Warlock 2: The Exiled25 Apr 2014 0
Warlock 2: The Exiled
Released 10 Apr 2014
First up, having missed out on playing the original Warlock: Master of the Arcane (WMotA) game I'm not going to spend time comparing Warlock 2: The Exiled to its predecessor, but instead look at how it stands as a game in its own right without looking over my shoulder all the time. So what we appear have here is a good old 4X game set in a fantasy world (or as it turns out, world-lets), so Civ with fireballs then; which sounds OK to me as I am a Civ fan (who isn't?) and I like my fantasy gaming as you can see.
The basic background of the game is that whilst the player was away doing whatever heroics WMotA required them to do, a rival cast some sort of uber spell to take control of the world which incidentally appears to have shattered reality leaving the world as a number of shards linked by magical portals. The aim of the game is to get back home, called Ardania, via these shards, whilst building up troops, spells and powers enough to defeat the big bad wizard. Not rocket science as far as scenario creation goes, perhaps, but the splintered world idea does create a nice difference from the vast majority (all?) of other 4X games. Whilst you work to get home and topple the usurper there will be other Great Mages working towards the same goal and, of course, neutrals to deal with. So, onto the game.
Let's get the game options you have out of the way first. When you start a game you can choose from the following:
- 5 difficulty levels: Relaxed, Casual, Normal, Challenging and Impossible
- Single or multi-player
- Victory types
- Number of rival Great Mages
- Universe size: Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large (this also affects the number of rivals you can have)
- Customise your Great Mage: from the image to starting spells and the like
All solid standard stuff that any 4X fan will breeze through in a few seconds. However, it is worth noting that the number of options available for difficulty (even if we ignore the easiest), universe size and number of opponents bodes well for long term replayability and that is never a bad thing. On top of that there is a comprehensive game editor tool available (although I have not tried it) which allows you to alter vast swathes of the game. When you start up you will also be introduced to what may turn out to be a like it or hate it feature; the voice acting. The main narrator voice is a cheesy Sean Connery type which, I must confess, did get a bit grating for me as the game wore on. Others may like it, and Paradox do seem to like this approach so fans of their games will be used to it. Far from a deal breaker though, even if it wasn't entirely my cup of tea.
The core 4X-ness of Warlock 2 is reassuringly as expected. You build cities, explore the world around you, fight things you find there, build new units and resources in your cities, engage in diplomacy with rivals, etc. Tech research is replaced by spell research as is appropriate for the setting, but works in the familiar way. Why mend it if it ain't broken. Units can be given perks such as better armour and can gain new abilities as they level up, and new and better units become available as you progress. The spells of your Great Mage can be used on any hex, or unit, etc. that you can see on any of the shards of which you are aware. The spells, along with some of the perks, etc. that units can get are worth looking at closely depending on the nature of the shard or enemy you are facing at the time, and create some neat tactical and strategic challenges; especially for the spells as you are limited to what you can cast by the amount of mana you have available, so planning ahead is very much rewarded. This is obviously a Very Good Thing TM.
As mentioned you start off on one shard of the shattered world, and you need to use this as your base whilst finding portals to other shards in order to find your way to Ardania and the final showdown with the renegade mage. One thing that caught me out was that when I had cleared all the existing enemy from the first shard I was on, I assumed that that was that and it was safe to move my units off through a portal to another shard. This is not so. New enemy units can spawn even on a shard you have cleared, which led to some rapid backtracking of units to deal with this. I really like this as it is another little thing to take into account when planning strategy. Sending units out to patrol your lands seems to be a way of limiting the numbers of these new spawns. Another clever feature is that there is a limit to the number of cities that you can have at any one time. Although this sounds quite simple it actually has a really interesting effect on strategy and how you approach capturing cities. Part of the mechanism around cities allows you to change the status of a city to a Free City which is indirectly associated with your faction and supports it, but does not count towards your maximum number of cities limit, but don't support you as well as one of your own would, of course. From a strategy gamer's point of view this is a good addition, but I can see it coming as a bit of a shock to those more used to a standard Civ approach. I'm willing to bet they will appreciate the strategic thinking needed when they get used to it.
As the game progresses, and you find and explore more and more shards, it becomes quite challenging to keep track of what is going on where, especially as you need to swap between the maps for the different shards to go and see what is happening on the ground. However, I think that it is a balanced degree of challenge and the mechanism for moving between the maps is simple. In fact, as I became more familiar with it and got deeper into the game I found that in some ways it was more user-friendly than having to scroll around a huge single world or use the mini-map to relocate (for some reason I never quite get on with the mini-maps, but that's probably just me). It is quite possible to see all, or nearly all of a shard on the screen at one time if zoomed out, so an at a glance appraisal of the situation on one shard is possible. Whilst we're talking of the shards and strategy, the different shards are based around a different terrain type. So you may start out on a shard with fairly benign terrain and then find the next shard you move to is Home Sweet Home for undead, and some of the hexes cause damage to living units that stop in them. Again, this is grist to the mill for strategy as you work out where you can go, what units you need and what spells you will intervene with.
As well as your over arching goal, the game also throws a number of side quests at you in true fantasy game style, and for which you get rewards. Some of these are things you'd be doing anyway such as finding and using a portal to another shard, but others will distract you for a short time if you take them up. Additionally to throw the occasional spanner in the works there will be a random event that you must react to or ignore. Reacting will usually cost you resources, whilst ignoring them will cause a drain and reduce the happiness of your subjects. These are OK, but I did find them to crop up a bit more frequently than was necessary in my view. Again, not a biggie.
Visually this is a good looking game; however, it did feel to be a bit of a resource drainer at high resolutions. However, dropping these a notch made a big difference and to me the game still looks great. You may have to play around with the graphics settings a bit to find the best balance for your rig.
The game can be won a variety of ways. The most obvious way it is won isby reaching Ardania and beating the usurper. You can also win by wiping out all of the competition or by casting the spell of Unity - the same spell the usurper cast to make him the ultimate power and shattering the world into shards. None of the possible routes to victory seem to be any easier than any of the others which is good, and you can choose the one that suits you, or challenges you the most.
Warlock 2: The Exiled is an excellent take on the 4X game. It looks good, plays well and comes with an extensive editor that looks like it can alter nearly everything in the game. It has a number of really neat tweaks on the genre such as being split over a number of shards with limited interconnectivity between them. The strategic and tactical challenges this poses the player gives the game a lot more depth than many similar offerings and suggests that there will be a great deal of replayability. It has certainly grabbed my attention more than any similar game for some time and is a game that I'll carry on playing even though I've got this review done, and in many ways that is recommendation enough in my view. The niggles I found were just that, niggles.
The game retails for $29.99 or £24.99 for the standard edition depending where you are. See here for details of this and the other versions available. TL:DR I liked it, a really good game, buy it.