Sirtech's latest and probably last role-playing game, Wizardry 8, has been in some form of development for more than four years. During that time, the developer not only lost its regular US publisher, but also went through numerous development changes and finally saw the light of day by means of a direct-distribution deal with retailer Electronics Boutique. If you consider all the difficulties that Sirtech has had bringing the game to market, you'll probably agree that creating a game of Wizardry 8's size, technical stability, and overall quality is truly a remarkable achievement. But you don't need a history lesson on the game's difficult development to appreciate Wizardry 8, because it's a solid, deep, and enjoyable RPG in its own right.
The thing you'll notice first about Wizardry 8 is its appearance. Surprisingly enough, it actually looks quite good. Wizardry 8 is the first game with 3D polygonal graphics that Sirtech has ever developed, but you wouldn't know that by looking at the game. Take a quick glance, and you might be put off by the game's character portraits, which have the same sort of quirky, low-resolution look as the portraits in Sirtech's Jagged Alliance strategy games. But aside from the character portraits and much of the game's interface, all of Wizardry 8's graphics are 3D, and they all look quite good. For instance, the game's monsters and onscreen characters are represented by large, healthy-looking 3D models. These models may not be exceptionally detailed, but they're designed well, animated well, and certainly more than adequate. The same can be said for Wizardry 8's environments; though some parts of the game, particularly outdoor zones, tend to look rather blocky, they're all textured simply but cleanly and all do an excellent job of looking like distinct areas, including stony dungeons, treetop cities, and open roads.
Wizardry 8 also sounds good. Both the game's music and sound effects are generally subdued but certainly appropriate. While you explore the game's world, you'll hear ambient music and sound that are decent enough, and when your stalwart band of adventurers fights a group of enemies, you'll hear the swinging of weapons and the casting of magic spells, as well as a lot of commentary from your own party members. Wizardry 8's voice acting is consistently good and often quite funny. Both the characters in your party and the nonplayer characters you'll meet are portrayed by the same actors who provided the voice work for Sirtech's Jagged Alliance strategy series. So you can create a party of mild-mannered characters who speak in typical high-fantasy prose, or, if you prefer, you can create a group that speaks with spirited Italian, French, or British accents. In any case, you'll find that the game's voice acting will grow on you and that it adds a great deal of personality to the game.
When you actually start playing the game, you'll find that Wizardry 8 builds upon the previous games in the series, but you won't need to have played any of them to get a good idea of how the game works. As with the other games in the series, you'll begin with a party of up to six characters you create yourself (or import from Wizardry VII) and explore the game's different areas with a first-person view. And just like Wizardry VII, Wizardry 8 lets you create a party of characters from a variety of playable races, including humans, elves, dwarves, and more fanciful races, such as faeries and lizardmen. You can choose from 15 different character classes--including the series' more-advanced prestige classes, such as the lord, samurai, and bishop--from the get-go. It's safe to say that you'll probably want to experiment with several of the game's interesting character professions, and like the other games in the series, Wizardry 8 will let you change your characters' classes, so you won't necessarily be stuck with the same characters throughout the entire game.
You'll have plenty of time to change your characters' classes--and do lots of other interesting things--in Wizardry 8. The game's base install size of 1.2GB hard drive space (1.8GB for a full install) is a pretty good indication that the game is long--at least 70 hours, if not more. Over the course of the game, your adventurers will fight lots of different enemies, gain experience levels, acquire powerful new weapons and armor, and meet interesting characters to recruit into their party. You'll also find numerous optional subquests and secrets that you can discover independent of the game's main story.