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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Wizards and Warriors




Wizards and Warriors (Game release date: 2000)
This throwback game successfully evokes the feel of an early-90's CRPG, but can be more of a pain to maneuver through than some of the classics it mimics.


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Highlights: Versatile character creation and development, great dungeons, nice graphics, fun retro feel Lowlights: Extremely awkward interface, boring cliched plot, cheesy dialogue, little interactivity

Wizards and Warriors is old-school. That's the first and only thing the game developers would like you to know about it; from its generic title and cover art through its deliberately cliched plot to the just-barely-tweaked roster of classic Wizardry races, this game is striving to recreate the feel of early-90's classic CRPG's like Wizardry 6 and 7 and Might and Magic IV and V. At this it succeeds-- and well it should, since the game was in fact written by classic Wizardry author D.W. Bradley--but perplexingly, Wizards and Warriors seems to go out of its way to recreate all the most annoying interface inconveniences and gameplay limitations of the past, too. You've got the aggravating menu nests and the pointless obstacles to saving your game and the hours and hours spent trudging back and forth to town to sell your loot because teleportation is a 7th level spell. You've got your droning non-interactive NPCs and your fed-ex quests and your tedious combats with hordes of ridiculously underpowered wandering monsters and your six characters all of whose armor and swords and helmets and boots need to be repeatedly unequipped and passed to the one guy with the repair skill and repaired and passed back out and re-equipped. This game is so old-school it kind of feels like you're sitting there with a slate and chalk half the time, to be honest, and I couldn't help wondering whether anyone REALLY thought what we missed about those old games was the clunky interfaces and varied opportunities to roleplay package delivery.

On the other hand, Wizards and Warriors also gets right all the things that were good about the CRPGs of yesteryear--fun dungeons, satisfying character advancement that really puts you in the driver's seat, and the freedom to tackle or retreat from any challenge you please in any order you please. If only it had been able to combine that with the kind of interactivity Ultima VII introduced years ago, or the kind of flexibility in quest design Baldur's Gate 2 offered up the same year Wizards and Warriors was finally released, or the kind of effortless interface Wizardry 8 presented the very next year. This could have been an amazing game if it had done something, anything, to advance the genre; to update the nostalgic dungeon crawl into something worthy of a new millennium, rather than just delving back into the past and staying there.

Wizards and Warriors didn't even try. But it did successfully achieve the one thing that evidently mattered to the game designers: this game is old-school. Down to the bone. You will come away from it feeling like you've just played a classic Wizardry game that you somehow neglected to play seven years ago. If that idea sounds at all appealing to you, you want to give Wizards and Warriors a chance despite its strangely dated gameplay.

Style: Wizards and Warriors is a neoclassic CRPG with a first-person 3D interface. You control and develop a six-person party. The plot is a role-playing fantasy adventure. Combat is effectively turn-based, but has some odd realtime elements. Several obstacles require manual dexterity and/or quick reflexes to surmount.

Series: Wizards and Warriors is not part of a series per se. It's sort of a bastard stepchild of the long-running Wizardry series, but has no continuity with those games other than some peculiarities of race, class, and interface display.

Finding Wizards and Warriors: This game is out of print. You can still find copies floating around Ebay and online computer game stores--here is its page on Amazon.com, which usually has few copies available for reasonable prices.

Getting Wizards and Warriors to Work: This game is technically incompatible with Windows XP and, inexplicably enough, Windows 2000 (Wizardry Gold, released four years earlier, works fine on Win2000.) You can still play the game on either of those systems, but you're bound to run into technical problems. Luckily a dedicated group of fans has put out this very thorough bug work-around page which will help you through any system incompatibility problems you're likely to face. I did not run into any major bugs which were not covered on that page.

Hints For Wizards and Warriors: I have a page of Wizards & Warriors hints up online, with a complete low-spoiler walkthrough for the game as well. If you need more, try some of these Wizards and Warriors Links.

Pitfalls In Wizards and Warriors: This game uses an awkward combination of real-time and turn-based combat that does allow you to plan strategically, but requires your undivided attention and a certain amount of manual dexterity. There is no way to pause gameplay, and your characters can be attacked and killed while you're away from keyboard. This is a very inconvenient game for parents of young children or anyone else with a busy and unpredictable real life to attend to. There are also a number of physical challenges which require holding down several different keys at once and steering rapidly with the mouse.

Game Length: Between 40-80 hours, depending how many side quests you investigate. The game box says 200 hours, but that's just advertising hype--you could play it this long if you hung around respawn zones long enough killing random monsters, of course, but that's true of any CRPG.

