HomeReviews4/5 ReviewWizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review

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Making a play for “longest name of a game 2024” comes a remake of a classic oldie. How old you ask? Well, the original game was released way back in 1981 on the Apple II (remember those, kids?) and this new version promises to keep all the gameplay of the original while making it fit for our 2024 eyes to look at. 

The game in question is Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord from Digital Eclipse. So, while the original series is well loved even to this day, I guess the question for this review is can an old game (and this is built on the bones of the original) be good enough for this day and age? And for those new to the series, is this a good place to start?

Wizardry Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord review 1
Should you prove yourself in Wizardry?

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord has a number of bold claims made about it, not least that this is one of the games that inspired RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The story is pretty simple – there is a Mad Overlord, and he has had an amulet stolen by an wizard, Werna, who has hidden it underground in a labyrinth, promising riches and fame to the first people to recover said artefact. 

And this is where we come in as a party of adventurers who seem to be at a bit of a loose end, taking a stroll underground in order to see what we can find. Apart from the fierce creatures wandering about and the traps scattered, of course!

Even if you have never played the original, like me, the way Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord plays out will be instantly familiar. There are two halves to the game, essentially, divided between the time spent in town and the time spent in the labyrinth itself. The two sections are where we can hire new crew members, level up and make sure everyone is fighting fit for the next foray, and these are largely static screens showing what is available. In the original, the town was largely text based, and I mention this because there is an option to allow you to play the game in the original style – old style graphics and all! This is pretty cool for a bit, but the new visuals do help in making it more friendly to play. 

In the labyrinth section, we are presented with what is basically a first person view of the dungeon, as we’re left to walk around and open doors, getting jumped on by various monsters. The design of those foes is good, taken mostly from the Dungeons and Dragons playbook – orcs, goblins, skeletons and the like. They all look pretty cool though, and the design is nice to look at. And you can be sure that the sound has also been overhauled, and the battle sounds and music are all bang up to date and work very well. 

Wizardry Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord review 3
Beware the Werebear

The gameplay will be the big draw and aside from the town sections which are pretty straight forward, the dungeon sections are where the difficulty lies. Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord will not care for wiping out your whole party (ask me how I know) and while the party that falls can be found and rescued, when it is the A team that gets battered, sending a bunch of raw recruits in after them usually doesn’t go well. 

It’s good then that the party you can assemble can be varied, and for success it probably should be. You can have a Fighter, a Priest, a Mage and a Thief in your crew, and they can be any mixture of Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome and Hobbit. You can also choose between good and evil characters. Once your party is ready, it is time to sally forth!

The actual gameplay is largely corridor-based as you navigate the dungeon, and it appears to be based on a grid pattern – you can move forward, back, turn left or turn right, and open a door as you wander, and that is about it. In contrast to the original, there is an auto-map function this time around, which shows you the nearby section of the labyrinth (in the old skool version, it came with a sheet of graph paper to allow you to draw your own map!) and this certainly helps with orienting your party. As you explore, you will come across various encounters, from monsters or even a chest, if you are lucky. Chests need to be checked by a competent person such as a Thief to see if they are safe, and they can be disarmed if they aren’t. 

Combat is the usual turn-based affair, with a little twist – you can study your enemies if you are smart enough (Mages and Priests seem best) and the more you learn, the better, as you do extra damage when you know a foe’s weak spots. Trying to learn everything about the enemies you meet while also trying to kill them and stay alive is quite a balancing act, let me tell you. With various actions to be attempted, including trying to run away, the combat is pretty challenging and engrossing, if on the difficult side of unforgiving, especially as you venture down into the deeper sections of the maze. 

Wizardry Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord review 2
There is a lot to like with Wizardry

There is a lot to like with Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. You do have to rewire your brain a little to deal with the speed of the game, as exploring can feel a little ploddy; a tad clunky. The actual fighting and trying to escape when your party is down to its last member is quite nerve wracking, and it will be this tension that keeps drawing you back. 

If you like RPGs, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord is an interesting glimpse into the past; an intriguing game in its own right. 

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Very hard combat
  • The chance to go back to where it all began
  • Deep game systems are underpinned by 1981 game logic
Cons:
  • Exploration is clunky and feels slow
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Digital Eclipse
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 23 May 2024 | £33.49
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Very hard combat</li> <li>The chance to go back to where it all began</li> <li>Deep game systems are underpinned by 1981 game logic</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Exploration is clunky and feels slow</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Digital Eclipse</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 23 May 2024 | £33.49</li> </ul>Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review
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