Mages are notorious for two things: tampering with things that they shouldn’t (with disastrous consequences), and fighting amongst themselves (also with disastrous consequences). Following the events of Majesty 2, the king leaves the newly united Ardania to conquer new lands. Strife soon befalls the land as relations between the various factions break down, leaving only the Council of Great Mages as the source of order. Only one can rule and bring an end to the conflict, but the council cannot agree on who it should be. And so, the mages decide to settle it in the most rational way: global war. Only one can win and be crowned Warlock, Master of the Arcane!
Warlock: Master of the Arcane is the latest from Paradox Interactive, due out May 6th. Warlocks vie for multiplanar domination through the use of spells, soldiers, monsters, and engines of war. Gameplay is similar to many other 4X games, perhaps most notably Civilizations. Exploration, expansion, exploitation of resources and extermination of your enemies are key as always, though Warlock adds a few original twists. Though the main focus is on territory control through cities and units, players are able to both research and cast a wide variety of spells to aid them in their machinations. Interestingly, one of the victories is the casting of an ultimate spell, requiring a huge amount of mana and research to use. (This is the equivalent of the technological victory available in some games.) Other spells include unit enhancements like elemental damage or life-stealing effects on weapons, destructive effects that can blast large areas, teleportation, summoned units, and city resource production enhancements.
There are also three types of cities which can be conquered or built. Humans, undead and monsters all produce different units and buildings, each with their own unique stats, strengths and abilities. Combining each of the three faction’s units can create powerful armies which support the weaknesses of the others, while focusing on one type can yield a force very effectively tailored to specific strategies.
Unlike many 4X games, Warlock has a strong focus on environmental hazards, which can overwhelm you if you aren’t careful. Monster dens of various kinds spawn deadly creatures which will attack your cities. Left unchecked, these locations have the potential to overwhelm weaker settlements, and they pose a significant threat even late-game. (I could barely get my ships out of the port for most of the game, the seas were so choked with serpents and krakens.) Added to this is the existence of other planes, which can be accessed through portals and colonized. Assuming you’re able to overcome the tide of monsters on the other side…
Quests will also pop up from both the player’s citizens and the gods themselves. Completing these objectives gives bonuses in the form of resources and also divine favour, giving players access to special units and spells not otherwise available when the gods are sufficiently pleased with the player’s actions. Ignoring quests makes the gods angry, and if you anger one enough, they will send their avatar to destroy you. Interestingly, killing the avatar of a god is another path to victory. I imagine that they take quite a bit of killing, though I didn’t invoke the god’s ire enough to see one in action while I was playing.
I was fortunate enough to get the chance to play the game prior to release, and I’m happy to say that it’s quite enjoyable. While it may not have the depth and tactical complexity of the latest offerings in the Civilization series or even many of Paradox Interactive’s other recent offerings, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The simpler mechanics and strategies eliminate the steep learning curve typical to 4X games, allowing players to jump right into the game without extensive manual reading and tutorials. Tool tips and the “universal button”, which changes to prompt players regarding idle units, research, construction and other actions which can be performed, greatly streamline learning and playing the game.
During my playthrough I picked undead as my starting race, because skeletons and zombies are awesome. Early game undead get lots of cheap, weaker units, so I raised a huge horde of skeleton archers and swordsmen. I swept my swarm into the lands of two other warring mages, and wiped them both out. My one complaint/criticism with the game was the fact that you cannot stack your units on a single hex, which makes very large armies unwieldy because you cannot bring their force to bear effectively against your enemy. Perhaps this is by design, but it slowed the game down for me having to slowly erode my enemies with a slow tide like that.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane hooked me early on, and I’d played through an entire game before I knew it. A demo of the game is already available on Steam, and if you’ve read this far, it might be worth taking a look. (Hooray for free demos!)
(Man, I’ll bet doing a Sean Connery voice for a game company would be pretty great. Wonder what he put on his resume to get hired…)