Ah, what can I say about this RPG classic? The graphics are terrible, even by the standards of the time, their crude 16 colour EGA awfulness being quickly surpassed by the 256 colour majesty of Westwood's Eye of the Beholder, which followed but a year later.
Moreover, in defiance of even the most slender of expectations, variation in tileset is extremely limited - expect to see castles, dungeons, jungles and mines rendered in the same undulating grey brick, with faded tapestries, rooms filled with rotting furniture and the stygian underworld described in bright yellow text rather than sprites. While far more attention was lavished on the animations of your enemies you should be prepared to see the same yellowish-greyish-pinkish tones portray a multitude of demons, rats, amazons, dwarves and dragons.
The sound too is also terrible, with no music to speak of and only a limited selection of digital samples to relay the clash of steel on steel, ancient enchantments and the death of your foes. Lest that sound too exciting, be warned this is a game where your enemies die with a bang, literally expiring like popped balloons. Indeed, this was a game where the sound was quickly disabled and the mouse driver not loaded, cursor keys and imagination being far better accompaniments.
The plot is borderline nonsense, but expansive and remarkably mature, if such a thing can be said about story involving adultery, murder, madness, a pen that can re-write reality and a half naked she-devil.
And the game itself is unrelentingly punishing - this is the only game I can think of where your ability to access some of the more advanced classes, so temptingly described in the manual, at the beginning of the game rests entirely on a combination of luck and pig headedness. It is also one of the few games I've come across where a party of six stalwart heroes can be bested within seconds of starting their adventures by bats, rats and weeds, where they can fail to pick a lock and find that door locked for good. It is a game where if one of your characters dies of poison then you better hope you have some means of curing them in addition to resurrecting them, because if you don’t they’ll only die again.
However, if you've read this far and you consider yourself to be one of the few 'hardcore' CRPG gamers left out there, then you owe it to yourself to download this game and persevere. Nearly 25 years after its release, it stills holds the same dark attraction of stats and skills and spells and equipment and deep, turn-based, party-focused combat that for a few years in the mid-1990s seemed to represent the high point of aspirations for RPGs on the PC.
Once you’ve beaten the rats and bats and zombies and Zulus and taken on hell itself and battled through a climatic series of encounters against bosses that feel more like something from Streets of Rage 2. And once you’ve ditched the sticks and rags and found the Avenger and Maenad’s Lance and you’ve got a mage able to launch a tier six nuclear blast capable of incinerating waves of enemies at a time.
Then you’ll have found yourself neck deep in that borderline nonsense plot, playing a game that never fails to keep you on your toes, that rewards intelligence and strategy and speaks to the same desire for challenge and depth that until recently games had somehow managed to neglect. You’ll be hooked and you’ll want to take that band of misfits you’ve so carefully tended for the last 40 hours onward to Wizardry 7 and 8 and the fact that you’ll have to spend more than 100 hours to find out there’s no Wizardry 9 will be a bitter-sweet pill to swallow, but probably one you’ll swallow all the same.