Ready for a break from the isometric, top-down and third person perspectives of RPGs such as Baldur's Gate II: The Shadow of Amn and Icewind Dale? Feel the need to get back to some first person adventuring where you are actually looking through the eyes of your character rather than being an over-the-shoulder voyeur?
Wizards & Warriors reverses that early 21st century trend and literally puts you in the shoes of your hero (or, more accurately, up to 15 heroes) as you traverse the magical fantasy realm of Gael Serran in search of the Mavin Sword. Although the game is fraught with adventure and contains vast numbers of mini-quests, your main objective is never in doubt.
Before delving into the good and bad points of the game, though, a word on installation. Even on a Pentium II running 450 MHz, the minimum install of 750 MB takes more than ten minutes. A full install is double that in size but the results in terms of smoother gameplay are worth the extra time. Although the game plays in software rendering mode, the option to use 3D acceleration should be exercised if at all possible for maximum effect.
Wizards & Warriors, four years in the making, is the brainchild of D. W. Bradley, designer of three Wizardry titles. A quick look at the credits will show you that Bradley seemingly had a hand in many aspects of the game, ranging from storyline and design to programming. Indeed, his experience on those earlier games is apparent in the feel and environments encountered while playing this fantasy RPG.
The choice of clan during character creation is very meaningful. Each race is rated on strength, dexterity, agility, fortitude, intelligence, spiritualism, will, presence and the all-important bonus trait (humans, for example, have no special rating in any of the categories but are created with the "natural leader" ability).
Not all clan types are of the normal variety encountered in most role-playing games. They consist of some "regular" choices like elves, humans, dwarves and gnomes, but the addition of Lizzords, Guorks, Pixies and Ratlings really spice up the selection process. Two delectable clans are the Whiskas and the amusingly named Oomphaz!
Taking the time to understand character advancement is essential to getting the most from the game. Wizards & Warriors employs a comprehensive and complex character development system that will be welcomed by veteran role-playing gamers who like to have a hand in the initial creation process.
There may only be four basic character classes (warrior, wizard, priest, and rogue) for starting characters, but through a well-thought out process of "character ascension," another eight elite classes become available as the game progresses. The methodology used to acquire elite status (basically training through guilds) may seem old hat but is treated with innovative insight.
In addition to the elite classes of barbarian, bard, monk, paladin, ninja, ranger, samurai and warlock, another three specialty roles add to the fun. Part of the aforementioned innovation is the ability to become an Assassin, Valkyrie or Zenmaster only through special achievements gained while adventuring. These are truly master class individuals with enhanced attributes and skills that give the player something a little extra to strive for as the adventure unfolds.
But the process of character advancement is even more involved than simply raising skill levels. As experience is gained and skill levels increase (requirements are different for every role), a choice can be made to diversify into one of the elite classes. This requires some thought because acceptance of an elite class, while having positive long-term effects, can have serious consequences.
Changing a role freezes the character's old skill level and resets experience points to zero. Although previous class abilities and powers are retained, experience builds from the first level once again and it is not until they surpass their old skill level that meaningful bonuses are offered in terms of new character ability and power. So, in terms of involvement in your character's well being and usefulness, Wizards & Warriors delivers big time in putting decision making into the player's hands.
The sheer numbers of effects and size of Gael Serran are impressive. Although some of the terrain can become tedious to traverse at times, the overall effect is one of belief in being in a strange and mysterious land. The undead can pop up right out of the ground in front of you, dive-bombing flying creatures can snipe at you and catch you unaware with surprise attacks, and a vast array of monsters, locks, and traps await the unwary.
For those wishing to be immersed in total combat control, the game will be somewhat disappointing in that respect. Targeting is simply a matter of clicking the mouse over an enemy with the computer invoking whatever action mode the character happens to need at the moment.
This process is taken out of your hands as your characters automatically switch between fighting modes (hand-to-hand, ranged weapons, or spell casting). However, your input is still required in terms of selecting what weapon or spell each of your six characters has equipped at any given time.
Wizards & Warriors uses an "adaptive time-phasing" combat system that allows you to stop the action, turn-based style, while conducting combat in real time. The fighting can become frenetic and fast-paced, especially during melee combat, but the system allows you to keep the fighting from becoming mindless mouse clicking by allowing you to insert strategic moves and thoughtful spell selection.
