Choose My Adventure: Fizzles aren't fair edition

The votes have all been tallied, and my fellow Wizard101 players have spoken! When I asked which secondary school I should go for, you all told me, "Life!" Some thought this was a silly idea -- a Death wizard with a life secondary school? -- but I like it. After all, what better way to rub my enemy's face in it than by stealing his life, adding it to mine, and healing myself every time he hits me? I think I'll learn an evil laugh just for moments like that. It was also decided that I ought to keep my current zombie pet at my side. This was great news, since I've already grown pretty attached to the little rotten guy.

What does all of this mean? Well, I will save the explanations for secondary schools and pets for next week's installment. In the meanwhile, I need to tell you all about the busy week I just had in game. It was pretty epic, filled with steam golems, awesome new weapons, and discovering the secrets of deck building. (Well, some of the secrets.) If you want, you can give me all sorts of advice in the comments section.

Follow me past the cut to read up on my adventures!

This last week has been pretty much a blur. Since I am already familiar with the game, I found that I noticed new details that I hadn't before. Also, I was introduced to the pet and gardening systems, neither of which existed the last time I was active. Since I am somewhat familiar with the lore, I was able to skip any voice-acted parts of the game that I might have already seen, such as the beginning tips.

Being familiar with the background and story doesn't mean that I want to skip everything. The voice acting is really some of the best in any MMO I have ever heard. Granted, there are not many MMOs that use much voice acting besides the occasional random pleasantry, but the work it takes to fully voice-act all dialogue in Wizard101 must be extraordinary. I have been to KingsIsle's studios and have seen how audio comes together, so I know that recoding an actor and putting his voice into the world is not that simple. One of the coolest bits of information I got from doing interviews with the development team was about how younger readers (and some older ones!) were helped while learning how to read by going along with the text on the screen as the characters spoke. Now that's the power of gaming!

But I didn't arrive in the Spiral to read; I came to beat up baddies! Combat is what the game really centers around, although there are several sub-systems to entertain players. Making your deck, honing your cards, and becoming one tough little wizard is where most of my attention was over the last week. In fact, most of the game is a very linear story that uses areas and fights almost like chapters in a book. The developers have done a nice job in keeping the story digestible, humorous, and short enough that players feel as though their grinding is actually pushing them forward. When I was asked to kill five or so Cyclopes, at least I was given a reason. When I finished killing them, the story opened further and pushed me to new characters and sections of the world.

Whenever I talk about Wizard101, I am often met with confused glances or smart-alec remarks. When the initial vote for this column was racking up, I saw players from other games talk about their confusion. After all, how could a "kids game" get so many votes?

The secret is in the fact that the combat can be as complex as you want to make it. Hardcore raiders and theory nerds will find a way to fill up sheets of numbers and bookmarks of websites full of information. Which cards are good to have in a Death school deck? Do you stack debuffs and damage multipliers on an enemy first or do you go for the kill immediately? Do you burn down the smaller minions or send everyone in your open group on the big guy?

It's strategy-light, for sure, but that makes it perfect for someone like yours truly who cannot stand playing video games as though they are jobs. (Ironic, I know.) I don't really care if I get my stats wrong. Wizard101 allows me some breathing room and lets me be as incompetent as I want while still making me feel pretty good about myself. After all, I was hand-picked by Ambrose himself!

Questing areas are essentially zones surrounded by safe sidewalks. As long as you are in that safe area of the sidewalk, monsters will pass you by. To jump into a fight, you simply head toward the monster. It sounds like it might make you feel a little claustrophobic, but the zones are often bright and airy -- even the "scary" ones. Again, it's important to remember that the game was made with younger players in mind. It needs to be accessible and slightly on the easy side or kids will just log out in frustration. Of course, being "easy" does not mean it poses no challenge. The opposite is true. But if you are a player who enjoys joking around, chatting with others, or exploring anything that is open to exploration, then the game will leave you avenues for success. You can be as hardcore or casual as you like.

In fact, take a look at this site. That's right, that's the Petnome project. Essentially, player Kevin Battleblood is attempting to categorize every pet ability and benefit in the game. While I am going to wait until next week to get into that, the site is evidence to just how passionate many players are.

I spent a lot of time running circles around the zones while questing. When I jumped into a fight, I started off with no or very few "pips" -- the fuel that is used to cast spells (seen at my feet in the shot above). As my enemies and I took turns slinging magic at each other, I would earn at least one more pip per turn. I have a special cash-shop item that gives me no-cost cards, so I would use those at first to build up pips or when I had no pips to spend. One of my favorite spells summons a grave-digging zombie to attack my enemy by stealing life from him and giving half to me. If I planned ahead and cast a damage multiplier on my foe, I might kill him in one or two rounds. I have heard of players working together to stack enough debuffs and damage multipliers on certain boss characters such that a player can kill them with one spell. Once again, the combat system allows for as much strategy as the player is comfortable with.

Somehow, the game rarely feels like a boring grind. Perhaps it was the constant change of scenery and cast of characters who are passing by as you go about the business of gaining levels that kept me from really ever feeling aggravated or tired. Many MMOs do not even attempt to hide the grind from the player, instead asking for a quick delivery of stacks and stacks of hides and bones in exchange for a level or two. Wizard101 is, essentially, asking players to grind constantly. But the presence of the cute-yet-engaging story, wonderful voice acting, and card-deck tweaking means that the game doesn't feel like a grind. I'm sure I will be warned of the higher-level activity in the comments section, though.

So there will be no vote this week. I decided to continue leveling the character you've all picked for me, and I need to look into the pet derby and secondary school abilities. I haven't even begun to consider buying some extra treasure cards (bonus non-school-specific cards) or going house hunting. Hopefully, I will even find the time attend a party or two. Join me next week, and be sure to leave any Life and Death combo hints in the comments section. Perhaps you want me to know something about the pet derby? Write it in there, as well!

Beau Hindman is your puppet. Make him dance, if you'd like. Over the next several weeks, he will be your guide through whatever game you choose, through whatever activity you command him to participate in. Follow him on Twitter or Raptr to see when he might be playing, then go in game to shoot bullets at his feet!

This article was originally published on Massively.