Warriors of the Lost Empire is about as straightforward of a mindless dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash action role-playing game as you can get. In fact, it's so derivative that you can almost picture the developers as they sat around a table with a pile of similar games and compiled a list of the bare necessities of the genre on their college-ruled notepads. Dungeons? Check. Dragons? Check. Item crafting, vaguely historical setting, bizarre traps? Check, check, and check. Unfortunately, they somehow managed to forget to add fun and variety into the mix; thus, the end result is a boring grindfest where the most satisfying moment is the one in which you turn it off.
In the year 165 of the Roman Imperial calendar, Hadrianus, the so-called "Good Emperor," grows weary of his lofty position and retires in seclusion with his lover Antinous. Over time, Hadrianus' resting place, the city of Antinopolis, becomes embroiled in stories of monsters and the undead. The Imperial army then moves in with mercenaries to investigate the disappearance of the former emperor. While this is all a good start to an adventure, that's about the most story development you're going to get out of this game--once the intro is over, it devolves into a series of vague quests as delivered by a floating, toga-wearing ghost with a seriously wicked mustache. There are also some generic bits about souls and evil wizards as told in conveniently placed, incriminating journal entries.
Each of the missions will send you to various dungeons hidden throughout the city for one reason or another, and with the exception of the monsters you'll find within, each dungeon is virtually identical in appearance. The first half of the game's dungeons are brown and cryptlike, while the dungeons in the second half are white-blue and templelike. To make things worse, the dungeon-crawling experience itself is as insipid and absurdly straightforward as you can possibly imagine. Dungeons are divided up into between five and 10 randomly generated floors, each of which contains a single exit door that can be found by traveling in pretty much any direction. Although doors will transform into magical elevators at about the halfway point and some rooms will require you to defeat all the monsters within to continue, the bulk of the gameplay will never change. The boss battles that each spelunking trip culminates in are as equally clear-cut and rarely ever require actual strategy to complete.
There are four characters for you to play as; each is a mercenary coming to Antinopolis for his or her own reasons and each represents a class pulled directly out of Diablo. The hulking Highlander is slow but powerful, the fallen Gladiator wields two swords, the enigmatic Dark Seeker combines lithe movements with magic, and the Amazon is great at a range but helpless up close. Thanks to their inherent differences, each class will play slightly differently, but for the most part, every class but the Amazon will be going toe-to-toe with enemies in melee combat, making character selection little more than a visual change. As if that wasn't bad enough, your character has a bizarre relationship with his or her magical item box, a chest that resides at the Roman army's campsite. This is the only location in the game where equipment can be swapped out, special attacks changed, your character's stats increased, and the game saved. Any time you want to do any of this, you have to return to camp, even if you want to try out that shield you just picked up.
By far, the key element in any hack-and-slash is the actual hacking and/or slashing, but unfortunately, Warriors doesn't fare all too well in this area either. Combat essentially amounts to mashing the square or triangle buttons to attack swarms of monsters and, occasionally, letting loose a character-specific special move or using an item. At its very best, this resembles a poor man's God of War sans context-sensitive attacks, and combat quickly becomes a chore that must be performed dozens of times in each dungeon as monsters literally spawn on top of you. Luckily, the pathetic enemy artificial intelligence and bizarre traps can be combined to make it more enjoyable, but even the novelty of watching a soldier repeatedly impale himself on a spiked pillar in an effort to somehow run through it so he can stab you grows stale over time.
As bad as it seems, though, the list of flaws doesn't end here. All three cameras you have to choose from are virtually useless because you will invariably end up attacking enemies that are either offscreen or barely visible with little-to-no time to adjust, thanks to the awkward controls. Collision detection is buggy because not only can projectiles and spiked walls you avoid visually still hit you, but if you get knocked back by a pack of enemies, you may find yourself helplessly juggled by their attacks for half your health bar or longer before you can even move. Finally, the risk-versus-reward system that helps to make dungeon crawlers so enjoyable is completely skewed by a complete lack of any form of punishment for death. You can charge fearlessly into wave after wave of enemies and die, which sends you back to camp. Then, you can return to do it all over again to gain levels, items, and equipment.
Visually speaking, Warriors is a mixed bag. On the one hand, each of the four characters you can select from is very fluidly animated and looks fantastic in combat. This ranges from the Amazon who weaves and twirls as she fires to the Dark Seeker who leaps and kicks as she closes in on an enemy. On the other hand, the drab dungeons you encounter are suffocating, simpleminded, and uniformly ugly--no matter how you look at them. Audio-wise, the game is also consistently dull. Be prepared to repeatedly hear the same three combat sound effects so many times that they may invade your dreams and haunt you through your waking moments. Even the musical styling of Yuzo Koshiro, famed composer of Act Raiser, Ys, and more, feels forced and is ultimately forgettable.
In the end, Warriors of the Lost Empire is a mindless, repetitive, and painfully generic dungeon crawler. Provided it doesn't drive you mad, the story mode will provide you with 10 to 15 hours of gameplay that can then be repeated on two harder difficulty settings or with any of the other classes. It even offers co-op ad hoc Wi-Fi play to tag team the dungeons with a friend, but ultimately, this is a game we wouldn't recommend to one person, let alone two.