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Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review
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Warlock tries to bring fun back to the 4X genre. With a ton of activity and expansive options on the maps, it does a pretty good job at that. It is very easy to start making comparisons to Civilization when you see this game and yes, you may even feel comfortable with it because of that. However, Warlock is very different from Firaxis’ title.
If you have played Civilization, you’ll feel right at home with the basic controls except that Ino-Co allows the WASD keys to move the camera. A move that, while a small feature, I have to thank the devs highly for that. Using the WASD keys just feels more natural on the keyboard, especially the camera needs to be moved a lot. The only caveat I’ve found with the UI is the weird things that selected troops do and even selecting a troop in general. You have to make sure you are clicking on the hex area that the troop is on and not the model itself. You may accidentally choose the wrong one and in a rush moved the wrong squad. Other than that, you’ll find yourself zipping through menus quickly.
The game does a great job with teaching you everything you need to know except one thing: special areas on the map. I once received a quest to create a Temple for some god but I had no idea how to. When I was hovering over it, it said I would be able to do so using two buildings that I already had up. Problem was that I didn’t know that I needed to be in a human or monster village in order to make it. I was playing the Undead. Getting the right buildings to eventually make the Temple was impossible for me to do in any captured human or monster village due to not being able to make a specific building in those places. It’s things like this that aren’t explained very well. Warlock has so many special tiles around the world it would be nice to know what they are before getting so involved in a game just to find out you’re kinda screwed if you wanted to do something specific. Still, even though it isn’t explained very well, having that many different things on the map is really nice.
Oh, did I mention quests? There are a ton of things to do on the maps in Warlock. It isn’t like Civ where all you’ll find is some Barbarians, some ruins, and some special hex areas. Warlock always has something constantly happening. You’ll run into a huge amount of monster types. In every game I’ve played I managed to find some enemy type I never saw before. Vampires, Werewolves, Dragons, Elementals, Ghosts, and much more are scattered through the map to pose challenges to you and your troops. In addition to the random enemies, a lot of them guard treasure hexes which can be collected for loot. Also, I forgot to mention the sea monsters that inhabit the oceans. Warlock gives you a reason to make a navy and enjoy it.
You’ll randomly get quests that ask you to build, destory, explore, or conquer. This gives you a push to branch out and cover more of the map. If you’re lacking in one aspect like naval, you’ll get a quest to ask you to build a dock. If you don’t have enough cities to sustain yourself, you’ll get a quest to either conquer a city or build settlers to make one. There are a ton quests and some reward you with a nice amount of coin, Warlock power, or even glory with the gods. You don’t have to do quests but you could piss someone off like another Warlock or even a god.
The enemy AI seems to do a lot more than in other turn-based strategy games. Every round they built, expanded, declared war, interacted, and even helped me take over places. When you have a truce with another nation, they may actually accompany you in battles on land or sea and even city sieges. It is pretty fantastic to watch an ally’s navy come bustling in and helping you take down a tough Kraken. Alternatively, I’ve found that certain nations will only allow you near their borders for a couple of turns before declaring war. Negotiations are important in Warlock. The leaders are stingy, too. They want their just due in order for pacts or truces. If you’re negotiating with a large nation, be prepared to gift a lot.
Warlock doesn’t have religions, cultures, or ages but it makes do with what it does have: content. I mentioned earlier the amount of things to do on the map. You never feel like you are wasting a turn in this game. Your selected hero character (Great Mage) is actually useful in the game and doesn’t just give passive abilities. Your Mage will come pre-equipped with gifts and spells and learn a lot more through research. Instead of ages and tech, you gain new spells which can lead up to a game winning spell. To counter the loss of tech trees, Warlock provides a lot more structures that can be built. Almost every structure leads to an upgrade type that unlocks even more. As you progress through your buildings, you’ll find more troop types , equipment, and gifts you can grant existing squads. It’s pretty cool when you start out as the Undead and capture a Monster city which then allows you to train Noble Werewolves or Vampires. If you capture a city from a different faction, you literally gain their powers just like what would really happen. You take over a castle and their troops either join or die. In Warlock, they all join.
You have access to a ton of different Great Mages but all that changes is the look of your Mage, the race they use, and a colored icon. You can choose a Mage, which is essentially an avatar, and choose what race and color you want if you customize. There are Humans, Undead, and Monsters. Each have their own buildings, units, music, city names, and other little quirks that make each unique. Each unit has different sayings and some are really funny. I absolutely love clicking on the Rat Spearmen and listening to them say, “Spear! Oh, you knew we spear, eh?” I don’t know why. I know it isn’t funny. It’s just the way they say it and the voice of them makes me chuckle every time. Even the Flying Galleus for the Undead has a great voice to the unit. Makes the giant floating ghost ship sound intimidating and strong. It’s little things like this that help Warlock continue to be fun and grasp you for long periods of time.
You’ll need to expand your heart out if you want certain things, however. Some structures require special hex tiles like iron, gold, magic areas, and more. Warlock promotes activity in the game. You won’t find yourself needlessly moving troops around waiting for something good to happen. I found myself constantly exploring with my troops and finding new features in the game. One such feature is portals. You may find these hidden around the map and if you enter them with troops, you’ll be transported to an entirely different world inhabited with strong creatures and high rewards. You need to be very careful in these portals, as I found out the hard way. Oh, and just because you can go in and out of portals, doesn’t mean other things can’t. Remember that! There are a number of these portals around the map all leading to different worlds.
As a launch day surprise, Paradox has updated the game to version 1.1 which includes a lot of AI upgrades, Temple changes, and a lot more global news updates as things happen across the map. The AI changes alone enhance the game and help make the enemy and ally units more active then ever before.
Warlock does a great job at taking a formula like Civilization and making their own beast. Ino-Co Plus fills your map with so much that every round is just as exciting as the last. Every time I got far enough to find out a few new things, I would start over and employ what I just learned and feel anxious about it. One missing feature is multiplayer, but fret not! This is planned as an after-launch update and DLC may even come, as well (oh please give us a Vampire race!).
When multiplayer comes around, I can safely say that Warlock will become a huge part of my RTS meetings with friends. No more yawning during army movements and endless ‘End Turn’ clicking. I’ll be building, exploring, expanding, and teleporting my Great Mage through the world of Warlock: Master of the Arcane.