Publisher: Paradox Entertainment
Despite the change to turn-based strategy, Warlock is actually a part of the Majesty series, providing players with the chance to rule the entire world of Ardania instead of just a singular kingdom. Assuming the role of one several a great mages (with more available via DLC) players must build up their empire and crush their opponents, all the while attempting to survive the horrors that lurk in the unknown (of which there are plenty.)
Each great mage has its own pre-set perks, allowing for various starting benefits and spells (which we will get onto later.) If you don't like the pre-generated options, you can always customize the available perks to your on specifications. There is a trade-off however, with the more powerful abilities costing more perk points than others, but this keeps things relatively balanced. You can even change the race of your initial population to humans, the undead, or monsters, with each race having the advantage of being the best at producing spendable resources of gold, mana, and food respectively.
Veteran players of Civilization V will initially enter Warlock with a sense of familiarity, with the layout of the UI being the biggest similarity. Both share a hex-based game board, as well the same ranged unit mechanics which allow archers to fire on spaces two hexes away. Unit stacking is also not present, which would be fine apart from one small issue; you cannot trade the places of two units that are next door to each other. This ultimately means that players must either plan their forward charges in advance (whilst hope nothing dies to ruin the formation) or withdraw into an open area, rearrange, and then put their units back again. It’s such a small mechanical oversight that creates potential problems for players, and it really shouldn’t be there to begin with.
However, beyond this there are some stark differences between Warlock and its more established competitor which provide some rather interesting gameplay elements.
To begin with, buildings that players construct are not confined to a list within your city, but instead they must be manually placed on one of the hexes surrounding the city it is being built for. For example, farms and mines are built as per normal on free spaces, but the same now holds true for unit-building structures such as the various Guild barracks. It provides a more visual representation of the growth of you cities as you progress, with many buildings requiring a prerequisite structure before you can build them. Resources also come into play with iron, mana wells, donkeys, and pumpkin farms (to name a few) providing new options for buildings providing they lie within the borders of your empire. However, cities much first recharge their population before anything gets built, meaning players can be waiting some time before they can decide their next construction.
Different terrain, such as mountains and hills, forests and swamps, all exist within the game, but they only seem affect the movement of units and not the placement of buildings on the map. Anything other than open plains will exhaust more than one movement point for a unit unless it has gained a perk which negates the penalty or is able to fly. Thankfully promotions are fairly regular due to units gaining a minimum of 1 XP per turn, with upgrades such as increasing their power and their defences available. You can even increase the amount of XP they gain per turn through upgrades, allowing you to reap more benefits in the long haul. It’s important to note that units and buildings can be built at the same time, so as long as you have the resources you can keep your forces strong whilst waiting for buildings to be constructed.
While combat is a familiar affair when it comes to unit mechanics, Warlock mixes things up by providing the player with spells. This ranges from one shot fireballs and lightning strikes, to status effect changes such as elemental weapon enchants and defence weaknesses. Players can even summon powerful monsters to do their bidding should they need a little extra muscle in their army. However, there are conditions to this, and the first is the resource of mana. Much like gold, mana acts as a currency which is spent whenever a spell is used (as well as part of your army’s upkeep) with the more powerful spells costing a considerable amount to execute. On top of this, each spell has its own cast time. Weaker spells can be cast instantaneously and only make the player wait one turn before being able to use another spell, whilst other more powerful spells require two turns before they can even be used. It provides a sense of balance by forcing players to think a few turns in advance, as well as stop constant spamming of powerful area-of-effect spells such as Thunderstorm.
This does bring me to one of my biggest issues, and that is with the way research is handled. Much like in Civ, building up the speed at which spells are researched is done by building structures such as libraries, but beyond that everything about the system is seemingly random. Players much choose between five random spells to research, and once it is complete a new spell will take its place on the list. What annoys me is that there is no logic in what replaces it, for example learning “Lesser Fireball” doesn’t bring up “Greater Fireball” as the next spell to learn. When I began a second game, different spells were available to research compared to when I started my first game. This meant I could not plan out my progression, and while some might find the random element keeps things fresh, I found it fairly annoying.
