Friday, July 18, 2014

Wizard 101 Review

An MMO That Is Kid Friendly and Easy to Use

I was not about to introduce my kids to the world of MMO (massively multiplayer online) gaming by having them sit down to a World of Warcraft experience grind, as it is by no means kid friendly and definitely not easy to use. I was stumped, knowing my kindergarten and first-grade munchkins deserved a wonderful gaming experience. Then I saw a commercial for Wizard 101, and the playing field changed.

wizard 101 screenshotWizard 101 Review
 
The game takes place in a fantasy world based primarily on wizardry. Your character, as a young spellcaster with potential, is recruited into the school of magic. The next step is to decide what type of magic your character would like to practice: ice, fire, myth, balance, etc. Once settled, it's off and away!




Just with any other MMO, quests are assigned by various NPCs (non-player characters) throughout the multilevel universe of the game and are quite easy to spot. Interaction simply encompasses clicking on the NPC, and either accepting or denying the quest. Yellow arrows give directions for those who wish, and the fun really begins!

Within the Spire, which is the name for the universe of Wizard 101, there are many different worlds, and each world has many zones. To date, my children have played in straight fantasy settings, a Viking-type world inhabited by bears, a land resembling ancient Egypt inhabited by wise lizards and crocodiles, and a world looking quite similar to London of the 19th century inhabited by talking dogs and cats. As a parenting bonus, I stumbled upon an NPC outside of the game's version of Scotland Yard who resembled a face and vehicle from my childhood: Doctor Who and the TARDIS!

Though this is a free to play game, like many others, you may choose to buy additional zones for your character to explore. Several stores sell the cards, including Walmart and Target, or you can purchase credits directly from the website itself. These zones are excellent value, as each run about $1, and once paid, are accessible forever. Another nice bonus is that once purchased, all the characters on your account can benefit from that zone, which means no buying the same zone for each toon!

Kid Friendly
 
wizard 101 screenshot The game is entirely engaging, no matter what age the player. My six-year-old is deeply entrenched in the storyline, and we are taking advantage of the unique game play to bolster her math and reading skills. As her character interacts with NPCs, the dialogue not only pops up as a text box, but is also voiced word by word. This way she can practice reading skills with auditory prompts. As a parent, I've noticed the text narrative is designed to encourage sight-word reading. How cool is that?
"It's great to see kids getting so excited and involved in a game that, as a teacher, I can feel good about recommending for play," says Amy Gonzalez, an English teacher at the Austin Independent School District.

Though there is combat within the game, there is a strict absence of violence. I know, it sounds strange, right? When NPCs are defeated, they depart the combat field in ways unique to their characters, rather than give a 'death rattle' and collapse, devoid of life. Some may shake their heads and sneak away, some may faint, while others remain to congratulate you on a well fought match. You can think of it much like a card game where the victor celebrates, and the NPC bows gracefully.

Kid Safe
 
Four main elements are used to create the highest level of child safety in the Wizard 101 world. KingIslsle is very much aware of their responsibilities. Menu chat, unless adjusted by an adult account holder, is comprised of drop down, pre-populated chat commands. Common responses, answers, and battle commands are available to keep young children out of open chat and questionable language. If a parent so wishes, they can unlock this feature where open chat is available, but even then, there is a filter that keeps profane and related language on the radar of moderators and out of chat.

All names are computer generated during character build. There are a thousand combinations to choose from so a child can pick something unique to their personality, but it disallows picking a name that is inappropriate or reveals too much personal information.

Official message boards outside of game play are reviewed and cleaned up by the team at KingsIsle so conversations remain within the wholesome nature of the game.
Another feature is that all account information is kept under a separate login/password combination that allows you as the parent to restrict a child from making purchases on your saved credit card without your knowledge.

Easy To Use
 
The game commands are quite simple. Players use a mouse to select targets and choose communication prompts from the drop down menus. Keyboard arrow keys are used to move about. Entering shops, dungeons, and various realms is as simple as walking up to the door or passage, and the game takes it from there. This is wonderful, as once my kids became acclimated, I wasn't clicking actions in order for them to advance. I was able to sit quietly next to them and watch them have fun completing actions that they themselves had full control over.

wizard 101 screenshot
And one more thing that really sells this game for me: The game is a wonder visually, but does not eat up bandwidth like there's no tomorrow. Even a fairly weak internet connection with a low quality graphics card will allow you to play to the fullest without interuption!


Wizard 101, Not Just For Kids!
 
I'm an old school gamer, raised on Dungeons & Dragons, first generation Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, X-Box, and all the variations in between. I was engulfed in EverQuest and World of Warcraft back in the day when I had nothing better to do. I can honestly say this game is not only enjoyable to play at any age (I have my own character), but designed to be enjoyed best in small increments. Sure, you can grind away until the cows come home, but you really would be missing some wonderful story telling. My kids and I will play maybe two hours a week, and spend other quality time playing in the backyard. This, in my opinion, is one of the greatest strengths to the game.

If you are interested in trying out the game, you can download the game here.