The world of Ardania is in chaos. Powerful mages sweep the land vying for control of it, each seeking to rule the world under their name. You play as one of these mages, in Ino-Co Plus’s 4X Strategy game, Warlock: Master of the Arcane. To win you’ll need to settle land, defeat dragons, and destroy your opponents. All in a day’s work, right?
Warlock is a game that sticks to each of the 4X tenants quite securely. 4X stands for explore, expand, exploit, exterminate, and governs the system you need to take on board in order to become victorious. Most games of this genre are based in the real world, but Warlock adds a nice twist (albeit not a unique one) by placing it in a fantasy world filled with magic and creatures of myth.
It’s easy to take one look at it and think that it is an expansion for Civilization V. Graphically, the two games share a lot of similarities, even down to the 1 unit per hex system. But where Civilizations graphics are gaudy compared to its real world setting, the lush fantasy land that Warlock is set in, makes it fit perfectly.
The game takes an incredibly streamlined approach to the systems that govern the game, which make it practically ideal for those wanting to get their feet wet in a turn based strategy game. The best part about it is that while managing your cities individually isn’t required, you can still do so if you’re a veteran player hoping to get the absolute most out of every aspect of your game.
There is no campaign, or overly deep story to get your teeth stuck into, which is nice, as it allows for the game to do what it is best at, providing unique and interesting maps that are different every time you play on them. The random world generator can be cruel, or it can be kind, sometimes putting you on an island, or being surrounded by portals. Portals lead to other worlds, which are filled with all kinds of hard to kill baddies, and tend to spew some of these forth at regular intervals.
One of the most important things to note is that Warlock is a wargame. You can’t choose to win via diplomacy, although there is certainly an aspect of winning available for research. The thing is, everything you build in your towns is to facilitate your troops. There isn’t a diplomatic option for stealing research, and any kind of peace only lasts as long as you’re adhering to the enemies frequent demands for tithings.
Research is in the forms of spells, and at any time you may choose one out of five spells to research. The research progression is semi-random, so you might find one game you won’t get the waterwalking spell to nearly the end, and in another you’ll have it from the start. It’s this, mixed with the variety of unit types and races, that makes Warlock one heck of a replayable game.
You have a pretty vast array of customisability as well, with you being able to pretty much make your great mage from scratch, with a series of perks to enhance your play. Much of these benefits become practically useless after the early game though, with only those that boost your resources by a percentage being of any real worth.
The AI is also fairly unforgiving. Although the diplomatic options can be exploited easily (You can go to war with someone and demand they pay you for the benefit of going to war with them), the AI presents a great challenge, especially on later difficulties. This is pretty refreshing, as most games of this genre have a very soft AI that can usually be steamrolled with the greatest of ease.
There are your usual graphical glitches and annoyances to contend with, and not everything is the way I would like it, but that one of the best things about games in the 4X genre, each game approaches the formula just differently enough to be completely unique, and the things that annoy one person might actually be a positive in the eyes of another.
The lack of multiplayer is disappointing, but not surprising… Warlock seems like a very hard game to balance. But some kind of multiplayer, even if only local or hotseat, would have been very enjoyable. The publishers, Paradox Interactive, have stated this may become a feature at a later time.
Overall, Warlock: Master of the Arcane is a very solid strategy game, with a fun premise and excellent execution. It’s bright, vibrant settings and huge depth of customisation make for a game that is both enjoyable and fun to play. It is also forgiving to players who are new to strategy games, and the fact that there is no ‘right way’ to victory only adds to that.