Monday, May 14, 2018

Aunt Trouble : Wizard 101

Wizard 101 continues to be the MMO I play when I'm not playing Guild Wars 2. This is not a sustainable situation. Currently I find myself with two gaming subscriptions (W101 and Daybreak All Access), which is at least one more subscription than I would like, given there are literally dozens of good, enjoyable MMOs I could play for nothing - including all the ones I'm currently paying for.

I also - somehow - still have an Amazon Prime subscription, which I seem mainly to be using to watch episodes of old tv shows that I already own on DVD, because watching them on a tablet is more convenient than using the portable DVD player I bought specifically to watch them on. This is the beginning of a potentially catastrophic behavioral change that could see me taking out subscriptions to all kinds of things - Netflix, Spotify, Audible... It needs to be nipped in the bud right now.

One thing I categorically do not want to find myself doing is resubscribing to W101 when I get back from holiday in mid-June. The problem is that Wizard 101 is really very good indeed. It was always a much deeper and more involving MMORPG than its reputation as a "kids' game" suggested but after a decade of additions it's turned into a real hidden gem.

It's also hard. Too hard for me.

This is The Maestro. Might be a fox. Maybe a jackal. Definitely Roger Delgado. Just look at the moustache.
This weekend I got as far as the third of the five B.O.X.E.S. The questline took me to MooShu, the zone based on Feudal Japan, if Feudal Japan had been populated by samurai cows and ninja pigs. Zones in W101 don't generally have precise level requirements but MooShu is broadly aimed at the mid-to-high 30s. My wizard is level 41. He finished MooShu (did the main questline and defeated the zone boss) back on the original run so in theory he should be in good shape to handle a quest tuned for the zone.

Should be but isn't. A lot changes in nine years. His gear wasn't great even then, being a jumble of whatever he happened to find while questing, but it looks severely underpowered now. The jewellery has (empty) sockets which I don't think were there last time I looked and nothing he's wearing has a required level higher than the mid-30s.

Added to that he doesn't seem to have spent a Training Point since about Level 10. That was probably intentional. I remember dire warnings about wasting Training Points and waiting until you were max level (50 at the time) before using them. Indeed, that still seems to be the advice. It's Thing #1 on Swordroll's list of Ten Things You Wish You Knew Before Starting Wizard 101.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I neither have the right cards nor the knowledge and understanding to make best use of the ones I do have. I'm sure that to people who routinely play card-matching games like Hearthstone, let alone MTG, W101's combat system must seem infantile but it flummoxes me.
Victory pose after the defeat of the Boss of the Second B.O.X. That bloody frog did nothing!

I don't really do card games. Legends of Norrath was always a mystery to me. I struggled through the tutorial when LoN first appeared but by the end I had little more idea what I was doing than when I started. What's more, I certainly didn't have the patience to keep trying in the hope the fog might lift.

W101 is self-evidently less complicated than LoN but it still has a plethora of cards, each of which comes with a whole lot of little symbols that probably mean something, only not to me. I'm not sure I ever knew what most of them meant, although I have a vague feeling I did once know more than I do now. I couldn't really have known much less...

Also, back then I duoed with Mrs Bhagpuss whenever either of us ran into something too tough to solo and that made a huge difference. W101 is one of the MMOs that can be soloed but which is easier when you group. (And even as I type I realize that's a very dubious statement, which I may come back to in a later post).

Yeah, you do that, shortie. About time you learned to do something. Other than pose, that is.

The upshot of all this is that a combination of sub-par gear and spells plus a very low skill set is just not cutting it any more. I ran up against a brick wall half-way through The Professor's third quest, when I found myself facing Aunt Eunice, a Level 7 Boss with over 3k HPs, backed up by her Level 7 Elite Rotten Scallywag lackey.

I took her on and lost. Very badly. I fiddled with my deck and demanded a rematch. I lost again. Not quite as badly but badly enough to be embarassing. Third time lucky? No. Had enough humiliation for one evening, thank you, Aunt Eunice.

