Depending on which corners of the internet and gaming metasphere you inhabit, you may or not be aware that Wizard 101 is coming out with an expansion pretty darn soon. Celestia is supposed to come out “late summer or early fall”, which pretty much means “the 10 days I’m going to be out of town with little net access around the end of August.”
If you happen to be a Wizard101 player, it’s a pretty big deal: new level cap, expanded pet system, and new content (Atlantis-style underwater stuff, I hear, and lots of new foes and friends).
And I – I am pretty happy to point out – am a Wizard101 player.
“But Doyce,” you may ask, “aren’t you like… old?”
“Okay, okay, quite crying and hitting me like a girl! I just mean you’re a lot older than Wizard101’s target audience!”
I’ll concede that I’m older than what people think of as the game’s target audience; I’m not convinced that the perception is accurate, though, and the best way to explain why I think that is to talk about why I like the game.
Not Family Friendly
You know what I think of when I think of the phrase “family friendly”? Wonder Pets. Wow Wow Wubbzy. Dora the Explorer. Little Einsteins. Super Readers. Captain Underpants. Olivia. The Wiggles.
In short, shows that I’m generally fine — even happy — with my daughter watching, but not shows I myself want to spend hours exposed to. Stuff I can’t help but mock (mostly) silently, from the next room over.
Family friendly? Sure. Family entertainment? No.
Family Entertainment is stuff like Backyardigans. Pixar. Dreamworks Animation. The Hobbit. Avatar: the Last Airbender. Stuff that me and my kid(s) can enjoy together, albeit at different levels.
That’s Wizard 101. Yeah, it’s aimed at kids, but you get lots of pop culture references and humor that really only the grups will get.
Sophisticated Game Play… or Not.
Like the humor and the storyline and the presentation, the gameplay — from the interface to the card-duel-like combat to the gear — is set up in such a way that it can be enjoyably challenging to anyone from a four year old (Kaylee) to… umm… me.
Gear and equipment:
- Me: Whoa. I can wear the level 25 gear now… look at the stats on that robe!
- Kaylee: Ohhhhhhh… this new hat is so cuuuuuute!
- Kate: These new boots are cute… but the stats are crap… so let’s use the tailor vendor to combine the good gear I already have with the pretty shoes I want!
- Me: Okay, first armor up so I can ignore the bad guy for a couple rounds. Taunt the bad guys so they leave Kate and Kaylee alone. Then a buff only to my ice skills, so I can keep casting other stuff. Undertaker for a quick heal… drop a buff on Kate so she’ll hit harder for the crazy Meteor thing I can guess she’s about to cast… and that gives me another two power pips… generic all-damage buff, a last-minute debuff on the bad guy’s defenses, and finally… ICE STORM.
- Kaylee: I can’t cast those grey cards yet, so I’ll do this shield on… me. Then… I STILL can’t do the good spell yet, so I’ll do a blaster on… that guy. Oh! I got a purple pointy trap spell! I’ll put it on the same guy, and then do the Lightning Bats, cuz they’re Purple too. Got him! Oh! Daddy’s hurt! I need to heal him with a Green Fairy!
- Kate: Fire blast, Fire Sword, Fire Trap, Wild Fire, thank you for the damage buff, sweetie… and what’s this? A Meteor Swarm? BOOYA, BOYEEEEEE.
- Me: Look at my cool house!
- Kaylee: Look at my cool house!
- Kate: Look at my cool house!
Not Really that Social
It’s not (easily) a social game the way most MMOs are, though it does have a (spare) frame of socializing tools. I like this for a couple reasons. The most obvious has to do with the younger players — including my daughter — there are serious barriers in place that block most any access to kids.
(This lack of any easy social interface also affects the game play — the game’s core setup is very accessible and friendly to younger or casual gamers — it has to be, because you can’t fall back on an /advice channel to get help from the player base if you don’t understand something.)
The other benefit to the ‘social framework without a social network’ MMO is a little more subtle — my wife and I enjoy logging in and just playing with our own characters or with each other — unlike other MMOs we play, there’s no pressure to be ‘on’, socially, when you log in — there’s no guild support in the game, no open broadcast channels for chatting, and only limited ‘friend’ capability, heavily limited by the ages of the players involved. This is nice — it’s good for some quiet, relatively relaxing alone-time game play, free of forced-smiley chatting — and if we don’t feel like logging on for a week or more, there’s no twinge of guilt for the other players who might have been counting on our tank and healer characters for a Krokotopia run.
Don’t discount this game because it’s located in the kid’s section — there’s a lot of stuff a more … ahem … advanced wizard can enjoy.