I was quite happy when I heard about Warlock – Master of the Arcane, an upcoming turn-based strategy game from Paradox. With a certain franchise having a monopoly on the genre, it is always nice to see some competition. What’s different about Warlock from other civilization-building games is that Earth (or an alternative Earth where Gandhi can wage war on Washington for befriending Caesar) is not the setting; it takes place in a fantasy universe. More specifically, that of the Majesty series which Paradox has been using for a variety of different games recently. The fantasy twist adds a bit of a surrealistic feel to the Civilization formula. Judging by what I’ve played so far, Warlock has the opportunity to make quite a name for itself in the turn-based strategy world.
Once upon a time…
You start out each game by selecting some game options: the map type and size, difficulty, and the ruler you will be playing as. The rulers cover most of the class bases: warrior, mage, even a couple nontraditional ones, like a dragon and an anthropomorphic rat. They all have their own unique traits which grant them a variety of bonuses like extra resources or spells. When you enter the world, you are given a city and a couple units. In my first game I began to explore and found several skeletal units which I attempted to hide from to no avail. These skeletons were similar to the barbarians from Civilization – a hostile faction with no diplomatic abilities. There were several of these units: skeletons, rat-men, and scarabs just to name a few. Their primary goal was to protect hostile cities and piles of treasure that the wandering adventurer may want to plunder. There is not much progression over the course of a game: the only thing to research is spells which are primarily used in combat. There is no technology tree and no age system, so everything stays looking roughly the same and units aren’t upgraded.
Something I found confusing early on was the frequency at which you can build add-ons for your cities. When I finished building one, I was not immediately prompted to pick something new, but I often was alerted several turns later. The buildings themselves were all simple and had direct purposes, very rarely were there any implications beyond the basic explanations. When you do build add-ons, you get to choose a hex around your city and that is all the space will be occupied by. The resources and diplomacy seem nearly identical to Civilization, except where the developers made some simplifications and a couple fantasy related additions. The main addition is mana, which is used to cast spells and train units. The spells seem like a neat way to allow the player to directly interact with the action, but it is a bit tedious in execution. Spells require a couple turns of charging to use, so if you aren’t expecting a fight, you have no defense aside from the units being attacked themselves. Unit training and construction can both be done simultaneously which saves you the trouble of losing progress on a building because you need to start churning out troops during war.
The opposing factions were few and far between as I learned early on, most of the cities I found were controlled by permanently hostile NPCs. When I did find an opposing faction, there did not seem to be many peaceful options. I could trade with others, but as far as I could tell there was no way of victory through peace. In every game I played, I found a portal to some sort of hell world which was usually protected by some otherworldly giant creature. When I stepped inside, I found myself immediately surrounded by monsters which all looked a lot tougher than me, and when I tried to fight, surprise, they were all a lot tougher than me. I started a game on the easiest difficulty and fought my way to one of these portals just to see what was inside besides copious amounts of hostile creatures, but I was still no match for them unfortunately.
The game itself looks great, it is very colourful and it puts forth a great atmospheric feel. The textures and models are all well done and the animations all ran smoothly, which I appreciated even more having played a lot of games where the artists said “hey, no one plays strategy games for the graphics anyway”. There were a couple sound effects which I am not sure are intended for the full game but gave off a sort of comic vibe. When archers shot, there wasn’t an actual bow noise, there was a twanging noise that felt like it would be more at home in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There was a little bit of voice acting which was of a low quality but with an almost intentional feel to it, again suggesting an attempted light atmosphere. Other than that though, the game takes itself fairly seriously and the music was all high quality and pleasant to listen to.
It Has Potential
It became clear the moment that I started the game that what I was playing was a very early build of the game. There are still placeholders where much of the text and in-game icons should be and as a result it was difficult to learn many aspects of the game. Because it is so early, the game also felt like it was missing a few things. Most of them were things that are covered by placeholders and simply not ready but for the rest we’ll just have to wait and see. It is by no means a game that requires a story, but judging by a couple unifinished buttons on the main menu and the official write up on Paradox’s website, it will have a story mode which will provide a goal for players and help them learn how to play without figuring it out themselves through many hours of terrible strategy. The game is currently scheduled for a Q2 2012 release date. -End
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