MMO Family: A parent's look at Wizard101

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Wizard101 is the game your youngest gamers have been begging for. With stringent chat filters atop relaxed, turn-based game play, Wizard101 looks almost unbeatable for young players seeking an MMO with traditional fantasy appeal. It plays like a collectible card game with all the MMO trimmings: housing, armor and clothing, player houses, pets, mini-games ... Family subscription plans plus the most complete, well presented web documentation that we've found keep parents as happy as the kids. (And they just might find themselves tempted to start a character and build their own spell decks, too!)

Wizard101
Publisher KingsIsle Entertainment
Developer KingsIsle Entertainment
Launched September 2008

What system does it run on? Wizard101 eases families into gaming with extremely forgiving hardware requirements. The game is specifically designed to run on older systems that may have been handed down to the kids. You'll need an internet connection, Windows 98SE or later versions, 1GHz Intel Processor, 512 Megabytes of RAM, recommended GeForce 2 video card or equivalent, and 5 Gigabytes of free disk space. Wizard101 will run on a Windows-enabled Mac. The game itself is downloadable from the game's web site and available to play immediately.

How much does it cost? Wizard101 does offer an open-ended free trial, but free content is limited and players will find themselves unable to complete storylines and enter additional worlds. Subscription plans ($9.95/month single-month, $6.95/month family plan, plus six- and 12-month plans) provide full game access. Players can also choose pay-as-you-go plans for $1 to $3 per area. Compare subscriber versus per-area pricing and benefits.

What's the game all about? Wizard101 is a turn-based MMO with strategy resembling a collectible card game. Players build decks of magic spells and work their way up to level 50 via PvE duels. Players begin as novices in the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts, choosing one of seven magic schools that influence the style of magic they can use.
What does the game look and feel like? Traditional: traditional cartoon appeal, traditional fantasy flavor. Highly controlled chat features keeps the atmosphere clean, friendly and appropriate for its youthful audience. There are no blood effects in combat.

Who's the target audience? Wizard101's E 10+ ESRB rating is based almost entirely on Crude Humor (yes, we're talking about fart humor). The game is targeted at kids from 8 to 14 years old.

Who plays? While most players come from the targeted 8- to 14-year-old group, Wizard101 is wonderfully suitable for younger children. A significant number of players are between 5 and 7 years old. There's a fair number of teen players, plus a surprising number of parents who've caught the bug after investigating the game for their kids and hardcore gamers looking for a casual, no-stress fall-back game.

What playstyles does the game most suit? Got young children hankering to play a big-kid MMO? Wizard101 is your game. Featuring intuitive simplicity over surprising depth, Wizard101 is easy enough for little kids to pick up yet deep enough to allow older teens and adults to build more sophisticated strategies and card decks. Play sessions remain strictly casual, with the most time-intensive instances requiring from 20 minutes to an hour at most.

What game play and features are available? Despite its unique turn-based, card game-style approach, Wizard101 offers traditional fantasy MMO fare: PvE combat, mini-games, crafting, player clothing, housing and pets, all in a social, multiplayer environment. PvP combat occurs only in the PvP Arena, and ranked PvP is available to subscribers or pay-as-you-go customers. Holiday events provide seasonal content.

How does the game address kids' internet safety? Wizard101 has one of the strictest chat setups around. Menu-only chat is available to all players. Open chat (filtered via black/prohibited and white/allowed word lists; no numbers or names allowed) is available to those 13 and up, or to younger players with parental permission. Players over age 18 who have a valid credit card on file may choose unlimited chat (profanity filters only). Subscribers can exchange True Friends codes with friends they know in real life, allowing more flexible chat (still filtered for inappropriate language).
What kid-friendly features help guide kids through the content? Kids don't need MMO experience to understand how to play Wizard101. Game play is clearly demonstrated and explained when players begin. Dialogue throughout the entire game is fully scripted with voiceovers, so shaky readers still get all the details. (Parents can choose to turn off voiceovers to encourage reading practice.) The turn-based strategy is paced for the younger set; no twitch skills required. Players are never forced into combat; they can remain safe from monsters by traveling on the sidewalks. PvP happens only in the PvP Arena.

What's the social atmosphere? Wizard101's tight chat rules work. The atmosphere inside the game is friendly, youthful and upbeat.

What else can players do outside the game? The fully moderated community forums are friendly and helpful but oriented more toward questions about the game than socializing.

Still looking for more details? Read our article on all the different ways you can evaluate kids' games, or visit the Wizard101 web site.

MMO Family offers advice on MMO gaming of the family, by the family and for the family. Have a question about gaming with your kids? E-mail us at lisa (at) massively (dot) com.

This article was originally published on Massively.