Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review - Screenshot 1 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

You don’t get ‘lucky’ in Wizardry, not like you can do in other games. You might run into an easy enemy once in a while, but if you decide to take a chance during an expedition and descend a floor ‘just to see’ how it goes, it will not go well. "Your entire party has been slaughtered." Again. This remake of Sir-Tech's formative 1981 dungeon crawler may have had a few rough edges sanded off by Digital Eclipse, but underneath the finery this is the same game that has been wiping your parties for over four decades. There's no such thing as 'winging it' in Wizardry.

The remake opens with a letter from the 'Project Murphy' team explaining its aims. "Our primary goal is to make the original game accessible to modern players while remaining faithful to the original feel and gameplay." For better or worse, what we have here is a very faithful adaptation that retains the spirit of the Apple II original. And it's a fine — and punishing — piece of work that might benefit from a couple more optional enhancements.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Let's focus first on its devotion to the pioneering original. Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord spawned many ports and sequels and laid the groundwork for party systems and dungeon-based battling in the RPG genre. As detailed in that opening letter — and evidenced by the version visibly running in an on-screen overlay, if you wish — this remake is "built directly on top of" the Apple II code. In addition to some lovely new visuals and audio, a host of optional quality-of-life tweaks are present but the basic gameplay here is first-person dungeon-crawling 101.

You're charged with retrieving an amulet from the wizard Werdna who's ensconced on the tenth floor of a maze beneath Overlord Trebor's castle. A 20x20 grid comprises each level, and it's your job to assemble a varied D&D-style party, explore each floor while battling monsters in turn-based, dice-roll combat, gain sufficient experience to survive all the way to the bottom, and ultimately wrench the MacGuffin from Werdna's cold, dead hands. Levelling up, acquiring better gear, and learning new spells as you go, you'll revisit the castle above many, many times if you want to avoid a very quick death at the hands of the many and varied beasties you encounter.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

And die you will. The tooltips speak plainly. "Explore cautiously and don't overextend." "Don't fall in love with your characters." You really get the sense that, while catering to core fans who want the purest update possible, Digital Eclipse is doing its damnedest to set expectations and context for newbies, too - something it achieves so elegantly in its interactive documentary series, but which is restricted to loading screens and optional conversation hints here. These warnings must be heeded if you don't want your entire party slaughtered again and again. Luck may be a character attribute to pump points into, but a great Luck stat won't carry you through dozens of invisible dice rolls. You will die without sufficient prep and gear.

Wizardry's pacing is a little lopsided. Perhaps a result of removing pen and paper from the equation, but we spent a long time getting into the mindset, building our party, and bumping our head against the first few floors while hunting for specific, progress-gating items. You'll revisit the same old haunts — including an infamous, grind-friendly ghost (hmm, that came out wrong) — many times to farm XP. Getting your troupe to a level where they can traverse an entire floor and make it back above ground to recuperate is tough going.

And then, at a certain point after maybe 15 hours, access to over half of the floors opened up unceremoniously, with nothing to stop us from venturing to Floor 10. You're thus exploring the remaining floors only to grind XP. Mapping out the levels and fleshing out your Bestiary is all well and good, but knowing that the final gauntlet is just there makes the second half feel a little perfunctory.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review - Screenshot 4 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The setup isn't so different from, say, Ganondorf sitting there, accessible and awaiting you, in Hyrule Castle from the very beginning. Then again, five floors of identical-looking walls is a different prospect to a vast open world filled with activities and wonder. Chancing it and heading on down to Floor 10 results in merciless punishment, of course. "Wizardry is a game of patience," remember?

