Choose My Adventure: Wings rule, horses drool edition

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Choose My Adventure: Wings rule, horses drool edition
For those who might not know, it was decided last week that my Wizard101 character was to be a boy from the school of Death. On top of that, he was ordered to get around town by using a pair of beautiful white wings. I heard a few comments in different places about how the wings would not look cool with a Death student or about how a horse mount or broom was better. I held fast and nabbed a pair of the white, fluttering back pieces. I had to obey orders!

Once I made my character and put the wings on, though, I looked completely metal. For those younger players who might not understand what that means, Google "Dio" and watch a few videos. Avoid Slayer -- your parents would not like that. (Note: If you come across a band called Queensryche, that's not metal.) Anyway, my white wings only accentuated my dark intentions. It was a fantastic choice.

But what else did I do over this last week besides wait for the vote to end? Well, click past the cut and I'll let you know.
Waiting for the vote to end was not very exciting. Sure, I wondered about what I was going to be, but I just wanted to get in and play. For the record, I am very familiar with the game already. I've visited Kingsisle studios twice, interviewed some of the developers, and even hung out with them at an awards show! (They all seem to have gum all the time.) My wife even hosts a podcast about the game, and I have watched her play it pretty passionately for a long time.

I had similar experiences with all the games in the vote, just so we're all clear. In fact, I was pretty sure that MapleStory would win, being that its community is so massive. The players of Wizard101 pulled it off, though, so here I am trying to explain that my past experiences will have no bearing on what I am going through now. First, I never got above level 10 or so on my old character. Second, I started in beta and have not really played much since then. But would putting Wizard101 up for a vote would only lead me down a familiar road?

Not so fast. Even just spending the time in the game over the last day (remember, the vote ended on Monday) showed me that a lot has changed. The cash shop is filled to the brim with tempting items, there are tons and tons of new players, and even some mechanics seem to have changed. Also, I am paying much more attention to the details of the game than before, thanks mostly to this assignment.

The character creation -- the first step into the world -- is a lot of fun. You meet the old master wizard Merle Ambrose right at the beginning. He talks to you and can even take you through a quiz that will help you figure out which school of magic to pick. Since mine was already decided for me, I skipped the quiz and went with the Death school. I made a cool-looking guy with blond hair, a pale suit with black trim, and a dark hat. I chose a random name and tweaked it a little bit: Boris Shadowbreaker. Unfortunately, players cannot pick their own names in the Spiral. I saw someone comment that it was silly to have such "restrictions," but I'm sure that he was merely unaware of Kingsisle's attempts to keep the game secure. Ironically, though, any other player can have my same name and can pose as me -- a security breach if ever there was one.

"I faced a centaur that shot arrows at me in bullet-time style, cat creatures that spit fire at me, and sharks that swam around in a watery circle before popping out to bite me."

The beginning tutorial is a lot of fun. You are tasked with following Ambrose into a tower and then fighting the minions of Malistaire, an evil-looking, brooding wizard. The cutscenes and voice-acting are top-notch. (Kingsisle has even said that many players who might not be able to read well are helped by the voice and text combo!) Once in combat, though, I forgot about the story and concentrated on destroying my enemies.

Wizard101 is a turn-based card deck battle game, meaning that you choose a card from your deck, select an enemy, and cast the spell on him. What follows are perhaps some of the best combat animations since the Final Fantasy series. I faced a centaur that shot arrows at me in bullet-time style, cat creatures that spit fire at me, and sharks that swam around in a watery circle before popping out to bite me. Of course, I had my own spells to counter theirs! My favorite casts an ent-like creature that grows, forms into a humanoid shape and slings a boulder at the target. Animations this good should not be able to run on a netbook.

One common complaint I have heard is about the amount of time it takes for some animations to pass. Why have them at all? some ask. Because they're cool, that's why. Not only that, but while the animations do their thing, players can discuss or figure out what to do next. Communication is kept family-friendly as the game offers a variety of pre-chosen phrases and common sayings in a menu-chat. If Billy wants to say hello to someone but is not normally allowed, he can simply select "Hello" from the drop down menu. It's a clever tool and even stores the last dozen or so used phrases for easier access. Since my account was verified, I had free chat on and could say almost anything I wanted. The menu-chat players would not be able to see it, of course.

"Luckily, the items I had were very cool and pretty unique, most of the coming from magazine offers or the cash-shop. When I was ready to log out for the night, I was looking pretty sharp!"

After my tutorial, I spent some time with a few friends running through missions. Gameplay is very linear. You literally follow a line of quests from one voice-acted NPC to another, picking up items and experience along the way. Still, players can grind on fights if they'd like -- a "light" version of many MMOs' core systems. I truly enjoyed following the quest line, though. The voice acting and quest text are easily digested because they are kept to a near-perfect length. If a player wanted, she could easily skip it all and follow the arrow to the next area... but the story is one of the best parts of the game.

I hit level 5 and transferred some of my old items from my higher-level character to my new one. This is achieved by logging in one character, dropping the items into a shared bank slot, and logging in the new character to grab the items. Luckily, the items I had were very cool and pretty unique, most of them coming from magazine offers or the cash shop. When I was ready to log out for the night, I was looking pretty sharp!

So now I need your help again. I need to know which school to go with for my secondary set of spells and which pet I should start to level. I already have a cool zombie pet. Please vote below and help me decide what to do! The poll will close next Saturday, the 22nd of January, at 11:59 p.m. EST.
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!
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