This article originally appeared in Pyramid #1

Pyramid Pick

Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant

Designed by D.W. Bradley
Graphic Direction by Chris Appel
Published by Sir-Tech
Sugg. Retail: $69.95 (Amiga, Mac, PC)

When Wizardry I came out in 1981, it was the first computer game to show a dungeon from a PC's-eye-view. Since then, Sir-Tech's Wizardry series has always been on the cutting edge of the art of the computer FRPG, and this seventh entry continues that tradition.

Crusaders of the Dark Savant still offers a first person view of the action, but it represents a big leap forward in sophistication, not only from its primitive 1981 ancestor, but even from its immediate predecessor, Bane of the Cosmic Forge.

Bane was a nice-looking game, but the VGA graphics in Crusaders put it to shame. Crusaders also offers a mouse interface (not available on early editions of Bane) and -- at long last -- an auto-mapping feature.

Crusaders is a big, big game, and that's both its major asset and its worst flaw. The program is an unabashed memory hog, taking up more than 5 megs of hard drive, and all 64K of lower RAM. Fortunately, the game plays big too. Where earlier games offered a few dungeon levels to play on, Crusaders offers a whole world. Any one of the earlier Wizardry games could be dropped wholesale into Crusaders with nary a ripple.

Again, this is both a boon and a blessing. There's nothing more frustrating than "solving" a $50 computer game over a slow weekend, but even the most dedicated game hacker won't find that a problem with this game. On the other hand, it's easy to get lost. In the previous Wizardry games, the answer to the puzzle on level 3 might be found on level 5. In this game, the answer could be on the other side of the continent.

As with all Wizardry games, Dark Savant slows down at high levels. Combats can stretch on for what seems like hours, and after combat it can take what seems like days for your spellcasters to recover their spells. There is new option in this game, though, that allows you to quit out of a hopeless but interminable fight and go back to your last save.

The story is nifty. This game has dropped the familiar monsters and primitive dungeon crawl settings of the earlier entries in favor of a unique science-fantasy setting, with new aliens and monsters, and even some flashes of high-tech for flavor.

Basically, your characters from Bane of the Cosmic Forge (or new characters you create for this game) are kidnapped by a magical space ship, which flies them to the beleaguered planet of Lost Guardia, where a plethora of alien races are scrabbling for control of the rapidly-deteriorating civilization. Your mission is to find the Astral Dominae -- the last work of the ancient archmage Phoonzang, your basic omnipotent cosmic McGuffin. The Dark Savant of the title is a mysterious baddie who doesn't appear until far into the game.

There are a few puzzles to solve along the way, but not too many and they're not too hard. For some hard-core gamers, this might be a drawback. For someone like me, who doesn't want his computer gaming to become too much of a chore, it's a plus. I find that this game keeps my attention, without falling into the old Zork trap of "get the rope to ring the bell, get the rat to gnaw through the rope, get the cheese to lure the rat, milk the cow to get the cheese . . ."

Despite its flaws, Wizardry remains far and away my favorite computer FRPG series. If you're looking for a state-of-the-art gaming experience big enough to keep you busy through the whole summer vacation, look here first.

-- Chris W. McCubbin

Article publication date: June 1, 1993

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