Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review

By Adam Ma on May 16, 2012

If there's one thing that strategy games can generally be counted on for it's ingenuity. There's just something about the genre, be it turn based or real time, that lends itself well to new ideas and concepts. For gamers it means that the big budget games can take more risks without threatening their bottom line, while smaller companies can push more revolutionary concepts in hopes of carving out their own niche. Warlock - Master of the Arcane is no exception to the rule. It's a turn based strategy game that mixes the familiar hex system of the recent Civilization series alongside their Ardanian fantasy elements. It strives to make an impression where other games may have failed by virtue of its creativity. The result is something that's halfway between an absolute mess, and a hilarious amount of fun.

Players start off Warlock with absolutely no tutorial, and though the very core basics of the game are explained at the beginning, this is most definitely a game not meant to be played by anyone brand new to the genre.

While normally guessing your way through the first stages of a game isn't the worst thing, there are a few aspects of the game that would do for an explanation. First, players get to choose a Warlock whom acts as their general/commander figure. The Warlock does not bestow any overall bonuses to their team, and their name is purely ornamental unlike other games where named generals are more significant. What matters when selecting a general are abilities, which can be purchased using ability points.

Players can choose to, for example, allow their Warlock to start with more gold or mana (two major resources in game) and can alternatively select spells they would want to have access too from the very start of the game.

Spells range from low level damage, to midrange buffs and even summon spells that create additional units. What spells players decide to start with heavily influence early game, as well as pave the way for what abilities players will get in later turns.

Mana and gold couple with food to create the three major competing resources, all of which share importance. Every unit (and some buildings) will need one or two of these resources to make, and as long as they're active will consume said resource each turn. This means that players are not necessarily limited by any kind of discernible unit cap, but are instead limited by the growth of their cities. Which by the way, may be extremely different depending on what starting army you decide to play as. So different in fact, you would think there should be a sort of in-depth guide on how to play them.

Welcome to the second most confusing aspect of Warlock: Selecting an army. There are three major teams in the game that players can choose from, each guided primarily by their units as building orders happen to be largely the same.

The humans gain a fair balance of defence and offence, goblins/orcs gain a strange mess of units that are mostly beastmen in nature including some fairly awesome warewolf units, and the undead units are immune to general healing but are a bit more resilient than their fleshy counterparts. All three teams have access to the same general use troop types, and it's not until more advanced units appear that players will see a real difference. What makes Warlock so interesting is that although basic unit types may seem a little restrictive on a 'per team' basis, there's actually quite a bit of variety in the long haul.Neutral towns are spread across the world randomly in addition to enemy Warlocks own cities, and aggressive players can take over these locations to gain access to additional resources. And if they happen to take over a Warlock controlled down in the process, they will gain access to every building that city could create. Combine that with strategic resources that provide new units such as Donkey Knights, Dwarves and Minotaurs and players should never be at a loss for new units to create.

All that's really left to decide is what to build and where to go, and exploration is something that is rewarded in quite a few ways.

Exploring a world that's populated with monsters (in addition to enemy players) can be a major element of fun for most games, but in Warlock it becomes a completely new factor on its own. Often wandering around strategic resources, or guarding a horde of treasure, are the world's monsters. They will also invade your cities when you least expect it, while attacking players indiscriminately.

Occasionally the gods may ask that you start development on a particular building, or attack an enemy city, but more often they request you kill some of the roaming monsters or other creatures that represent rival deities.

Also scattered throughout the world are portals to other realms where the monsters are extraordinarily difficult, guarded by powerful elementals who require a decent attack force to take on by themselves. Entering these other realms is completely optional, but it adds an extra element to the game beyond simply fighting other players.

As cities can only get one additional building per population expansion, managing resources becomes extremely important, and though there isn't a tremendous emphasis on building multiple cities what's built within your borders will often lock you into one style of gameplay for a long time. For example, putting emphasis on research in order to discover new spells often costs both mana and gold, two resources that are necessary to build higher end creatures or manage buildings/turrets. For new players, building the wrong units or trying to experiment can often times be detrimental, as recovery means wasting quite a few turns building the 'right' things instead, so much of learning each of the three teams requires trial and error.

It doesn't help that Warlock is a title that seems afflicted with a few small bugs and development oversights as well, most notably having to move in and out of city profiles in order to properly click/build, or that some buildings provide passive bonuses while others can have their resource turned on/off. There isn't nearly enough expansion on the gods of the world either, who play a major part in learning how to cast new spells and whose paragons will often stomp around the world killing your units and attacking your cities. It's also worth noting that while all of these features would be absolutely game changing in multiplayer, no such features exists at this time, leaving players to spend much of their Warlock experience trying to find new ways to exploit the games somewhat predictable AI.

Final Thoughts

When it all comes together Warlock is a game that's only really missing a few key points to be an incredible experience, but it falls short on delivering the full package. Multiplayer as a free patch in the future definitely makes the game more enticing, and if you're the type of gamer who enjoys spending quite a bit of time running a solo campaign against multiple AI opponents, then it seems like Warlock was almost exclusively made for you. The amount of random hilarity that can happen (intentionally or otherwise) throws quite a curve in the typical turn based strategy equation, enough to make Warlock stand out in the crowd in a positive way. Definitely not a game for first-timers to the genre though.

Good core gameplay.
A fun entry into the genre.
Pulls elements from other games together well.
No multiplayer.
A few glitches appear here and there.
Very little in the way of a tutorial.
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