Release Date: Out Now!
Publisher: Paradox Entertainment
Developer: Ino-Co Plus
Thanks to Paradox for providing this game for review
Do you ever get the feeling of deja vu? The feeling that you’ve witnessed or experienced something before. Well stepping into Warlock: Master of the Arcane, a new turn based strategy from Ino-co Plus and Paradox Interactive, I was immediately hit by the feeling like a fireball to the face. Fortunately for Warlock, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing…
You see, Warlock is essentially Sid Meier’s Civilization V, except the design team replaced all historical influences with a Dungeons and Dragons manual. From many of the gameplay aspects right down to the UI itself it’s a little difficult to tell the two games apart. For those of you who have no knowledge of the Civilization series let me bring you up to speed with what you’ll find in Warlock.
It’s a turn based strategy game on a grand scale, like RISK except you can build cities and research new technology, or, in this case, spells in order to dominate the world. In Warlock, the traditional progression through from caveman days to a near future era is supplemented by dragons, wizards and orcs. The aim of the game is to expand your faction across many worlds to achieve total dominion over all lands.
While being stuck in a medieval fantasy setting should set the game apart from its similar brethren in its own right, there are numerous features that help to further the gap. Each Warlock, which is your faction’s ruler, has their own set of perks and starting spells. Before you enter the game proper you can also choose to create a custom character to tailor your starting experience as you please.
These perks, of which there are seven in total, offer various gameplay boosts such as +1 to unit experience per turn and increased casting speed. On top of these perks are 16 spells to choose from. The spells are a major part of Warlock, giving you the edge in many different scenarios. Need that little extra boost to your city? Cast a spell of “Improved Harvest” on your farms and you’ll have more bread than you know what to do with.
However while the spells are interesting and take up the research side of the gameplay, with it taking an increasing number of turns to research better spells, I often found that they were overpowered. Essentially they act as cheats that are on a cooldown timer with you being presented with a spell cast time bar which allows you to cast a number of spells depending on how much ‘cast time’ they use up.
If you have the appropriate cast time you’ll be able to cast a number of spells in one turn. Alongside this is the mana resource which is used up each time you cast a spell. The thing is, when you’re able to cast two or three fireball spells a turn, which are able to almost kill most monsters and weaker units in one hit it can make the game a little easy.
While the spells definitely need some balancing done the rest of the gameplay is surprisingly sound. You build cities via settlers, grow the cities through gathering food, build various buildings, spawn units and crush your enemies. Throughout the worlds there are various neutral and monster factions that need slaying which are essentially there to keep things from getting a bit too boring in the early stages. It’s a much welcomed addition to what made similar games like Civilizations a little tedious in those early turns of the game.
The neutral factions, composed of different races such as Ratmen, Undead and Humans, are usually single city factions that serve as a challenge in the early stages, preparing you for your eventual all out wars against the other warlocks. Each city you capture holds on to its original owner’s culture. For example, capture a goblin settlement and you’ll be able to spawn goblin spearmen and archers. Again this keeps the gameplay from getting stale as all races have relatively similar units with their own racial bonuses and disadvantages.
On top of the typical Civs gameplay many turn based strategy fans know and love you’ll also be presented with quests. The quests can come from a variety of different sources but mainly come from your Advisor in the early stages of the game, who gives you reasonable easy tasks with no real penalty for failing or refusing the quests. On the flip side of that there’s also quests from the gods, who won’t hesitate to fuck up your day in ways only gods know how such as sending their armies of demons or angels against you if you anger them by failing or refusing such quests.
To enhance the fantasy feeling, Warlock also incorporates different worlds within the one your faction starts out on. To find these different worlds you must first find portals leading to them. These worlds are often filled with increasingly dangerous creatures and different warlock factions and make up a whole other map alongside the main one. The portals themselves are merely special buildings dotted around the map that take up a single hex on the board, allowing you to teleport units through them at will.
Overall the graphics are really nicely done. Rendered in a cartoony style that make both the units and worlds great to look at. You won’t find any epic visual battles going on but there’s enough to keep the interface at least a little interesting. Alongside this the sound is relatively good, with voice acting that feels great for each unit and relevant to the theme. The narration and tips are also read by a rather Sean Connery-esque sounding Scotsman, which is always a bonus.
In the end Warlock is a well-rounded title, there’s just nothing overly original about the gameplay design. If you’ve played Civilization V but you’re looking for something a little more fantasy orientated you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than Warlock to fill that void. Unfortunately what lets the game down is the clear lack of any multiplayer elements that would have been a much welcomed addition to the game.
In the end, as a Civilization series and fantasy fan, I found myself having fun with a game that takes a slightly stale gameplay formula, slaps some high fantasy paint on top with a few new features and puts it all to good use.
+ Classic Civs gameplay we all know and love.
+ Great Fantasy setting.
+ Brings interesting new mechanics to the old formula.
– Spells can be a little overpowered.
– No multiplayer elements to speak of.
Simple, cartoony graphics that help tie the game’s style together nicely. The UI is a little bare but it all gets the job done.
Great voice acting from both the units and the narrator that all fit in with the high fantasy theme.
Surprisingly, there is no story. Just you, your magic spells and a whole bunch of worlds to conquer.
The classic turn based strategy gameplay we all know and love with a few added extras that keep the game fresh.
If you loved Civilization V you’ll no doubt spend hours with Warlock. Unfortunately the lack of multiplayer does shorten the life span quite a bit though…
The Verdict: 7
An overall solid game that borrows from many of the turn based strategy classics that’s ultimately let down by the lack of multiplayer.