Fortunately, this remake retains the original's comedy practically down to the letter. The 'OOF!'s and 'HUMPH!'s that accompany every wall bump show how the creators — both the original developers and Digital Eclipse — realise the need for levity. The deathly seriousness of Trebor's mission is underscored by an infectious silliness, the sort that had original devs Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg use their names spelt backwards for the game's primary characters. Dopey spell titles keep things light in a game which could so easily become a dark, depressing trudge.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review - Screenshot 5 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Puzzle-wise, there's not much beyond lock-and-key-finding on the first few floors. The pen-and-paper mapping essential in 1981 is less vital here thanks to your last DUMAPIC map available on the 'Y' button. The option to mark that map with hazards and points of interest would have been very welcome, especially in handheld mode, where the touchscreen goes unused. There's still value, then, in sitting down with some graph paper and drawing maps yourself, if you've got the temperance for it.

And that's exactly the sort of attitude you'll have to adopt to get the most from Wizardry. There's very little scope for shortcuts. Before finding and selling an incredibly valuable item, the only way to game the system (that we found) was through farming resurrection funds by selling freshly created characters' equipment. We got it down to a fine art, quickly dashing off six Good Elf Priests (each of whom comes with 80G's worth of gear) and whipping over to Boltac's store to sell their stuff before deleting the lot and birthing the next batch. Needs must when you're in a bind and 'Chops' got done in by a Boring Beetle.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

When it comes to mod cons, you can configure Digital Eclipse's new additions via the Old-School Options menu. If you want the original '81 level layouts or the trickier maps from the console adaptations, they're available to choose at the start. Quality-of-life tweaks include a small ambient map, contextual hints from party members, and how particular mechanics are implemented. If you want to manually set the base Attribute Points for each created character, you can. If you want the Temple to function exactly as in the original and ignore the modern rebalancing, have at it. The remake adds character recruitment options, too, with guns-for-hire that are comparable to your highest-level character, if you've got the cash.

It's a strong suite of options but, once again, there's that tension between sanding away rough edges while staying true to the original spirit. We would have liked a few more options, honestly. In combat, hitting 'Y' will auto-select the first action for all six party members (front row attacks, back row parries), which is fine but you have to sit through the animations. When you're deeply engaged with every round, as you will be for mid-to-high-level monsters, no problem - and the animations are great. But if you're going through the motions farming XP, the ability to speed things up would have been appreciated. We love you, Murphy, but c'mon.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord Review - Screenshot 7 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Visually, this is a lush update and we never got tired of seeing the bricks peel back to reveal secret doors. Performance is steady, no complaints at all there, although the appearance of 15 Creeping Coins does tax the system a little. The controls are well considered and the UI is clean - we had no trouble reading things on an OLED, where we played in handheld mode almost exclusively.

Standing back, it's Wizardry's impressive depth, born from simplicity, that sticks with you, and the game's genius is showcased very well here. It took us well over a dozen hours to conquer the first four floors, and another dozen at least before we were strong enough to face Werdna, and we resorted to an online map or two to help along the way. Needs must, etc. You could potentially sink hundreds of hours into this depending on how old-school you want to be, and it'll be like a warm blanket to veterans.

If you're new to the game or the genre, however, you should understand what you're signing up for. Identifying the myriad veins of influence is incredibly satisfying and the maze will take over your mind if you let it. You'll go to sleep formulating strategies and working on plans to rescue fallen heroes whom, despite the tooltip's advice, you grew too attached to, all while the excellent music plays in your head. (The grind makes it a great 'podcast game,' but don't miss out on the audio here.)

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

If you're not in that mindset, though, Wizardry probably isn't for you; wing-and-a-prayer gamers need not apply. There's no such thing as a 'lucky' run. The grind — but also the deep satisfaction of earning every single inch of progress — is real.


Digital Eclipse's stylish and subtle retooling of a classic retains the spirit of the original while providing just enough quality-of-life aids to make it approachable to modern gamers for whom having to fetch a pen and paper and ‘bad design’ are one and the same. The team's genius lies in recontextualising classics in such a way that they also serve as great introductions, and for genre newbies to have this Wizardry remake potentially be their first old-school dungeon crawler is a real gift. Be prepared for the grind, but Wizardry's unforgiving style has been back in mainstream vogue for a while now, so if you're at all curious, Trebor's mission is absolutely worth accepting.