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Warlock – Master of the Arcane Review

Developed by Ino-Co Plus and published by Paradox Interactive

Reviewed by Jim Zabek, 17 May 2012

With a simple name like “Warlock” it has to be good. And it is.

order

 

GrogHeads is pleased to induct Warlock: Master of the Arcane in the Order of the Hex, for addictive gameplay. Warlock’s highly addictive play style makes it ideal for strategy gamers seeking that “one more turn” fix.

 

 

The Magic of Warlock

Come in, my young apprentice, and have a seat. Today’s lesson of the arcane will be about the land of Ardania. The land of Ardania has existed for well over ten years, and was originally created when the amuso-artifact, Majesty, was crafted. Since that time a powerful guild of mages known as Ino-Co have crafted several instances of the land, each time improving and strengthening the artifact. Now, my spies tell me that the high council of Paradox Interactive has released their latest and greatest: Warlock: Master of the Arcane.

Let’s look closely at this amusing artifact, sometimes called a game. Take care not to confuse it with a simple game of cards! No, this game is capable of weaving a powerful spell that can addict the unwary, suck it into its web, and leave the player helpless in its clutches for hours. No doubt you’ve heard of the fifth level spell “One More Turn?” I thought so. Warlock: Master of the Arcane has layers of that spell woven into it. But enough of its arcane aspects. Let us look at how it might appear to an ordinary person incapable of perceiving its magical traits…

warlock

Marshaling my forces for an attack on a neighboring kingdom. At the lower part of the map is a portal to one of the other worlds in the game.

Return of the King

Turn-based strategic fantasy games are a personal favorite of mine. There never seem to be too many of them, but once in a while one comes along that absolutely enchants me. Warlock has enchanted me to the full length of spellbook, wand, robe and all.

A video tutorial and demo have both been released for the game so I don’t want to spend too much time on the mechanics, but will instead focus on the gameplay and share some insights on strategy.

Players begin the game by selecting the difficulty level: five are available. They then select the size of the world, and its geography: small, medium, large, and XL. The geography varies from one land to two continents to multiple islands. Players also select the number of opponents they will face and the number of alternate worlds available. Yes, that’s right…if conquering one world was not challenging enough, the game offers portals into other worlds for even more action. Players can face as many as seven rival mages and six alternative worlds. The map can also be set as either flat or cylindrical. Players then can choose the great mage to play – twelve choices are available and it is possible to customize even further. Each role enjoys two resource perks and two spells to begin with.

The map is hexagonally based with a variety of terrain ranging from mountain to swamp to ocean. Four resources can be harvested by the player: gold, food, mana, and research. Combinations of these are produced by placing a building in a hex, and as the player’s kingdom grows additional resources may become available on certain hexes, such as a silver mine, pumpkin patch or sacred land. These special hexes can grant additional options to create special buildings which can unlock special units or produce combinations of resources. Initially the game is very fast-paced, and turns can be completed in just a few seconds at the start of the game. Gradually the turn length increases as the player’s kingdom expands, but even so longer running game turns typically last less than five minutes.

warlock

The dracolich is a powerful beast capable of wrecking a great deal of destruction when leveled up.

 

At the start of each turn the player is given a series of prompts at the right side of the screen indicating news about new units created, new quests to complete, units still awaiting orders and so on. The player must do something with every unit each turn (though units can be set to rest, which effectively does nothing but keeps them stationary), and while at first it may seem unnecessary to touch every unit with the prompts, it turns into a blessing after playing the game for 15 hours and having dozens of units on the map – never mind on various other worlds. These prompts make it almost impossible to forget about a unit – something which can be a hazard in any large game.

Unfortunately the game is single-player only right now. However, a free multiplayer extension is being worked on by the developers and is expected in late summer.

The mechanics of the game are simple: move units (and fight), create new ones, build when a city’s population allows for it, and conduct research on new spells. Spells can be cast in a number of ways. Some are direct attacks on other units or buildings. Some heal. Some grant bonuses to cities or units. One allows a unit to fly, and another makes a unit invisible. Others summon a new unit to fight for the player. There are dozens of spells available, including one that wins the game.

warlock

Loot is scattered about the map, but the player will have to fight powerful creatures to earn it.

