By ArbitraryWater 5 Comments
Developer: Heuristic Park
Release Date: September 27, 2000
Time Played: About 3 ½ hours on stream (I’ve played around 20 on my own time)
Dubiosity: 4 out of 5
Would I play more? Yes.
Should you play more? Maybe?
When I pick the dubious RPGs to put on the wheel for this ill-advised streaming/blogging feature, I’m usually coming from one of two places. The first are games that should be entertaining to watch, either due to the game’s own quality or my own excellent, eSports-grade play. The second are games that I feel the need to show others, in a “you need to see this weird shit” sort of way. While there’s plenty of overlap between those two sentiments (Two Worlds is a pretty good example of something that reflects both) Wizards and Warriors is a pretty hard example of the latter. It’s a game that I’ve wanted to show off for a while now, because it’s a weird, funny thing and feels like another “failed evolutionary branch” of the Wizardry/Might and Magic style first-person party-based “blobber.”
If you were to ask someone to name a title from the late 90s/early 00s “golden age” of Computer Role Playing Games, I don’t think Wizards and Warriors would even crack the top 20. It’s probably one of the most obscure games on the list despite carrying the pedigree of Wizardry V-VII director D.W. Bradley on the front of the box. Sure, it probably doesn’t help that it came out literal days after genre juggernaut and actual best Bioware game Baldur’s Gate II, or that it was notoriously difficult to run on operating systems newer than Windows 2000 (which is the kind of thing that really stifles any sort of cult fanbase.) Or maybe it’s that the game is kind of a janky mess and looks pretty damn ugly even by the standards of the time, which led to a less-than-stellar reception at the time. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it over the likes of Might and Magic VI-VIII or Wizardry 8, which are probably its closest contemporaries.
And yet, I still kinda love what Wizards and Warriors is going for. It’s definitely a lower budget, small-team sort of game and what it loses in polish and quality of life it makes up for in scrappy ambition. If you should know anything about Bradley’s style of RPG design, it’s a heavy emphasis on multiclassing your party members between different professions and a willingness to push the envelope on what is normally considered a pretty conservative subgenre of RPG. Wizards and Warriors is no different on that front. Despite an obvious low budget, everything in the world is represented polygonally, from the individual arrows enemies shoot at you to the equipment showing up on your characters’ (polygonal) paper doll models. Mechanically, the game is trying to thread the needle between the slower, more dense Wizardry series and the faster, more streamlined Might and Magic (in case you need a shorthand between comparing two dead RPG franchises that look the same to an untrained eye, it’s pretty simple: Might and Magic is the one where more than half the games in the series are still surprisingly playable in the year of our lord 2020. Wizardry is the one where the only game I’ve made any headway with is the last one.) The class system is dense enough to go outside the scope of this blog, but essentially there are four base classes that can go into different combinations of eight elite classes (and three “special” classes near the end of the game.) Multiclassing is more or less the name of the game, which means there’s some amount of planning in advance but also an abundance of flexibility in how you want to turn your party into jack-of-all-trades murder machines. If I got further in the game, I’d have more to say about it, but it’s the one thing about W&W that definitely seems head and shoulders above its contemporaries.
It’s hard to remember now, but turn-based combat was quickly going out of fashion among RPGs from this period, and W&W’s solution to this is a janky, half-functional approach I’d describe as “sort of like Superhot????” As long as your characters are moving, combat is basically in real-time for you and your foes, but as soon as they stop moving things proceed in a more-or-less turn-based fashion. It doesn’t quite work as elegantly as that description might suggest and it’s quite frankly exploitable as shit, but it’s also endearing in that way. Sure, Might and Magic’s literal toggle between real-time and turn-based is a more elegant, sensical way of doing this, but does Might and Magic have Elephant Men? I rest my case.
I haven’t even gotten into some of the weird idiosyncrasies that Wizards and Warriors brings in its attempt to both be a hardcore traditional dungeon crawler and also a much more active thing. Gold is held on a per-character basis (you have to press a button to pool it every time), NPCs will remind you of the quests you haven’t done every single time you talk to them, and monsters will randomly spawn at a continual rate to recreate the effect of random encounters. If you want a visual picture of how it actually plays, I highly suggest giving my archives on Twitch a look (once again, no interest in archiving or uploading them elsewhere for the moment, so you’ve got 14 days to check them out) or just checking out one of the few playthroughs on youtube. I fully admit that this game is actually kinda my shit, and I think there’s a genuine “diamond in the rough” quality to W&W. On the other hand, I also fully admit that like half of my excitement for it probably comes from discovering a new old CRPG that I hadn’t played before. I dunno, it’s currently less than $5 on GOG if you really want to give it a look. Maybe it will surprise you. Or maybe you should just pick up the Might and Magic 6-pack instead. World of Xeen? That's a non-dubious RPG right there.
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