Indie-Ana Co-Op and the Wizard's Empire
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Indie-Ana Co-Op and the Wizard's Empire

Before we discuss the two co-op entries for this week, a quick announcement. We've been covering quite a few indie titles these past few weeks, and even a few more starting last summer. It's at this point that we here at Co-Optimus are pleased to announce that we've added a new Xbox Live Indie Games section to our database of co-op games! Now you'll have a quick reference to all of the indie co-op games on XBLIG that the Co-Optimus staff has either personally played or covered in some fashion. There will be more about this new feature and a couple other things for which to keep an eye out later this week, but for now, enjoy!

Wizard’s Keep
Developer: Substance Games
Genre: Role Playing
Available On: XBLIG
Co-Op Mode: Local (2 players)
Price: 80 MS Points ($1)
Demo w/ Co-Op Available: Yes

With the PSN still down over the weekend really in a state right now, I was am unable to get my “Diablo adventure with friends” fix through the recently released Dungeon Hunter: Alliance. With a craving that's steadily growing, I turned to the XBLIG section to see what I might be able to find. Best known for their single-player adventure Miner Dig Deep, Substance Games recently released an action RPG called Wizard’s Keep. Intrigued by the possibility, and craving some more loot hunting, I decided to see what, exactly, this wizard had in his keep.

The game starts off with the hero in his humble hovel pondering over his “To-Do” list, which includes items like “Clear Out Cobwebs from Home” and “Slay Goblin King.” The first step in his adventure is to track down a suitable weapon (a wooden dagger from the local item shop) for clearing out those pesky cobwebs, but right after that is when the real tutorial picks up and Wizard’s Keep begins to show its Diablo roots. Essentially, you will travel from dungeon to dungeon clearing out the goblins and other evil foes that lurk within in order to level up your character and find better equipment; after all, a wooden dagger and wooden shield are only going to protect you for so long. Charmingly, the game does show a good bit of humor as a lot of the initial equipment you’ll find will be things like a bucket with eye holes for a helmet and a wooden barrel for armor.

Wizard’s Keep’s gameplay is about what you’d expect from a hack n’ slash dungeon crawler that follows in the tradition of those that came before. At each level up, you can choose one of four categories (strength, defense, health, and speed) and at every fourth level you can add points to special abilities, such as healing yourself or unleashing a more powerful attack. These special abilities work off of a charge meter that fills as you attack and kill enemies, and are best used when you need that quick little boost or extra bit of damage to overcome the foes. Speaking of combatants, you will encounter bosses and sub-bosses along the way, and, for a good deal of them, rather than just be a straight-forward “keep hacking away until it dies,” you will actually have a little bit of a challenge/puzzle in bringing them down. Defeating one boss, for instance, entails employing the ole “get him to shoot out these conspicuous load-bearing pillars” trick. While the loot isn’t quite as glamorous as it is in other games, Wizard’s Keep does employ an interesting mechanic where anything (within certain levels) can drop at any time from any enemy, so you still get that driven feeling of searching for more and more loot.


If this hero brought a co-op partner along, maybe he wouldn't about to be the victim of a brutal backstab from a goblin...

As with so many of these games, having a partner along for the ride is definitely recommended to increase your overall fun. Despite some of the fun aspects of Wizard’s Keep, like the boss fights and humor, the tedium does start to set in around the second dungeon when you may find yourself in need of backtracking to gain some more experience and better equipment. While co-op is local only, player progress is saved separately so you and your couch co-op partner can feel free to level up and equip yourselves as you see fit. Each player gets experience for killing enemies, with the player doing the actual killing getting a little more. The loot drops, however, are on a “first person to get there” basis, so there may be a little friendly competition and mad dashing to pick up a new piece of equipment. Fortunately, you can drop items so the other person can pick them up. Perhaps the biggest flaw with the co-op is that players can get separated and, when they do, the second player just goes off screen with only an arrow to indicate where he or she has gone. Tethering players together isn’t always a great choice, but it is certainly a better alternative to what is implemented.

Wizard’s Keep is a pretty good entry in the action-RPG genre, though it’s not without its drawbacks. Still, for those loot-seeking fans who are looking for a way to scratch that itch with a friend on the Xbox, there is a lot of game here to enjoy.

Wrap-Up
Wizard’s Keep is For: All those folks seeking to satisfy the need to traipse through dungeon after dungeon, slaying all foes in your path, and collecting piles of loot
The Co-Op Experience: Each player is free to level up his or her hero as they please in addition to equipping him with all the loot players find. Should the second player stray too far away, though, he or she will be lost off-screen until the first player goes back


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