Age-Appropriateness: Wizards and Warriors is rated M (for 17 years old and up) due to bare-breasted satyrs, one NPC with campily suggestive dialogue, and occasional bad language (of the "damn" and "hell" variety.) I would have rated it a T, frankly-- there are no adult themes, no horror or gore, and the token sexpot isn't any more explicit than the ones in T-rated Wizardry 8 or Baldur's Gate 2.

Lora's Wizards & Warriors Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The main plot is basic and so cliched as to border on campy. Quests are plentiful and drive the gameplay very well, but nearly all of them are dull errand-boy affairs, none have multiple solutions, and some of them repeat themselves mindlessly (not a problem when you're asked to go fetch artifacts from a dungeon, but very silly when you're asked to go bring a third copy of the same letter to the same guy.)
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There aren't many puzzles per se in this game. The most interesting challenges are dungeon exploration (secret doors, lever manipulation, and the like.) Wizards and Warriors gets props for allowing and even encouraging lateral thinking on dungeon crawls--you can stack crates to reach a ledge you're having trouble jumping onto, or jam a recalcitrant door open with an empty treasure chest.
Characters: You get six PCs in this classic RPG format; all of them are fully customizable and can be developed in any of dozens of different directions. NPCs are two-dimensional and as cheesy as is humanly imaginable.
Gameworld: The gameworld is a generic fantasy setting; sentient races are Wizardry knockoffs with slightly different names ("ratlings" instead of "rattkins," "oomphaz" instead of "umpani," etc.) Unlike the Wizardry games, though, none of them has any consistent culture to speak of.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): The greatest strength of Wizards and Warriors is its engaging, flexible, highly satisfying character advancement system. It's easy and fun to multiclass, and you can literally take your characters in any direction you want to. Want to turn an elephant into a ninja? You can. Want a Valkyrie rat? It's in the game. The spell system is also very nice. The big problem with gameplay is the signal-noise ratio; 75% of your playing time is wasted manually running back and forth between known locations, and 75% of your combats are with large packs of wandering monsters who are way too weak for your level and should never have been taking your time up in the first place. It can all get very, very tedious.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): Wizards and Warriors' seems to go out of its way to reproduce nearly every interface annoyance that other games have solved in the past decade. There are no shortcuts for anything--if you kill an enemy with seven items in inventory, you have to go around individually pixel-hunting and picking up each one, and then transfer them one by one to your warlock so she can manually identify it from her inventory screen. Combat is some semi-realtime turn-based monstrosity that simultaneously forces you to manually click on fast-moving monsters in order to hit them AND prevents you from wiping weak enemies out quickly by making you cycle through your whole batting order before the character with the pertinent magic item can have another turn. Conversation is tooth-grittingly slow and awkward, with tons of repetition and no way to skip to the end of a slowly scrolling paragraph. Your deadliest foes in the early game will be ladders (which are nearly impossible to back down properly) and elevators (which crush your characters to death if you don't step on and off them just right.) It is literally more of a pain to play this game than many of the early-90's games it was modeled on.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics are excellent, particularly the 3D environment and some of the monsters (encountering a new one late at night can really make you jump in your chair.) The music is atmospheric without being too intrusive. The fly in the ointment here is that the quality of the dialogue and voice acting is just awful. It's hard to really get into a game when everyone is constantly intoning things like "it is a sword... a sacred sword... a sword that is half good... and half EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL!" in their best sci-fi B-movie voices.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Wizards and Warriors for anyone who misses the classic games of the late 80's and early 90's; casual gamers without either nostalgic or aesthetic interest in older games would have more fun with a modern CRPG like Wizardry 8 or Shadows of Amn, both of which serve up much smoother interfaces, fewer bugs to contend with, and more interesting plots and character interactions along with their CRPG goodness.

If You Loved Wizards and Warriors: My top recommendation to you is actually the Realms of Arkania trilogy, a quirky, clever series of German CRPG's from the 90's. They're great fun, especially Shadows Over Riva. If you can find a copy, you may also enjoy the Ultimate RPG Archive, which offers a cornucopia of classics including the venerable Bard's Tale games. Other collections of great classic CRPGs available on the market now include the Ultimate Wizardry Collection and Might and Magic Millennium Edition. Finally, two modern CRPG's that you may like a lot are Wizardry 8 and Shadows of Amn.

For a more detailed critique of Wizards and Warriors involving spoilers, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!



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