Wizard 101 is a new MMO aimed at kids. In it, you play a young wizard going to a magic school and having adventures. The basic mechanics are based on collectible card games, where each card represents a spell, though the game itself is a subscription game. You don't buy cards, you get new cards as you level. Each wizard specializes in a specific school of magic, such as Fire or Ice, but can also get cards in a secondary school.
It costs $10 / month, but you can try it out for free. There's also the standard price cuts if you subscribe for a longer period of time.
- Gameplay: The basic mechanic of combat in Wizard 101 is elegant. Your spells cost Power Points. The more powerful the spell, the more Power Points it consumes. You build up Power Points at the rate of 1 per turn. However, buffing and debuffing spells cost zero Power Points. So the game revolves around casting buffs and debuffs to build up Power Points, and then choosing an appropriate damage spell. There is some beautiful tension involved, and getting the right mix of buff/debuff spells and damage spells of appropriate cost is a lot of fun.
Basic gameplay is turn based, with up to four players on each side. Other people can join your battles, and other monsters will also join (if there are more players than monsters).
- Graphics: The graphics in Wizard 101 are crisp, clean, cartoony, and colorful. It's a kids game, so it's not cutting edge graphics, but the art style more than makes up for it. Gear looks nice, and the monsters and card animations are very well done. I'm a big fan of the art style of this game, but your mileage may vary. In particular, the word "realism" has no place here.
- Polish: Wizard 101 is nicely polished. It's stable and there were very few bugs when I played it.
- Character Creation: The character creation system is a series of Ultima-style questions. I kept getting Fire mage, even when I was trying for something different. I'm not sure what that says about me. The naming system is also cool. You choose a first name, and two parts of a last name. My character in beta was a Fire/Myth (primary school/secondary school) mage named Richard Sunweaver. After the wipe, I made a Death/Balance mage named Valerian Ravencaller. I liked the character creation system and naming system a lot.
- Communication: I never thought I'd see the day when I missed Barrens Chat. Because Wizard 101 is aimed at kids (have to Protect The Children™), it's somewhat hard to communicate with people. Nintendo does very much the same thing in their multi-player games. There's no guilds, no parties. Most communication is done through a menu system which I found awkward to use. As well, since all the barriers are so obviously aimed at protecting young kids, as an adult I found myself uneasy at the thought of approaching people for help with tough battles. There's no general chat channel, where you can send requests for help out into the void.
The closest WoW analogy to this is doing quests with the opposite faction. If you're Alliance, and you come across a Horde working on the same quest, sometimes the two of you will work together to complete it. You can't talk to each other, so there's this odd dance of gestures and inferring meaning (and the dance takes on extra weight on a PvP server). That's what playing with strangers in Wizard 101 feels like.
I'm a quiet player, but I like seeing guild chat or general chat scroll by. Wizard 101 just felt very lonely to me, even though I was surrounded by other players.
Obviously, this may not matter to you if you play with friends, or it may even be a positive if you have young children you are concerned about.
Wizard 101 is a great game. It has many good qualities, and is worth trying out even for the jaded adult gamer, just to see the basic gameplay. It is a children's game, so it is cute. It isn't amazingly deep and doesn't have many sub-games like crafting or raiding or PvP (though there are some arcade games and an arena where you can duel). But Wizard 101 focuses on its core gameplay, and that core is executed cleanly and polished to a shine.