Sunday, May 6, 2018

Hooked! : Wizard W101

The cards remain the same but an awful lot has changed since I last played Wizard 101 almost ten years ago. I remember it as a strongly quest-based, combat-focused MMORPG, whose only real alternative to solving problems for NPCs by judicial application of extreme violence was decorating your home castle.

Back then, W101 had a decent, if uninspiring, housing offer and some combat pets to collect and that was about it. There was gear progression of a kind but I don't believe there was any kind of appearance system or transmog, which meant that if you wanted the best stats you ended up looking like you'd been dressed in the dark by your eccentric auntie.

It's entirely possible I'm misremembering some of this. Maybe it was just me. I'm willing to bet that Mrs Bhagpuss's characters looked like they'd stepped staight out of some wizarding fashion magazine, not like Bananaman on dress-down Friday.

Seriously in need of new boots and hat but at least I don't look like a banana any more.

I am pretty sure that last time I played last you couldn't visit an NPC to have your repulsive yellow frock "stitched" into a smart, blue doublet, transposing the good stats of one onto the good looks of the other.. Nor could you take up hobbies and pastimes such as Fishing or Monstrology, both of which I started learning today.

There may or may not have been some form of crafting back then but the plain fact that my character's Crafting panel is enirely blank suggests it's another major game element that's been added since. There's also Gardening now and I'm positive that wasn't a thing back in my day.

I'm still waiting on Wilhelm's long-promised Guide To Fishing In MMOs. If and when it appears it's going to need to be pretty lengthy because fishing seems to be the one non-combat activity almost every MMORPG feels beholden to shoehorn in somewhere. (Except GW2, of course, because ANet took some kind of MMO purity vow long ago, the only exception being for the team that makes stuff for Evon Gnashblade's Cash Shop Emporium).

Is that fish on the right laughing at me?

Fishing in W101 follows a familiar enough pattern. First you find a place where fish live. Water is a good start. Then you open your special Fishing UI with your Fishing spell bar (you are a Wizard, remember).

You cast your fishing lure and watch it bob about while fish swim past, ignoring it. You recast it a few times until you realize you have no control over where it lands. Eventually a fish bumps into it by accident, the lure glows then submerges and you frantically hit the spacebar to hook it.

Apart from EverQuest, where you just stand there, and EQ2, where "fishing" means harvesting a node like any other, every fishing mini-game I have ever played in an MMO works approximately as above. There are all kinds of bells and whistles (literally sometimes) that come into play as you level up your skill and earn, discover or buy new lures, floats, rods, hooks, bait and gear but in essence it always comes down to pressing a button to cast and pressing another to strike. Occasionally, if the game in question prides itrself on realism and added immersive value, you might have to keep pressing a third button to reel your catch in.

Screenshot taken before I figured out how to block names.

Fishing in MMOs doesn't need to be original: it's already ridiculously addictive. I have lost too many hours in too many MMOs to mention, standing at the water's edge pressing two buttons or sometimes clicking the mouse, just to see my bag fill up with worthless vendor loot. Sometimes there's treasure, because everyone who's ever been fishing in real life knows how you can often hook a pirate's forgotten stash of gold doubloons or haul up a motorcycle that still works.

This time, I got a chest on about my seventh or eighth cast. It had over a thousand gold coins inside, plus a weapon and something I forget. That's the sort of catch that keeps you by the riverside until the stars come out. Then again, I'm not quite sure how useful gold is in W101 because, when I went to get my hideous hat stitched, after I'd had the Seamstress fix my even more hideous robe, I found I needed the cash shop currency, Crowns.

I'd had a hundred or so on me and used them for the frock swap without realizing I'd done it. Now I have to decide whether to pay some actual cash for more so I can finish my makeover. Probably going to do that. They're very reasonably priced - you can get 5000 Crowns for $10 and the stitching is only 100C a time.

Reasonable rates, swift stitching!

Fishing was easy enough to learn but I failed utterly in working out how to open my Angler's Tome, wherein the records of every fish I ever catch are supposedly recorded. I couldn't find the damn tome, let alone read it.

I tried every corner of the UI, opened every tab, checked while I was fishing as well as when I wasn't. I googled and read wikis and guides. I even watched a YouTube video. As far as I can tell the icon for the Tome is simply missing from my display but I'm sure it's because I'm doing something wrong.

I had almost as much trouble with the first quest in Monstrology. I picked that one up from a fox who happened to be standing outside my own School, Myth, in Ravenwood. I was looking for an uncluttered backdrop to take a screenshot of my new, blue robes when I saw him. Her. Them.

Knowing how W101 works this probably is supposed to be Edmund Burke, in which case maybe that accent was meant to be Irish. Pretty much impossible to tell...

Monstrologist Burke, who hails from the Spiral world of Albion, looks distinctly masculine in figure and dress but speaks in a strangely high, piping register, while essaying quite the worst attempt at a "Scottish" accent I've heard since... well, the launch of EQ2.

Seriously, have these voice actors ever even heard a Scottish person? It's hard to believe they could have and still come up with something this awful. As always, all the Rs are getting a thorough roll as we take a wild trip around the Celtic fringe, spending a good deal of our time in Ireland and some of it, quite possibly, in the Lousiana swamplands. I'd laugh but I've heard this particular joke too many times already.

I'm blaming the accent for making me flip through the quest dialog too quickly to take in all the highly complicated instructions. There were diagrams. There may have been a flow chart. Perhaps the reason W101 is considered a kid-friendly MMO is that it often feels like being back at school. There's certainly enough technical detail here to fill a semester or two plus a full set of finals.

Trial and error, otherwise known as blind luck, always gets you there in the end.

Which I would fail. Not only could I not find my Angler's Tome but it took me something like a dozen fights to get my Extract Essence spell to function properly. Once again I had to check everything in game twice, re-read the quest dialog, study the illustrations, google it and watch a YouTube video. And I still got it wrong.

Finally - finally! - I managed to enchant my combat spell with my Extract Essence spell correctly and then cast the enchanted attack on the right mob. I'd completed step one of the tutorial for a mini game in a kids' MMO. What a sense of achievement! Seriously, I'm not kidding, it really was...

I'm no further along in my quest to find the Five B.O.X.E.S but I may have hooked myself all over again. I'm very curious to see some of the new worlds that have been added to the Spiral since I left, which would mean re-subbing. Even if I don't go that far, there's evidently plenty of new fun to discover in the free world.

In fact, if the speculations of Swordroll - a W101 blogger I discovered in my desperate search for guidance and who I promptly added to my blogroll - prove correct, the free to play areas themselves may be about to see a major revamp. That should be worth hanging around for. I'm off to do some surveying so I can get my Range Pole before the builders move in.

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