Wizordum preview – hectic Heretic

Wizordum looks in a slightly different direction to the recent crop of retro-inspired first-person shooters. Rather than the nod coming from DOOM, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D, this Slovenian-made indie title takes its cues from the likes of Catacomb Abyss, Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, Heretic, and Hexen.

Those familiar with (three of) those games will immediately know what to expect: a kind of magic. With fantasy, goblins, fireballs, castles, and plenty of gold to grab along the way, Wizordum is already shaping up to be another fine mix of games from the past and more modern design sensibilities. Even though you’re unable to look up or down in the game.

Speaking to Primož Vovk of Emberheart Games, it soon becomes clear where the enthusiasm for the project comes from: directly from the game’s creator (and half of its development team). “I think the game is already fun to play at its early stage,” he says. “That’s why we moved forward and made an official announcement at the Realms Deep festival and put the game on Steam for others to wishlist – so it’s official now. It seems like others really like what they are seeing so far, which is another factor telling us that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Part of what has to be appealing to players is the relative simplicity of Wizordum – on playing it, you take all of five seconds or so to get accustomed to what you need to do, then you just get on with it. The baddies are there to be hit or shot at with your magic hands, some doors need keys, treasure needs to be hunted, and there’s an exit to find. Again, all while you’re not looking up or down – that pesky Y axis does tend to complicate things somewhat. And, as Vovk admits, removing your character’s ability to bend their neck backwards and forwards was utterly intentional and core to the more simple approach to design: “We removed verticality of any sort because we want more simple and stressless gameplay like in the old times,” he says. “Take away verticality, and all of a sudden, you don’t have to worry about what’s above or below – it takes some stress away.“

There’s a satisfyingly gory splatter to every kill, and you do end up using corpses to remember where you’ve been previously. Ah, video games.

At the same time, there is an acknowledgement that removing a dimension of consideration could make the experience a mite bland, meaning the two developers have to make up for this shortfall in other ways. And, of course, environments aren’t solely on a flat plane – the visual aspects of Wizordum still factor in a good deal of verticality: “We are still having vertical level visual design so we can put players in more immersive places like forests, caves, cathedrals, etc,” Vovk says. “At the same time, we optimise precious development time because we don’t have to worry about jumping; AI becomes more simple as well as level design.”

This push for the simple life sounds like a specific, focused approach to design… and it is. It’s a reaction, Vovk admits, to the ever-more complex and time-hungry designs of modern triple-A titles, all vying to steal dozens – hundreds – of hours of your precious time. Not to mention the complexity beyond just how much time you have to put into them. “When I’m playing modern games, I’m afraid to put them down for more than a few days because I’m lost when I return,” Vovk says. “There are so many subsystems that are explained throughout the game – upgrades, gadgets, combos, shortcuts – that you easily lose track of if not playing constantly. With Wizordum, we want to keep it simple like in the old days, where you could simply load up the game after half a year and resume playing.”

Stylistically, Wizordum apes the brighter sprite-based graphics of the Catacombs and Blake Stones of the world, and it wouldn’t be daft to expect this to limit the game’s appeal as a result – what with it looking to lesser-known first-person titles for its inspiration. Not so, Vovk says, with both players of those original games reacting positively (as hoped), but also folks who never played any of those earlier first-person titles being drawn in by what is – to them – a new visual style for a retro-style FPS. After all, if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.

There’s a definite beauty in the colourful simplicity of Wizordum. Also: you can smash the bushes!

But the retro style does include those modern touches, of course – effects like screen shakes and particles, graphical flourishes that weren’t (easily) possible in the early 1990s, things like that. There’s also quality of life additions like information-heavy navigational maps that help you keep tabs on where you’ve been, what you’ve found, and what else is in a level – handy both in regards to respecting the player’s time, but also when it comes to the completionists of the world. Wizordum does reward exploration with sweet, sweet higher scores after all.

And if players reward Vovk and Emberheart Games with sweet, sweet sales after the game releases – and it will come with full modding tool and Steam Workshop support – there are plans to keep on supporting the game, adding to it, and helping the fan-built ecosystem thrive. Beyond that? “If the game is successful,” Vovk says, “I would gladly go for Wizordum 2 – and who knows, we might even add vertical gameplay then!”

Genre: First-person fantasy
Format: PC
Developer: Emberheart Games
Publisher: Emberheart Games
Release: TBC 2022
Social: @Wizordum

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