The Wheel of Time is one of the seminal western fantasy novel series and is much-loved the world over. While it took a long time before we got a screen adaptation, for better or for worse, it was only 9 years after the first book was published that we first got a video game adaptation, named after the series itself. This DOS-era FPS title is set centuries before the events of the book, but does it do the series justice? Is it still a fun FPS game to play these days? There’s really only one way to find out.
As stated before, The Wheel of Time is an FPS title, but not in the style of Doom or Quake. Rather, it’s a first-person shooter where you control a spell caster and must combine your use of magical artifacts to defend yourself and attack your enemies, as well as special abilities like breathing underwater, healing damage, or turning invisible for a short period of time. These abilities are all limited, based on finding items in the universe that give you charges for each spell. The only exception to this is your air blast attack, which is your main means of defense throughout the game.
The air blast is pretty weak. Even when you’re facing primarily melee-based enemies at the start of the game, it can be difficult to take them out easily. The air attack has very limited range and doesn’t do loads of damage, because of how poor the range is, you’re liable to run into your enemies and take damage just to get close enough to deal with them. It’s not terrible, and after a bit of practice you can avoid damage most of the time, but it still feels a bit limiting at times.
On the plus side, you pick up a lot of other attacks, so there’s a decent amount of variety. The basic spells you’ll find in abundance include an attack that shoots a dart and a slightly more powerful fireball attack. The spike attack is much more usable, and it’s actually possible to develop some level of rhythm moving around the levels. It’s just a shame that your ammo limit for the attack is pretty limited for how many shots most enemies take.
That’s not to say that The Wheel of Time is overly hard or anything. While the items are limited, each level is also built around the idea that you’ll be thoroughly exploring them. This is especially true a little way into the game when you have to solve puzzles and get around obstacles to make progress. At that stage, you’re tripping over enough shield and healing spells to keep you going even on higher difficulty levels. Having said that, this is still an older game, so make sure you’re hitting quicksave every two seconds so you don’t end up having to replay a hard section of the game with no health or ammo.
Speaking of this being an older game, there certainly are some stability issues with The Wheel of Time that can make it pretty annoying to get on with. Various issues crop up on modern PCs depending on your resolution and video device settings. Even when you get into the game, tabbing out can cause some major problems and even crashes. Probably the least offensive of these issues is how small the UI gets on higher resolutions.
Technically you can go all the way up to 1080p on software rendering, and the actual levels look great like that. Everything is very clear and it makes puzzles easier to solve, not to mention making it possible to see otherwise hidden enemies in dark passages. The issue is that the UI is so small at that point that you might not even be able to play the game. It would have been nice to see some slight tweaks to the game for this GOG release to fix UI issues, but it’s not horrific to play in slightly lower resolutions. This is an older title after all.
The game also mixes in some tower-defense-like elements to the gameplay to keep it fresh. At certain point throughout the story, you’ll suddenly have to defend a location against enemies. The game goes into a sort of setup mode where you can move other units around the location, as well as use magical artifacts to set traps for your enemies. These sections come around relatively often, and they do offer a nice break from running around fantasy locations searching for magical artifacts and puzzles to solve.
The only real complaint about these sections is that you are sometimes called upon to defend characters, and at that point, the missions can devolve into an annoying frenzy. Some of the characters you’re trying to defend don’t have great self-preservation instincts, and while you also have other characters to help defend them, enemies have a horrible tendency of ignoring the tough enemies. Especially those weird smoke worms that float around the place trying to sap your health.
In terms of graphics, there’s not much to write home about. It’s all consistent, but it’s also 3D graphics from the time period when we were still constructing our 3D games from craft paper and wishes. For the most part, it works when the game depicts humanoid, but otherwise monstrous enemies. When called upon to render a human? Well, let’s say that the game does its best with what it has. It gets even better during cutscenes when the game becomes even funnier than the original Tekken opening cutscene.
It’s probably the janky accession of cutscenes that makes the storyline of The Wheel of Time fall apart a bit. Not only is it telling a non-canon section of the story from the books, but it also doesn’t do a great job of explaining stuff for non-fans. Even worse, despite both of these problems, the cutscenes feel like they go on a fair bit at times, and with the stability issues, you’re scared to press escape to skip a cutscene in case the game crashes again.
Overall, The Wheel of Time comes out very much in credit as a game, despite some shortcomings due to its age. Sure, it’s not an FPS with top-notch gunplay, but it’s interesting to have a shooter with weapon variety outside of “gun” and “gun that shoots fast” or “big gun that goes boom when you pull the trigger.” That aside, the story isn’t massively interesting, and the extraneous issues caused by the age of the game make it tough to recommend to anyone outside of hardcore fans of the novels, or folks who are super into retro games from this time period. Even then, you’ll need to be a very specific niche of classic FPS fan to get really into this.
TechRaptor covered The Wheel of Time on PC via GOG with the code provided by GOG.COM
- Interesting and varied gameplay with puzzles, combat, and siege sections
- Decent amount of content
- Can technically work at high resolutions
- Can be extremely buggy and crash between levels
- The looks really haven't aged all that well