Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls Review — This Classic Dungeon Crawler Should Have Stayed Lost
Originally planned for launch on PC last year but delayed because of rights issues, Labyrinth of Lost Souls is the first true Wizardry game to hit PC in 19 years. Fans of the long-defunct first-person dungeon crawler series haven't had a proper computer U.S. release since 2001 with Wizardry 8, the last game that released before developer Sir-Tech went belly up and the franchise died off in the West.
What many North American fans may not realize is that the series was promptly picked up by XSeed and saw a resurgence in Japan, where more than 30 (yes, 30) titles in the series hit a range of platforms. Of course, almost none of them have made it over to our side of the world.
If, like me, you played Wizardry 7 into the ground back in middle school, you may be in for a bit of a surprise with this title. Because it's now owned by XSeed, Wizardry has gone full speed ahead with the anime aesthetic and over the top Japanese voice acting.
Although this marks the North American PC return for the series after nearly two decades, you may vaguely recall hearing the title before. Labyrinth of Lost Souls actually saw a limited digital PS3 release to very little fanfare in 2011, and it was barely noticed by the larger gaming community.
Now that it's available for the PC master race via Steam and GOG, you too can experience why no one bothered mentioning this game out loud before.
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls Review — Old School in All the Wrong Ways
The opening few minutes of Labyrinth of Lost Souls will seem full of promise for Wizardry fanatics as you play around with the available races and classes, trying to figure out if you want an evil porklu thief or a good gnome priest. These moments are full of undeniable thrill for longtime series fans trying to puzzle out the perfect party lineup to survive their first expedition.
Unfortunately, it's immediately after that that things take a nosedive.
To say that Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a bare-bones experience would be charitable. While the Wizardry franchise has always been about the dungeon crawl above all else, at least the two previous main games had some kind of story and a number of city locations worth exploring.
Here, your home base is so painfully generic it may as well have been called TownsBurg. It's literally just a menu screen meant to recruit party members, buy stuff, heal, and go back to the dungeon. That's it. Nothing more.
Controlling your party in town or in a dungeon is a case study in why user interfaces don't look like they used to back in the '90s. There's adhering to an old-school style for nostalgia purposes, and then there's just being purposefully obtuse. Labyrinth of Lost Souls is the latter.
Most notably, there's no way to do anything as a group. Party members have to rest at the inn by themselves, for instance (wait... what?), you can't see the whole group inventory at once when buying or selling, you can't look at the full party roster for spells outside of combat, and so on. Instead, Labyrinth of Lost Souls wants you to manually scroll through each individual character for anything.
This slavish devotion to the old ways continues into the game's mechanics. Party members have extremely limited spell resources in the early stages, and the three characters in the back row can't attack without ranged spells.
While true to franchise history, that combination makes advancing at the start a serious slog. Things get worse from there, though" the cheap 1-hit kill mechanics — coupled with creatures of drastically higher level lurking around — make an unwelcome return all the more unwelcoming.
For some reason, party members can't target specific enemies in groups, meaning you often don't hit the creature with the least hit points. Noticeably, the reverse is not true. The enemy will almost always target your weakest characters, quickly killing party members and creating artificial difficulty.
It's also clear that the game designers really don't want you attacking the back rows with any regularity. A sling — you know, that tiny little strip of cloth used to hurl any old rock found on the ground — costs 14,000 gold. I literally laughed out loud when I saw the price at the item shop. On the flip side, a longsword costs 4,700 gold.
If you've played any of the old Wizardry titles, you will probably be able to look past most of that. Newcomers are in for a really unpleasant time, though, as there are absolutely no tutorials or explanations of any kind.
There's no mention anywhere that stats are randomly rolled for each new adventurer (a system that can be gamed heavily to create an uber party) or that there's a small chance that your stats will decrease when you level up. Consequently, save-scumming is a must.
Furthermore, the game's interface offers no indication of what you need to unlock the higher tier classes, or how the good/neutral/evil alignment system works within those classes. A willingness to engage in serious trial and error are crucial if you intend to play Wizardry for any appreciable length of time.
I sure hope you figured out you need to buy the map, a magic torch, and recruit new party members before heading into the first dungeon, too, or this could be a very, very short first expedition.
When you finally figure out how to game the system and create mage/priest/warrior hybrids brimming with spells and tons of hit points, then Wizardry becomes playable, and perhaps even fun. Unfortunately, that's when you are forced to deal with the game's other glaring problem.
There's just not much going on in Labyrinth of Lost Souls to keep you hooked for an extended period of time. Dungeon delve after dungeon delve without much in the way of story, or even particularly interesting environs to gawk at, just make a flat out bad game.
Labyrinth of Lost Souls' cardinal sin lies in the overly similar and repetitive dungeon designs that are maddeningly featureless. Honestly, this may as well be a text adventure rather than a graphical one, because there's not much eye candy to behold.
The wildly mediocre PS2 spin-off, Wizardry: Tale Of The Forsaken Land, which released way back in 2001, has more interesting and visually impressive locations.
Worst of all, the endless dungeons found here don't make a lick of sense. In one area of the Trials Dungeon, I found four doors in a row leading to nothing. With very little story and very little thought put into dungeon design, Labyrinth fails at many of its most basic premises.
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls Review — The Bottom Line
- The classic series finally returns to PC
- If you like playing with different party lineups and endless dungeon delves, there's some fun to be hard here
- Old-school to a fault — the UI, mechanics, and level design are atrocious
- Wildly bland graphics, atmosphere, and enemies
- Total lack of tutorial or instructions for new players
Sadly, a port from console to PC didn't bring many changes to the base game. There's no ability to change audio levels for the background music or sound effects for instance. The only improvement on that front is that you do get all of the original console DLC. But I mean, will you really want to play it?
In nearly every way, every new rendition of the classic dungeon crawl experience — Legend of Grimrock, Might And Magic X, The Bard's Tale 4, etc. — and even some of the original titles from the '90s, are much better overall.
Even if you absolutely adored Wizardry 1-8, there's not much reason to pick up Labyrinth of Lost Souls. The one and only reason to try Labyrinth of Lost Souls is nostalgia, because the gameplay just isn't worth the price of admission.
[Note: Xseed provided a copy of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls for the purpose of this review.]