Wizards & Warriors

Developer:  Heuristic Park
Publisher:  Activision
Year Released:  2000

Review by Rosemary Young (November, 2000)
Wizards & Warriors The introductory video to Wizards & Warriors sets the awesome scene. It's a familiar fantasy scenario but enticing enough as the Gods once more toy with the destinies of mere mortals. You have a dream in which you are visited by the Oracles and by the Divine Kerah who takes the form of a White Angel. Thus you learn the terrible news that the Unholy Pharaoh, Cet, has been released from his slumber and that you are the 'Chosen One' who must deal with the fiend. Your task is to procure the Mavin Sword because only this weapon, hewn from the twin metals of good and evil, can help you in your quest. It's a dangerous mission, indeed, because the Marvin Sword truly is double-edged!

Character creation
You are invited to assemble a six-person party. Your characters can be male or female and there are many other choices to be made starting with the clan of each party member. There are eleven clans altogether represented by the usual fantasy folk such as humans, elves, gnomes, pixies and dwarves and the less usual Oomphaz (elephantine creatures) Whiskahs (felines, would you believe?) and Gourks who are of the porcine variety; as well as the Lizzords and Ratlings, which need no introduction.

That done, you must then select the basic 'roles' of your characters. In Wizards & Warriors you are first offered a choice of four: Warrior, Wizard, Priest and Rogue ... that's it. To improve your standing further you'll have to work at it: join guilds, and complete quests to improve your status to Barbarian, Bard, Paladin, Ranger, Warlock, and sundry others. Much later there are three additional roles to aspire to: Assassin, Valkyrie and Zenmaster, but they are lofty occupations and are accessible by invitation only.

But all you need worry about at first are Wizard, Warrior, Priest and Rogue and, of course, each character has strengths and weaknesses that you can then adjust with the roll of the dice, which comes next. This is where you distribute a random amount of points between various attributes, which include strength, agility, presence, intelligence, etc, as well as weapons and spell-casting skills.

More tweaking
In short Wizards & Warriors dishes up a whole platter of nostalgia to anyone who hankers for a serving of the traditional style of play. And the above is just the beginning ... as you venture out into the wide blue yonder and accumulate experience your characters will advance levels and you can then distribute the awarded points between your basic attributes and skills. The rewards are meagre, though, so you will also want to train at the various guilds. Here you'll learn that there are a lot more options than you thought ... unless you read the manual top to bottom before you started :). Not only do you accumulate statistics for basic attributes and skills but there are also other necessities to consider such as 'characteristics' and 'traits'. At a rough count there are about 60 of these so, luckily, I'm not into list-making. Just a few examples here ... Gallantry and Sorcery points will improve your weapons' prowess and your spellcasting respectively, and Mooncraft or Suncraft advancement will allow you access to more spells in those particular magic realms.

Wizards & WarriorsIt does take some time to consider all the training options. Fun though it is, and as much as I revel in tweaking my characters, I picked a few and concentrated on those to avoid being overwhelmed. Even so you should read the manual carefully because some traits are unique whilst others are dependent on their sister skills. Now I'm not arguing for minimal stats, far from it, but fewer of them in this game wouldn't have hurt one bit.

Travelling on
Wizards & Warriors offers a wide, wide world to explore including grassy meadows, forests, sandy beaches, castles, dungeons and even some underwater locations ... "Ironlung" knowledge might be useful here. Although the graphics aren't the latest (the game has been 4 years in the making) I didn't mind one bit. A pixel or two doesn't deter me when there are twisting dungeons and cave complexes with locked gates and doors and figurines to find to slip into niches to make things happen. Wandering around this world is like the good ol' days of traps and switches and lifts and riddles. To enjoy Wizards & Warriors you must like this kind of adventuring. You can get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels and be thwarted by iron bars and tricky locks.

There are plenty of quests to chase up including the main quest that could have been developed more, but I do understand that writers run the risk of inviting the dreaded 'linear' label if the main story becomes too prominent. To keep you busy there are promotion quests where you must do a particular deed like pray at a shrine to become a Paladin, or collect some special ingredients to become a Warlock. And there are general good deeds to be done in each town to save it from troublesome monsters as well as quests related to specific guilds that are given to their members.