Victory Conditions

Winning a game of Warlock is no trivial accomplishment. Players can win by defeating all the other great mages in the game, seizing all of the Holy Ground hexes in the game, defeating any god’s avatar (which will appear if the player draws enough hatred toward the god in his religious reputation with them), or by casting the Unity spell. The Unity spell is particularly interesting because it requires extensive amounts of research to find (it took me about 15 hours of gameplay to get it) and then it requires 5000 mana points to actually cast (at 25 hours into the game I had about half the mana necessary but was closing fast).

Even after winning, the replay value of Warlock is extensive. Because of the size of the map, the number of opponents, and the different Great Mages which can be played, and the existence of multiple worlds, I can only guess at the number of hours required to be spent before an XL map with all the players and all the alternate worlds is conquered. A conservative estimate is probably 50 hours, but I’m guessing – my world is mid-sized and at 25 hours in (as I noted above) I still don’t completely own the first world. Once the multiplayer game is added on it’s likely that players will be gaming with Warlock for a long time to come.

warlock

Declaring war on another rival mage.

The Path of the Mage

Success in the game comes from wisely investing in your land. Players should try to keep a well-rounded balance of resources in the game – investing too heavily in gold will allow the player to create more armies, but might result in a lack of food with which to feed them. Balance may not seem important at first – if the player chooses to be undead those troops don’t require food. But as soon as a kingdom of humanoids is captured the player can begin to produce units that do require food – having an existing supply of all resources ensures a smoother transition to producing all units, though the player may favor one race over another for strategic reasons.

Equally important is the need for the player to create an infrastructure whereby units can be upgraded to more powerful ones. Units gain experience from turn to turn and through combat. Eventually a unit will “level up” and have the choice of several upgrades. Units can level up multiple times – exactly how is unclear but I have had one unit level up probably ten times, granting it very powerful abilities such as regeneration and the ability to move after it attacks.

Three major races begin the game: humanoid, undead, and animal. Each has its own development tree with units that enjoy unique bonuses. Elven archers are powerful and Ghosts are strong in sieges since they are difficult to defend against. Trolls have a powerful attack and slowly regenerate.

As noted above the AI can be set to several levels of difficulty. I played the game extensively on Normal. At that level the AI is not very aggressive after the few random monsters scattered about my kingdom were cleared. But the game also takes on a 4X-like charm as I slowly expanded my empire with little opposition. At this level of difficulty I found that I could pick my battles. Sometimes a monster would wander into my territory to shake things up, but so long as I maintained a few combat units it wasn’t difficult to handle them. The Impossible level of difficulty (the highest) doesn’t make the units any smarter – the greatest challenge is that the other factions in the game will periodically demand about half the player’s gold or mana in order to not to go war with him. Being at war with several factions at once does increase the challenge as invasions from multiple sides can stretch a player’s resources.

The main castle has its own defense, and two defensive structures can also be built to protect your lands: a fort and a magic tower. Attacks come in several types: melee, missile, and several types of magic which range from death magic to elemental to healing (healing can be used as an attack against undead). Players can also create siege weapons, naval units, and flying units. For every unit there is a solid counter unit, but if the player keeps a unit alive long enough it will gain experience and eventually can become extremely powerful.

While often a player will have to wear down the surrounding defenses before being able to attack the player’s home castle, if the home castle is destroyed that player immediately loses, so paying attention to defending both a home castle and which enemy castle to besiege is important.

warlock

A unit of warriors prepares to attack a fire elemental at the bottom of the screen. In the lower left we can see that the odds are not good – I will inflict two points of damage and receive 20. But if I bring enough other units to bear even powerful creatures such as this can be defeated.

One Game to Rule Them All

No game is perfect for every player, but some games are great for many. Warlock: Master of the Arcane is one of those great games that gamers have been waiting for. Fantasy turn-based strategic games are not common, but when the right one comes out it can rule the genre for years. Warlock: Master of the Arcane is going to rule for a long time to come. When the multiplayer addition is finally released there will be no excuses for not playing the game. Given the demo is out and gives a solid look at the gameplay, players with even a passing interest must play it to see for themselves what they’re missing.

Grumpy Grog Says: This game is going to hit you like an epic-level fireball. Get the game. Play the game. Be the game. You won’t be sorry.

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