It’s important to point out that even on a small game, Warlock is a fairly large experience thanks to the addition of other planes and underworlds. Somewhere on the main map, portals will be randomly placed that lead to different maps filled with the toughest opponents in the game, but contain the rarest resources available. Dragon eggs can only be found in these alternate worlds, meaning if you wish to become the mother (or father) of dragons, you’ll need to venture forth with a powerful army to claim your prize. These lands vary in appearance but are all hostile in nature, providing a change of pace to the gameplay as soon as players have found a portal.
If barbarians in the Civ series were the bane of your existence, then the Neutral monsters of the world in Warlock will have you cursing at your screen on a regular basis. Relentless and tactically devious (even on the lowest difficulty settings) these enemies will cause problems as they emerge from the fog of war. However, they do provide small bases which, when captured, rewards the player with gold. This isn’t the only way to gain rewards, as the player will be randomly given quests during the game. These vary from building a city, or destroying a unit, to constructing a specific building within a given timeframe. While some of these quests will be provided by an advisor, others will be issued by another unique aspect of the game; the Gods of the world.
The various Gods in Warlock act as an additional perks system, as they are capable of providing bonuses and special units if players gain their favour. This can be achieved by completing quests and building temples in their name on the various Holy Ground resource hexes in the world. This comes at a price though, as building up favour with one god will anger their rival deity, and in turn cause tension with any great mage that is allied with them. Earn enough renown with a god and you can summon their rival’s avatar, the single toughest enemy in the game, and while defeating on is no easy task, doing so is one of the victory conditions for the game. Others include taking over 50% of holy grounds (including in other planes), researching all spells and casting Unity (which is best compared with a Diplomatic Victory, as it can only be done when you’re on good terms with everyone ones), and the old fashioned Conquest victory.
Presentation-wise, Warlock hits all the right spots when the settings are put on maximum. The world is colourful, the effects and units are well animated, and the art style has clearly been lovingly crafted by the developers. The user interface provides everything that the player needs to know without hindering them by over-informing, with the necessary facts and figures available for those that need to find them. Helpful reminders drop down the side of the screen to inform players when a new building has be finished, or when a city is ready to build something new, or how many units currently lie idle. It effectively allows newcomers to ease into the game without too much trouble and get straight into enjoying the game.
However, as I have pointed out with some of my earlier comments, Warlock is not a flawless experience. For example, the previously-mentioned indicator of idle units, which clicked on, move you to the unit in question, but only does so when the unit is completely off the screen, making locating certain units on the edge a disorientating affair. Moving the viewed portion of the map can only be done with arrow keys or by clicking on the map, with a mouse-based alternative sorely missed. Additionally, a lack of ability to fortify units in a city was slightly annoying, although not game breaking. Finally, while the game gives you multiple ways to achieve victory, I felt there was no choice but to build up and maintain a huge army to defend against the constant onslaught of monsters (and on higher difficulty settings, your rival mages.)
Thankfully Warlock is an enjoyable strategy game despite the blemishes, and its ease of access means that once players have gotten used to the extra mechanics such as spells they can move onto harder difficulty settings and larger maps (though be warned, the higher difficulties are fairly punishing.) It may borrow from other games in the genre, but it manages to put enough of its own spin on proceedings to avoid falling to the wayside. At the moment, Warlock is a single player only game which is disappointing as I would have been interested to see how multiplayer worked in regards to spells. However, developers Ino-Co have confirmed that a patch to include online gameplay is in the works, and most importantly it will be free. This will add further value for money to the already low price of the game.
- The spell system mixes up the base mechanics for the better.
- The AI provides a balanced challenge on any difficulty.
- Mixing and matching different perks allows for different play styles.
- Small overlooked issues with the mechanics distract from the experience.
- Achieving anything other than the Conquest Victory is problematic.
- A lack of Multiplayer could put off some (until it is patched in.)
The Short Version: Warlock – Masters Of The Arcane manages to provide a familiar feeling for fans of the genre whilst providing a unique take thanks to its spells and other planes. While not without its faults, Warlock certainly provides addictive gameplay. When multiplayer modes are finally added it will complete the package, further increasing the value for money.