separated by different level-grades. Healthpacks are essential for survival in this game, so they are quite important to have. Miscellaneous items like gems (Rubies, Garnets, etc) can be sold in stores for gold.

Image from Wizard's Keep

Gold is dropped randomly, too, and is found quite frequently in fitting increments. If a player is a higher level they will receive higher gold drop amounts, and the same is true for lower levels. Gold isn’t extremely precious and is dropped freely in this game to give players more flexibility.

All in all Wizard’s Keep introduces a few new elements that players aren’t used to seeing in roguelike dungeon delvers/action-RPG’s, and I personally feel these aspects are utilized favorably. Gamers get the sense that they’re in a huge labyrinthine dungeon with many levels that they must navigate in order to continue onwards, battling foes and bosses along  the way.

III.  Weapons/Items

The assortment of melee weapons like axes and swords, armor pieces like chest-plates and helmets, shields that determine a character’s defense, and varying degrees of health packs that are required for the expert dungeon delver’s survival. All items require a certain level–equip-able items can’t be used unless the requirements are met, however there is no requirement for health packs.

All armor, weapons, and health packs are separated in level grades, becoming more effective with higher levels and less with lower ones. Armors (chest pieces, helmets, and shields) and weapons can also be enchanted which add colors as well as a random attribute bonus.

Weapons are balanced in many ways–heavier damage weapons will be slower whereas lighter damage weapons will be faster. There is a number of weapon types such as swords, axes, spears, daggers, and maces, each of which are balanced in speed, damage, and overall effectiveness.

The various armors like helmets, breastplates, and shields are very important as they provide the much-needed defense that supplements any hero’s strength. Having high-leveled gear is important especially once your character reaches new levels–using a level 9 weapon with a level 15 character isn’t such a good idea. Having an upgraded shield is also a great way to survive in Wizard’s Keep, as there is heavy emphasis on blocking in-game by holding the Right Trigger.

Image from Wizard's Keep

IV.   Unique Features

Wizard’s Keep is a unique action RPG that utilizes real spontaneous action rather than scripted turns, making it different from the classic turn-based RPG’s genre that revolutionized gaming. This adds to the excitement and fun, as pretty much anything can happen at any time; especially in this game where movement and strategy is key to successfully fighting enemies.

Combat is another unique feature found in this Xbox Indie; this sort of ties in with the action-RPG element since combat is the bulk of the game itself. Players must navigate maze-like areas fight through groups of perilous foes–all the while blocking and using special attacks like the B-button Spin Attack.

The spells aka Special Attacks are very useful as well, and there are a total of four spells in all;  however the last one can only be attained when players are higher levels. Each ability is used by holding down the LB in tandem with one of the four face buttons A-Y. Each spell’s power and effectiveness is also determined by what level it is; higher level spells will do more damage.

  • Power Attack (LB+A) – A normal attack infused with power, does a moderate amount of damage.
  • Spin Attack (LB+B) – Whirling attack that stuns all nearby enemies–hit foes against walls for bonus damage.
  • Heal (LB+X) – This is a dungeon delver’s best friend and trust me, you’ll need this spell.

Bosses are another unique feature I’d like to focus on–there are a number of bosses for each area, and there are sometimes even sub-bosses like Golems that are very powerful and prepare players for the later boss-battles. Each boss is different than the one before it, and sometimes they have to be defeated in a certain way; for example, the Warlock boss must be defeated by using the bosses own attacks to destroy pillars, doing so by standing in front of the stone pillar and moving right at the last second so the spell destroys it. Once all the pillars are destroyed, boulders start falling and kill the Warlock.

Wizard’s Keep also has local co-operative play where two players can play at once. I don’t think this is really a good thing, however; with two players it becomes an endless loot battle, however if you can get the other person to actually co-operate, I can see how it’d be useful. This aspect has been widely criticized in reviews, however, and it seems that it isn’t necessary to have in the game.

Image from Wizard's Keep

V.    Critique

The Good

It’s a Hybrid of Many Genres. Wizard’s Keep uses a combination of elements that are found in a few game genres such as roguelikes/dungeon delvers, action-RPG’s, and even medieval adventure. Each of these aspects are successfully attributed to the title however I believe that the essential map feature belongs on the main HUD rather than in a menu. Players cross over from many game types and mediums in this title bringing not only a sense of nostalgia but variety as well.

It’s Perfect for Hardcore RPG Enthusiasts. The niche of gamers who will enjoy this title the most are those that have the time and want to put the effort into a RPG title that takes patience and focus to complete. Not all gamers are so hardcore about RPG’s, yet Wizard’s Keep has all the elements that these gamers crave: exp/item grinding, expansive levels and areas, 8+ hours of gameplay, and loot such as armors and weapons.

It’s Huge! Wizard’s Keep is a pretty big game, giving players the sense of an epic quest. There are around six levels, each of which having around 2-3 floors a piece. There are boss battles, enemies that re-spawn, and an expansive world to roam (only if you have the right keys!) and explore. For 80 MSP, it offers multiples of hours of gameplay.

The Soundtrack. Substance Games’ first XBLIG title, Miner Dig Deep, has awesome music that has been acclaimed by reviewers and players alike. Wizard’s Keep has the same type of style, however the tracks are styled in more of a medieval fantasy type of theme, adding to the whole sense of an epic adventure. From the beginning menu’s song to the in-game enemy battles, the soundtrack is sure to please most gamers.

The Bad

It’s Not for Everyone. This title is more of an acquired taste for a certain group of gamers rather being marketed to everyone like Miner Dig Deep is. Basically, this title is for gamers who enjoy RPG’s, dungeon delvers, etc., not for gamers who want instant action the whole time. The game has scored poorly on many reviews because some find it to be plain boring, and to be fair it is more of an epic grind than it is a RPG. It’s highly recommended to try the game before you buy it, especially for a title such as this since it’s tailored to a specific group of gamers.

Requires a lot of Invested Time to Progress. Most games take a little while of gameplay to progress to the next stage, however this title takes a moderate amount of focus and simply grinding EXP to move on. All games take time to beat, and some more than others, but many gamers don’t want to have to grind through a huge amount of maze-like areas to enjoy the game. All in all, there are some parts of the game that make it feel more like work than playing a game.

VI.   Wrap-Up

Overall I found Wizard’s Keep to be an awesome Xbox Indie experience, primarily because the game itself seemed to be tailored right to my specific taste; it’s a good fit for gamers who enjoy RPG’s, grinding EXP, and like to see elements from other games combined into one.

This medieval fantasy action-RPG from Substance Games delivers something the community hasn’t seen much of on the Xbox Indie marketplace, all the while delivering the same elements fans of Substance Games are familiar with; an original soundtrack, intuitive action RPG gameplay, and classic self-animated sprites.

Video footage courtesy of The Gamer Geddon’s YouTube Channel.

For more information on Wizard’s Keep and the studio that developed it, visit Substance Games on Squarespace or follow @Robir_ on Twitter for updates.

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