Hands up anyone who remembers playing Microprose’s Master of Magic way back in the mid-1980s. That few of you, huh? Ok, hands up those of you who regularly enjoy games such as Civilization. Ah, much better! Who would enjoy playing Civilization, but with magical spells, and set across a number of realms instead of a single map? Sceptical? Read on and let me tell you about Warlock 2, a new 4X game and the sequel to the original Warlock: Master of the Arcane.
The original Warlock, released in 2012, was a brilliant game that was everything that a fan of fantasy 4X could want: multiple races, huge play areas, multiple realms, and more spells than you could throw a magic missile at. It had its flaws of course, but then again, what game doesn’t? In Warlock 2, the story is that after the events of the first game, the worlds were shattered into many smithereens, your character is exiled to a distant smithereen (ok, *shard*) by the United One. Your job is to find your way back through the myriad of shards to your home world: Ardania.
Well, that’s if you want to. There’s also a sandbox game where you can play a fairly standard game similar to the original Warlock. You can customize it to a really fine degree, but you’re also fairly limited in the number of extra worlds there are. Sandbox mode, in my opinion, is for when you’ve completely exhausted the other modes of the game. The Exiled story mode is just so much more fun that I’d personally play that over and over again. And in fact, I’m going to pretty much ignore sandbox mode for the rest of the review.
What makes the story mode of the game such an insanely interesting venture is that other shards are only accessible via portals dotted around the countryside. Each actual shard is not very big at all—most are only three or four screens across, but when you’ve spread your army out over half a dozen worlds and your capital city suddenly comes under attack, and it looks like your main vanguard is at least eight or ten turns away from getting back…well, let’s just say it teaches you to think incredibly quickly on your feet.
This can be, of course, compounded by the fact that you’ll come across other wizards, each of whom will have some petty feud or row against the others. Some will like you, some won’t. So let me illustrate one delightful scenario I had during one playthrough. Me and three other wizards (I had yet to locate the rest). For some reason, two of the wizards have this serious hate/hate relationship. We’re talking the kind where I’m being asked to take sides in this feud over…well, it could have been over soggy Rice Crispies for all I know, and the one didn’t want to hand over the unsoggifier spell. Whatever the reason, over the course of many many turns, one wizard completely destroyed the other’s army, allowing the free-roaming monsters to destroy the capital city of their opponent. When a wizard falls, all of their cities and settlements become Free Cities, all of whom are hostile to EVERYONE on the map. So because one wizard had a Rice Crispies issue, suddenly it becomes everyone’s problem to sort out, meaning you have to halt your campaign, bring your forces to every shard on which the fallen wizard had a city, and slowly subdue it and its army. Later in the game, some of your heroes become so ridiculously overpowered that they can subdue a single city single-handedly, but early on, you have to give the smack down without their aid.
As if this weren’t all enough to keep you occupied, by default you also have a limit on the number of cities you can keep under your control. So expanding to new worlds becomes unfeasible if you’ve already stretched your city limits, to excuse the pun. An advanced spell allows you to relocate your capital, allowing you move your entire base of operations a world at a time, but this too can be a time-consuming exercise. The point I’m trying to make here is that there are a LOT of considerations for your journey back to Ardania; it’s not as simple and cut-and-dried as some 4X games you might have played. In fact, it’s a heck of a lot like galactic-style 4X games, just played on a terrain basis instead of a planetary or star system basis.
As if this weren’t enough to keep you busy, for the creative types out there, Warlock 2 includes an Editor, which is a fancy way of creating mods in-game. It’s now that simple to create a new race, now relic, new hero, new scenario, new …well…just about anything you can dream of to fit into the game. For example, one modder recreated all the missing wizards from the original Warlock. Another has a whole new set of heroes, complete with voicework. It’s amazing just how EASY it is, though. Most of it can be done without any programming or modelling knowledge whatsoever.
As is standard, you can also play a multiplayer game against others. You’ll need to sign up at ParadoxPlaza.com (no way to sign up in-game, sadly), but from there you can enter the lobby to create games, find games, and maybe even just have a quick one. I didn’t personally find any great problem with the multiplayer, so expect it to work as advertised.
On the downside, it’s not so fantastically different from the original Warlock, especially the sandbox mode. The story mode, for example, feels more like an expansion than a whole new game, and the graphics haven’t received that much of an upgrade or change. Furthermore, there aren’t many new spells, races, or scenarios to seem to warrant a new purchase if you’re just after the core experience. On the other hand, if you’re new to this and love 4X games in general, you are going to ADORE this. It’s the kind of game where you try for one or two quick turns, and the next thing you know is that 200 turns have gone by and it’s also four in the morning and just ONE more bloody turn so that I can take care of this shard before moving on to the next one…
If you love 4X games, I have no doubts you’ll thoroughly enjoy Warlock 2, most especially if you hadn’t already played the first one. The game is a brilliant addition to any 4X collection, trust me. The learning curve is quite low if you’re familiar with these games, and the spells and shards add an extra level of strategy. Is it replayable? Hell yes. Sadly, the different mages don’t have such a different collection of spells, but the new terrain and shards every time make it an entirely different experience every time. Warlock 2 is like candy for strategy geeks. Tasty candy filled with magical spells and dragons. And victory. We like the taste of victory. Tastes like…goblins.
Final Score: 8.5 strategic prawns out of 10
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform: Steam (PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 12
RRP: $29.99 for the basic edition. See the store page for details: http://store.steampowered.com/app/205990/