Imitation being the sincerest form of “strategy,” Paradox Interactive released Warlock: Master of the Arcane this week and we just happened to get our hands on a copy to bring you the skinny on this turn based game. Warlock takes us to the dangerous lands of Ardania, where wandering monsters, crafty magicians and the vile undead do battle to conquer the world. Those familiar with the Majesty series will feel right at home as Ardania is in fact the same world that Majesty is based on.
Our job is simple. We must build a mighty empire and kill the competition while juggling city building, exploration, and research. There are three main factions in Warlock to choose from, Humans, Undead and the Monsters. So choose wisely as each faction has unique strengths and weaknesses. While game units have different resource costs to maintain, we gather these three resource currencies, Gold, Food, and Mana through management of our cities and buildings constructed within. As the population of our city grows so to does the units and buildings giving us a larger army to conquer with. If you are thinking this sounds like “Civ-Lite” you would not be far off the mark.
The game “feels” like Civilization 4 and you can tell that much of the game is directly influenced by Civ. The game is so familiar in fact I spent the first hour of play thinking surely Firaxis will feel flattered as they are on hold with their lawyers. If you love Civ, you will feel at home in Warlock. That said, there are still distinct differences that make Warlock: Master of the Arcane unique. Unlike Civ, Warlock has only a rudimentary diplomacy system. You will not have options to change victory types. There is no spying, intrigue, or cutting deals with the other AI. There is no mutiplayer (though it is promised to come in some future DLC) so you will be duking it out solely with the computer AI. Speaking of the AI, the troop utilization works. Some have complained that the AI is weak, however I disagree with this. I see the computer controlled units utilizing the terrain bonuses and even trying to flank me at times. There was one point where I had split the opposing AI army in half and was tightening my noose when they ran in a settler and dropped a town down to give them extra defense while using the city to shower my troops with arrows. I have never experienced that before in a Civ game so I was very impressed.
The combat also works because the units are balanced so well. I have yet to find a single unit that dominates without an equal counter on the opposing side. Obviously the stronger units have higher upkeep values so you must balance your economy with the need for troops and the strength of your standing army against the costs of production and city maintenance. The world is populated with random encounters and wandering monsters, some of which own neutral towns that can also impact the outcome of different encounters. Similar to the wandering barbarians in Civ which is amusing to watch as some high level Elemental will wander up to a group of marauding thieves and just really ruin their day.
The world maps are hex based, featuring one unit per hex. The graphics are above average and you will find many strategic resources and gold caches to make exploration fun. Additionally, the game features portals that take you into different planes of existence. Each of these planes have different perks which directly interface with different quests the “gods” task you with. The alternate planes hold tougher monsters, better rewards and a range of new things to do. They can also become strategic points to further expand your empires.
This part of the game is fun and refreshing and I really do enjoy the combat and setting. My main gripe with Warlock: Master of the Arcane is Paradox could have done a better job of fleshing out the world and the information presented to you. There is some aggravation when trying to hunt down information. Aside from the basic tutorial tips, the game is very unlike Civ in how it guides you through research and identifying what stuff does. In fact, if it had NOT been for my years of playing Civ I would probably have given up on Warlock as nothing is explained. There is no Warlock-pedia, nor any other list driven information to help you. Warlock provides no tutorials, no tips on terrain bonuses, no trees explaining magic progression or any information about buildings at all. It is like they created a game where only turn based veterans were allowed to play. All that aside the game is still fun and a welcome addition to the strategy gaming genre.
Although Warlock tips it’s hat to Civ, the game pays homage to other strategy games as well. Similar to another huge game company and it’s strategic vision of Warcraft, Paradox reminds us that strategy games are not a lost art. You will be amused when your troops will say witty and funny things upon selection. Paradox offers us nothing new strategically with Warlock, however you will find a game that has a lot of strategy elements and is reminiscent of times past when strategy games were much more of a gaming staple. All in all, warlock is a refreshing journey back to a time when strategy was king.
. – And before you get your hopes up that Warlock is a game that builds, maintains, and utilizes a Navy effectively… Well, as with ALL strategy games, it leaves a lot to be desired. Enjoy.