Testing your metal
Combat ... yes, there's plenty of it. There's a whole collection of angry critters to face, from teeth-gnashing piranhas to monstrous raptors and everything in between ... rabid rattlings, vicious mongrels, sneaky trolls, etc. etc. Areas do respawn but this isn't too much trouble as there is an option to increase or decrease the rate. There is also the option of three difficulty levels for combat. I played on the medium level and it was mostly plain sailing excepting for a few toughies that gave me a lot of grief.

As for the combat itself, well I have to say it's once again a double-edged sword! Adaptive Time-Phasing is the phrase that's used to describe it and what this means is that the game more or less adjusts to your pace. If you click like mad as in real time then that's what you get, if you stop and take a breather to sip your coffee as I do, then your opponent waits patiently until you are ready to continue. I must admit this worked pretty well ... in close combat ... but not in ranged combat. Hence I never had time to open a spell book and choose powerful long-range spells before the gap between my party and the enemy was closed and I was getting clobbered. This marred the combat for me as a lot of the time I was forced to adopt full-on rush-in tactics in order to survive.

Options and problems
As well as the options where you're able to choose difficulty level, adjust respawning rate, reconfigure the keyboard, etc., there are also a whole range of Graphics and Sound options to fiddle with to get everything to your taste ... all that you could wish for except that I would have liked to turn off the red splotches. You can also play Wizards & Warriors in 3D or in Software mode ... I played in the former with not too many problems excepting a crash occasionally. I do know that others haven't been so lucky. There are also a few bugs running around but nothing show stopping as far as I am aware.

Wizards & WarriorsI'm a big fan of first-person, party-based roleplaying games so I waited a long time for this one. I've had a fun couple of weeks playing it so it was worth the wait although it isn't by any means perfect. Other than bugs and the ranged combat problems there are others to consider. Unfortunately there is never a right time to discuss them in a review ... start with them and it looks awful ... end with them, ditto ... but they have to be dealt with so here goes ...

Firstly quest management is cumbersome as the guild quests dictate that each character seek them individually and be rewarded individually. As characters belong to multiple guilds it's quite a feat keeping track not to mention time consuming as you wait for each quest to be spelled out multiple times by the quest giver. Also, the quests seem to be structured for a single character game so some of them given to several characters border on the ridiculous with each character, for instance, delivering the same lost object to its owner.

The lack of a 'sleep' option is also an annoyance as exploring after dark isn't fun and nor is going walk-about for 20 minutes to wait for the dawn light. Also, there's room for improvement with the interface. Although I had no trouble with navigation by keyboard or mouse, using spells and inventory items was confusing at times. For some reason my characters had trouble using objects on themselves so in combat it was always difficult to remember who should dish out the potions. This was compounded by the dual use of the blue mana gauge so that it doesn't always reflect mana consumption, and also because spells seem to disappear from the side 'quick slot' at every opportunity. I gave up altogether on ranged combat because of these problems, especially when my favourite spells vanished.

As I said above, Wizards & Warriors isn't perfect, but it's certainly an entertaining adventure. I've had lots of fun, especially puzzling my way through the dungeons. It's a game that's rich in detail but unfortunately some of the detail just didn't get enough attention. I wouldn't recommend it for novice players because of the complexity of the statistics, but for players who have been missing first-person quests, this one should fill the gap. I'm in line for Wizards & Warriors II although to 'come of age' I think the designers of this potential new series should sit back and think about their target audience. Teens and pre teens might have a snigger at the near naked female characters but there are a lot of players that have grown up now. I can just see the 'ad' for the female game extras hammered to a tree in Valeia or Brimloch Roon ... Female fighters wanted! Only those willing to display cleavage or nipples need apply! rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2000. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Win 95/98, 233 MHz Pentium II Processor, 64Mb RAM, 740 MB uncompressed Hard disk space, Quad speed CD ROM.