Instead, I did the sensible thing. I threw money at the problem.

Not real money, although I have a suspicion W101 does have a Pay To Win element via the Crown Store, where you can buy gear and hire Henchmen. No, I went to The Bazaar in Olde Town, where players sell their unwanted loot to each other for in-game Gold.

There was definitely no Bazaar last time I played but if you've seen one bazaar you've seen them all. Fortunately, even though the misleading tag for items that can't be sold via the Bazaar is "No Auction", Kingsisle have gone for the straight "put it up for sale at a fixed price" method. I vastly prefer that to any form of bidding. It's simple and you don't have to wait.

I replaced my Hat, Robe and Shoes for the small cost of about ten percent of my net worth. That mount is looking further away than ever. The result pushed my hit points above 2000, slightly increased my destructive power and left me looking like a banana again.

What is it with this game and yellow? Is it because I'm playing a Myth wizard? Is all Myth gear yellow? I'm going to end up permanently in hock to the seamstress at this rate, I can see that coming.

With the thirty-minute timer on my instance fast expiring I didn't have time to research upgrades for my jewellery or work out where to buy better spells. I went back for another round and this time things went better. I got the Elite down and Aunt Eunice took a few good thumps but the end result was the same. 3-0 to the Aunt.

At that point I decided to call it a night. There's a lot more work to be done. I need to research the jewellery slots and read up on those little icons so I can work out just what it is my cards do. There's a good chance I also need to get a couple more levels. More levels are always goos and if nothing else it'd give me a chance to practice tactics and earn some more Gold for my next trip to the Bazaar.

What's worrying me isn't that I won't be able to improve in all the ways I need to progress. It's that the whole thing is starting to look like a much more serious project than I anticipated when I re-subbed for a month on a whim.

The 5 B.O.X.E.S. event itself is only going to be around for another week or two. I'm not going to finish it no matter what because parts four and five require you to be Level 60 and Level 80 respectively and if I did nothing else for the next fortnight I'd not get that far. This has gone way beyond that event, though. I'm in grave danger of wanting to carry on playing for the sheer fun of it. And that would be very welcome if it wasn't for the whole subscription thing.

I'm going to have to think carefully about this. I'm quite glad of the enforced holiday break, coming right when I'd need to pay the next month's sub.

Hmmm... I thought I was done with this kind of thing five years ago, when F2P took off.


  1. If you're going to play these games long term, it's generally accepted (and the maths seems to work out, especially in the long term) to just buy the zones instead of subbing. Buying crowns when they're on sale makes work out sooner. Unfortunately I've no idea how many crowns you'd need to get where you got to last time, so a 1 month sub is probably better if that's all you're going to play.

    I bought the first 2 zones a while back, and got annoyed at the sameness of it all. Are the later zones any better? Pirate101 is a much better game, but I do miss the combat of Wizard101

    1. I looked into the cost of buying the zones outright. To buy the entire game as it stands right now comes to the equivalent of three years subscription. It's about comparable with one of the "Lifetime" deals offered by older subscription games and would be a great deal if you planned on playing W101 as your main MMO indefinitely. Unlike a Lifetime deal, however, you would still have to buy all the new zones that might get added.

      The prices of the individual zones are quite steep, I think. I considered it back when I first played but I thought the sub was a better option (especially with the Family offer that meant Mrs Bhagpuss could play for half-price). F2P as we now now it didn't exist then and Kingsisle's payment options seemed very forward-thinking and flexible at the time. With F2P and especially B2P being the norm now, however, W101 seems expensive. A brand new player can access all of GW2's content for a one-time payment of about a quarter of what it costs to buy all of W101, for example, and GW2's Gem shop seems considerably less aggressive and P2W than W101's too.

      The zones all play the same way so if it was the gameplay you didn't take to then it probably wouldn't feel any better later on. If it was the look, feel and design then yes, the free zones are very bland compared to the much more interesting later ones - and I've only seen the original set, not the many new ones.