Character movement is frustrating at times, especially early in the game when spell casting ability and spell levels are still low. In fact, time passage in the game is one of the weaker aspects. It's all too easy to get caught out of town while adventuring (it is inevitable) and being subjected to absolute darkness where the only choice is to wait for dawn and pray nothing attacks. The system of time control can be adjusted but was never able to get it quite right.
The magic system is diverse and contains books of magic in the areas of spirit, sun, moon, vine, fiend, and stone. There are seven levels of spell casting and different character roles have access to two books to begin with but can expand their capabilities as they achieve elite status. Not all spells are cast in the heat of combat; many have effects useful in exploring, rejuvenation, and travel.
Wizards & Warriors has an unusual game save feature that takes some getting used to -- but, once experienced, it begins to make a whole lot of sense. Anytime your party of up to six adventurers leaves a town, an automatic behind-the-scenes save occurs. Should you get stuck in the adventure, either lost (quite possible!) or every last party member killed, you have a couple of options.
Once back at the main menu, you can either load your game from a previously saved location outside of town (during an adventure) or use the Revert Adventure button. The latter has the effect of loading your game from the time your party left town to go adventuring -- in other words, it "forgets" or dismisses anything that occurred while you were away from town.
The Revert Adventure option was unpopular at first, but became more useful when evil befell my party, striking at them so quick that there was no chance to save them (literally). There was, indeed, one point where my party got lost in the dark and used the revert function to get a fresh start. Obviously, saving while in the adventuring mode (outside of town) is recommended at short intervals to prevent instant death from causing you to start over from the last automatic save.
If there is any one major gripe, it is with the interface. For a game four years in development, it was surprising how difficult it was to do certain things - things that gamers have taken for granted. After defeating an enemy, frequently you'll be rewarded with items dropped. But, all too often, picking up the item is an exercise in frustration as your character must be at exactly the right angle to pick it up.
In fact, gathering arrows my bow expert shot during a battle became rather a joke at one point. The character would circle and circle the arrow and was never able to "sneak" up on it from the correct angle to retrieve it -- especially when it was lodged on the ground near a tree.
Interchanging inventory items and money or switching between characters can be annoyingly and unnecessarily tedious at times. Also, in combat, the angles for viewing your enemy aren't always optimized and it's quite possible to get bitten or attacked by creatures before you even know they're upon you.
Although the dialog of the characters (scrolls up a small window at the bottom of the adventuring screen) is stilted and rather bland at times, the story quality is sufficient enough to hold your interest most of the time. One nice feature the game contains is an adjustable safeguard system (safe, protected, or guarded) that prevents you from offing a non-player character without just cause. This can also be set at deathmatch, at which time all bets are off -- you can kill the NPC without a second thought or glance. All of these settings can be overridden at any time via use of an "override" key.
As RPGs go, Wizards & Warriors holds it own in a genre filled with clones and half-baked ideas. A strong storyline coupled with a quite intelligent AI makes this one a very good entry and worthy of special mention. While not perfect, the game offers a tremendously in-depth adventure that will surely take even the most gifted player months to complete (especially if all side quests are accepted).
The incredible diversity possible in putting character parties together makes the gameplay nearly unlimited. Finish the game with one party, then do it again with a totally different group with contrary abilities and skills the next time. The adventure might be the same, but how you achieve the goal will change drastically based on the characters chosen.
Wizards & Warriors is a definite change (almost a throwback) from the current spate of best-selling RPGs on the market in the first half of 2000. Too bad it was released at the same time as Diablo II and Icewind Dale -- that unhappy occurrence makes the game easy to overlook -- which, in retrospect, would be a mistake.
Graphics: Excellent graphics, spell effects, character movement and environments. Moody in places and magical in others, the surroundings during gameplay help create ambiance that might be imagined in a fantasy realm. Monsters and creatures look like they'd love to kill you and NPCs are besieged with overly vacant stares. Nice presentation and smooth with a high-end machine.
Sound: Music is a bit repetitive and will most likely be toggled off eventually. Sounds are not particularly inspiring nor is the dialog (what there is of it). Fortunately, the story flows with enough without it.
Enjoyment: A rousing adventure that requires an enormous time investment to finish. Don't expect a quick in and out with this one -- you'll be in the land of Gael Serran for a very long time. Good story, wonderful graphics.
Replay Value: The adventure remains the same but the sheer number of character party combinations (over 900) makes replay mandatory for the true RPG fan!
People who downloaded Wizards & Warriors have also downloaded:
Wizardry 8, Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds, Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom, Wizardry 1: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna, Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge, Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn
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