Activision's Wizards & Warriors is a first-person 3D role-playing game designed by D.W. Bradley, who helped create the fifth, sixth, and seventh episodes of the classic Wizardry role-playing series. According to Bradley, Wizards & Warriors is intended to be something of a return to such involving, addictive first-person role-playing games, and in that regard, it succeeds for the most part. Like many role-playing games before it, Wizards & Warriors lets you create a party of adventurers of different character classes and races and explore vast overland areas and dank dungeons in search of fearsome monsters, powerful weapons and items, and experience levels. Unfortunately, Wizards & Warriors suffers from a handful of problems that compromise an otherwise solid game.
The game itself is a 3D role-playing game played entirely from a first-person perspective. You can create a party of up to six different adventurers by choosing from ten different races and four basic character classes. These ten different races include stock fantasy races, like elves and dwarves, but also a number of completely original races, like the reptilian lizzords, the elephantine oomphaz, and the furry ratlings. Each race is interesting enough, and nearly every one has a distinctive special ability and a predisposition toward a specific character class; these traits and abilities will let you build a strong and balanced war party from the ground up.
Wizards & Warriors was four long years in the making, and unfortunately, it shows. The game offers two graphics settings: Direct3D acceleration and software rendering. Wizards & Warriors' Direct3D performance with certain video cards (especially TNT and GeForce cards) is problematic; in such cases, the graphics and text become blurry and unclear. The only other option is to run in software mode at 640x480 resolution; the display becomes clearer but unflatteringly blocky and pixilated. And unfortunately, most of the game's graphics are indeed this pixilated - the various dungeons and open areas you explore, the special effects on magic spells, and the monsters you face all tend to look blocky and coarse.
Wizards & Warriors doesn't sound especially impressive either. For the most part, the game's music is ambient but otherwise unremarkable and largely inoffensive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for much of the game's prerecorded speech. Though you'll likely appreciate the articulate narrator's informative descriptions of significant locations as you find them, you'll just as likely come to dread speaking with many of the game's long-winded nonplayer characters. A few of these characters' lines are actually delivered convincingly, while others are clearly overdone - but regardless of the quality of each nonplayer characters' voice-over, most of these characters tend to drone on and on about the inane or the obvious. They'll often talk about subjects that aren't even pertinent to your characters' quest. Throughout the course of the game, you'll need to speak to many such characters and engage in conversations that will seem to last more than a little too long.
But the most disappointing thing about Wizards & Warriors is its clumsy and unintuitive interface. The game is almost entirely mouse-driven; you manipulate each of its many menus by pointing and clicking, and you use the mouse for both freelook and forward movement. While this may sound convenient, the game suffers from a lack of even the simplest keyboard shortcuts; you won't even be able to use the Escape key to exit from any of the game's many option menus. Instead, you'll have to make sure to carefully click on the correct icon to open or close the right menu; otherwise, nothing will happen, or worse, you'll end up opening a completely unrelated menu that you'll also have to close.
Wizards & Warriors also has a seemingly arbitrary save/load system. Instead of having a convenient save-anywhere/load-anywhere system, Wizards & Warriors doesn't let you load games when you're out adventuring in the world (you need to quit the current game instead), and when you're within the safe walls of the nearest town, you can't save at all. You'll probably also have trouble getting used to the game's odd character- and enemy-targeting system, which requires that you move your cursor onto your intended target (which you intend to speak with, fight, cast a spell at, or use an item on), then click on it. It sounds simple enough, but when performing actions like trading or buying, you'll need to open up character menus, then either click on your target or click on a choice on the menu, then control-click on your target or some illogical combination thereof. The game's targeting system is at its absolute worst when your characters are doing battle with their enemies. If your enemies move about onscreen, you may have a hard time keeping them targeted, and even if they're not moving, it's often difficult to tell if they're within striking distance.
These shortcomings are all the more unfortunate when you consider the fact that Wizards & Warriors is otherwise a decent role-playing game. The game's story, which dictates that you must find a powerful magical sword to defeat a newly awakened evil, is certainly trite, but along the way, your characters will find themselves involved in a tremendous number of different quests, many of which are interesting and challenging. Among the most interesting of these are the quests given by guilds - the organized groups of warriors, wizards, thieves, or priests that your characters may join based on their particular class. Joining a guild lets your characters perform the very important and very rewarding act of changing their character class. In the beginning of the game, you're only allowed to choose from four basic professions, but joining a guild will let your humble novice warriors become destructive barbarians or multitalented samurai and let your wizards and priests become powerful warlocks. When your characters join a guild, they'll also receive guild-related quests that they can perform to advance their standing in their guild. As such, while you play Wizards & Warriors, if you're not stumbling around the game's occasionally convoluted dungeons, you'll rarely find yourself at a loss for something to do, as you'll often find yourself on a quest to advance one character or another within that character's own specific guild.
And you'll find that in Wizards & Warriors, there's much to do and many places to explore. Although traveling from one major area to another incurs a fairly severe loading time, each of Wizards & Warriors' individual areas is large, if not huge. Some of the game's dungeons have the unfortunate tendency of bottlenecking around a single locked door (which can only be opened by a single switch halfway across the dungeon or with a key that can only be found halfway across the dungeon), but most of the areas in the game actually allow for a great deal of fruitful exploration. Some of the larger outdoor areas feature a great many monsters to fight, hidden treasure caches to loot, and quests to undertake.
On the surface, Wizards & Warriors doesn't look like anything special. In fact, it looks and sounds unimpressive, and at first, its poorly designed interface may seem like more trouble than it's worth to master and will likely continue to seem cumbersome even after you've gotten used to it. In order to enjoy the game, you'll have to come to terms with these shortcomings - but once you do, you probably will enjoy the many hours of exploration and character building it offers.