      As for Pirate 101, I'm curious to hear it described as a much better game. I tried it at launch (there's a post or two about it on the blog) and really didn't like it. It seemed very inferior to W101 back then but maybe I should take another look. A lot must have changed since then.

    2. Yeah, given you're unsure how long you'll be playing W101, a sub was definitely the right thing to do.

      I bought the zones (a whole 2 in W101, lots more in P101) as that way they're mine until KingsIsle folds or whatever. I can drop in, try another class, whatever, till I get bored again and go somewhere else at no cost. Also I only buy crowns when they're on the big sales.

      I agree that completing W101 or P101 by just buying the zones is a VERY expensive proposition, I wonder if they're going to do anything about that.

      P101 is 'better' in that it's newer, so it includes a lot of what couldn't go into W101, but the combat is VERY different, strategic vs collectable card (which you'll have seen since you played it) I like the game of P101 better, I just wish I could import W101's combat. WitchDoctor doesn't really cut it alas.

  2. The Maestro is clearly a Dobermann. :)

    I kind of get what you're saying about the subscription, but at the same time I'm kind of surprised to see it coming from you, as I seem to recall many a comment by you in which you talked about being quite happy to pay for something you're enjoying. I believe you even mentioned happily paying your All Access sub while not playing any Daybreak games? What is it about this game that makes you unhappy to invest?

    1. Ah that makes sense! Dogs are a big thing in W101.

      The issue over subbing isn't a matter of principle, nor of that thing some people get where they feel they have to play a game they're paying a sub for. I am entirely happy to pay a sub and not use it much - as you say, I've been doing that for years with SOE/DBG. No, it's more what I said at the start of the post - there's a whole cultural shift taking place that I don't much like, where instead of buying things you rent them. I grew up when renting things was the norm - I rented a television set for many years, for example - but I also lived through the period when that changed and buying outright became the norm. I preferred that and thought it was a good change. Much the same thing happened in gaming, with F2P and particularly B2P replacing the subscription.

      It seems to me that moving to renting rather than owning content is a retrograde step although I can see it has some advantages. The problem, as I suggested in the post, comes with the number of subscriptions that you can find yourself acquiring. It was one thing to let a single All Access subscription roll on at about $80 annually but right now I have three subs (AA, W101 and Amazon Prime) which comes to more than $25 a month. Imagine adding a phone contract, Spotify, Audible and pretty soon it's more than double that - and what's more important, those are all contracts to provide entertainment, which are competing for the same, finite ammount of leisure time.

      My ability to ignore the standing cost of being able to drop into a service on a whim is inversely proportionate to the cost incurred. $10 a month is trivial. $20 a month is still easy to ignore. $50 though? I don't earn enough to drop $50 a month down a hole each and every month regardless of whether I get anything back for it.

      Also, though, I am having serious issues finding time to play all the MMOs I want to play. If anything I need to focus on fewer games not add more. It's fine to drop in to new games for a session or two for a blog post or a change of scenery but if I'm trying to progress meaningfully or build lasting characters with emotional heft then more than two or three games, right now, seems to be stretching myself too thinly.

      Wouldn't be a problem if W101 wasn't so enjoyable. I'd forgotten how much I liked it!

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  4. In Wizard 101 I buy zones as I go when I am high enough level to need new content. I've never made it anywhere near the cap (I think Dragons Spire is as far as I've ever been), so my investment has been pretty modest. I really like being able to pick it up and put it down again at will without needing to set up a sub every time. Per month I don't think I've ever spent more than I would have on a sub, and I get to keep everything I've bought.

    [edited to fix a typo]

    1. Yes, I've considered that option. Certainly there's no need to buy the zones above your level any more than I need to buy the EQ expansions that mostly add content for levels above 90. Arguably I could also skip the zones for the levels I've already done and just buy the relevant content as I level up. I might end up doing that.

      MOre likely I'll play this month then stop and if/when I feel like another run I'll sub for a month then. That might be best for another reason too - it is a game best consumed in bursts, I think. The sheer length of the fights and the repetition of the animations can become wearing after a while.


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