Command, conjure and conquer
Publisher: Paradox interactive
Genre: Turn based strategy
If you are anything like me, you probably feel that the inclusion of wizards and dragons will improve just about everything. This proved to hold true for me as I played the first game in the series; Warlock: Master of the arcane. Never having been big into turn based strategy games beforehand, the original Warlock game beckoned me to finally take the plunge into the genre. Suddenly I found myself ruling an empire, commanding an army of mythical creatures and weaving spells of fire and destruction to rain down on my enemies. “Just one more turn” I would lie to myself, as the hours quietly slipped away. I had become a 4x strategy player.
Back to Ardania
The premise of the game is that you return to Ardania, only to find that The United One has shattered the realm, and exiled all of the great mages to individual shards of land. These lands are linked together via a network of portals, and you must travel between these portals through the realms of other exiled mages, hostile mages working for The United One, and some which are dominated by neutral monsters.
This shard type map is definitely the biggest addition to the sequel. In the first game, you would play on a long stretch of land, expanding in all directions until it eventually looped around on itself. Since you now are thinking with portals, the gameplay changes demonstrably. The sense of exploration is kept fresh by virtue of every new portal you step through, holds a new entire area to explore. You will find a varied set of environments on your inter-dimensional travels, and each of these offers different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to building structures. A hex in the desert will be ill-suited for planting farms, but will give a bonus to mana production. As such, you will have to think strategically about where you choose to gather your resources from.
Even if the game features more of a story this time around, do not expect a heavily story driven campaign, as it exists mostly as a framework for you to weave your own tale of heroic conquest. How did you overcome the many dangers you faced on the way? Did you forge alliances with the other exiled mages, or simply crush them underfoot on your march to glory? The game invites you to create your own grand tale of conquest, and the most memorable parts of the game will be where your grand machinations of war and strategy will either come to glorious fruition, or result in miserable failure.
The rise of an empire
The road to glory is a long one though, and no amount of spell casting will get you there by itself. You will need to amass a strong army, should you hope to make it very far at all. You will start the game having one capital city, and some rudimentary units that you can use to explore your immediate surroundings with. Although there are many useful buildings you can construct by yourself, Ardania has a wealth of hexes that serve as special resource nodes. Should you happen upon a rare gold deposit for instance, you can establish a town nearby and construct a gold mine, giving you a much higher yield than any gold producing building native to you. Having a strong start in Warlock 2 is important, as you might find yourself quickly challenged by the armies of rival mages and ferocious wildlife.
The units you have at your disposal is a varied bunch. From the simple swordsmen and archers you start with, to flying dragons and giant turtles the size of cities, you will have many options to mix up your army. Every unit has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, so being smart about constructing your army is essential. Some strong melee units in the front line, with some ranged units supporting from a safe distance, is certainly a good basis of a fighting force. As your technology progresses, you can also throw some more advanced units into the mix. Your men at the front line would probably appreciate having some healers, and some flying creatures with extra long sight distance could scope out the way ahead. Strong heroes will appear at random, and you can chose to hire them to fight for you. These are extra strong units, which you can equip with various gear you might find through exploration.
Finding out the most effective way to build up your cities and units might be a bit daunting at first, but thankfully the developers have added a tech-tree this time around, so you can view a map of what buildings you need to construct to build a specific unit. This was sorely lacking from the first game, where you had to find things out seemingly by trial and error.
The sequel also adds a restriction on city building. in Warlock 1 you could have as many cities as you wanted, but this quickly turned into a tedious slog for any conqueror, as enemy cities became just another thing for you to micromanage. In Warlock 2 you have the option to turn any city into a special city, which not require any micromanagement, not contribute towards civil unrest, and will either pay you a tax of gold or serve as a defensive stronghold for an area. This is a most welcome addition to the game.
What they also did, was to put a restriction on how many cities you can have in total. If you go over this limit (5 cities default) you start to generate civil unrest and increased city administration costs. You can increase the default limit through perks and spells, but this change really limits your expansive capabilities. This can be a problem, as you can’t really expand your empire forward as your army marches, so all your freshly created units must travel through many portals and over large stretches of land to reach the front lines.
The exiled campaign is not the only thing that the game has to offer. You can also play in the original sandbox mode, if you prefer that. One of the strengths of playing on a more continental map, is that you can actually effectively utilize navy ships, as opposed to in the exiled mode, where they are largely useless. I would go so far as to say that the sandbox mode offers the best replayability of the modes.
You also get mod tools with Warlock 2. Here you can create your very own spells, units and maps. I am exited to see what the modding community could come up with here, and whether or not it would bring more longevity to the game.
A multiplayer mode is also included with the game. here you can play with or against your friends or other online players. Myself and a friend tested the humans vs AI mode, and while certainly fun, we did not find much of a challenge. Instead of the AI teaming up against us, it seems they were busy fighting among themselves, and had little chance of standing against our united assault. An option of having the AI being in a forced alliance would be very much welcome.
Warlock 2: The exiled is a great take on the 4x genre. Much less concerned with politics and diplomacy than something like Civilization, it is more of an action focused game. The 170 different spells at your disposal, and many mythical creatures you can both fight and control, makes it more appealing to those who are bored with simply commanding historically accurate factions and armies..
If you liked the first game, I would make sure that the exiled campaign mode is something that sounds fun for you. Without that, there is sadly not a huge deal of new content. Most of the units, factions and even sound and music is the same as the first warlock game.
All in all, it is a highly enjoyable game. Very much addictive, and with enough depth and random elements to it that you will always have a new experience every time you start up a new campaign. The editor that ships with the game holds promise for future fan-made content, and hopefully this will serve to improve the lasting appeal of the game.
Gameplay : 4/5
Graphics : 4/5
Audio : 3/5
Final score: 4/5