Warlock: Master of the Arcane
Systems: PC (Previewed)
System Specs: AMD Athlon II X4 640 3Ghz, 8GB DDR3 RAM, ATI HD5770, Windows 7 64bit
Developer: Ino-Co Plus
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: TBD – Q2 2012
When Paradox Interactive revived the Majesty franchise with the sequel, Majesty 2, I never really expected the series to take off like it did. Now, we have several expansions for the main game as well as two spinoffs, one being the tower defence game (Defenders of Ardania) and now a 4X strategy game, Warlock: Master of the Arcane.
The story of Warlock begins shortly after the events of Majesty 2: Monster Kingdom. Your character, the Great King, assembles the greatest army of Men and Monsters ever seen and goes to the frozen northlands to claim them for his kingdom. Why he does this is never really explained, and wouldn’t you know it? He and the entire army goes missing, and civil war erupts in the realm of Ardania that lasts for over seventy years. In the end, the only remaining powers are the Great Mages of the Council of Mages. The gods wish for there to be one ruler in Ardania, and each one has handpicked one mage to be their champion to unite the land once again and claim the title of Warlock.
As you may have guessed, you can play as any one of these great mages and each one has a unique combination of skills and perks. If you want, you can even generate a great mage from scratch with several variables such as race, skills, and perks. In the preview build, unfortunately, I encountered several glitches and bugs when attempting to do this, so I stuck with the default pre-generated mage, Miralbus the Hat.
Generating a map is the same as many 4X games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization. You can select the size of the map and general layout of the land masses (Islands, Continental, etc.). A unique option is setting the number of Other Worlds in the game, a concept where several portals exist on the map to take your units to fantastic dimensions full of powerful monsters and epic loot if you want to risk it.
When I first got to the main screen of the game, my first reaction was, “Wow! This looks a lot like Civ 5!” This was mostly due to the hex-based board of the game as most other 4X games use squares instead. The general layout of the GUI will also be familiar to anyone who has had past experience with the 4X genre, and that’s for the best. If something isn’t broke then don’t fix it.
Gameplay, however, is a bit different: Most terrain pieces don’t have any inherent bonuses that transfer to buildings. For example, in Civilization, you could only build farms on flat terrain and received a bonus for building them on fertile lands next to rivers. In Warlock, you can build a farm anywhere you please and you still get +3 food for that farm. The exception to this rule is special resources on the map, such as gold and silver deposits that you can build mines on, and special locations such as the Halberdhall (allows you to recruit Halberdiers) and Holy Grounds (allows you to build temples). Otherwise, there’s no real penalty for building cities in what might be considered inhospitable places.
In addition, there are no worker units to build stuff. Instead, you construct buildings the same way you recruit units, simply by selecting it and plopping it down on an empty hex and it will be up and running in a few turns. The only limit you have to buildings is the number of citizens in a city. Every time you increase your population, you’re prompted to construct an additional building in that city. Since buildings are free, there really isn’t any reason not to build.
Free buildings? You might think that’s too good to be true, but there are a couple strings attached. As mentioned before, you need some special resources like the Halberdhall to build certain buildings or you’re going to be limited to the basic ones. The second downside is that the upkeep for many of the buildings is quite high and will continue to eat through your profits, necessitating that you build a lot of markets and craftsman districts to keep the coffers full as well as making the quests worthwhile to do.
Yes, even as a ruler, you’ll get quests from the gods or different guilds in the game telling to kill something or destroy something else or build something in one of your towns. Most of these quests reward you with large amounts of gold, mana, or other perks that you’ll need to fund your nation in addition to getting the favour of the god or guild who gave you the quest. That’s an important distinction as it allows you to cast exclusive spells and summon units unique to that god.
Graphically, the game is very clean and colourful, which is very similar to Civilization in this regard. The preview build was still working on the GUI and placeholder images were still in use here and there, but the game is put together well over all. There are only a few glitches and bugs, but considering that it’s a preview build, that’s to be expected. I fully expect them to be ironed out upon release as there are quite a few months to go.
There are a few concerns that I wish to address, though. The control scheme is awkward as it uses the left mouse button to select and order units around rather than the traditional “left click selects, right click orders” scheme. This is compounded by the fact that units aren’t automatically deselected when they run out of movement points, which means you have to right-click every time you want to do something else. This seems like a minor complaint, but it gets tedious and annoying the more units you have in the game, so this ought to be rectified by the game’s release. In addition, while the initial monsters you face on the world map are quite weak, they ramp up in difficulty quickly until you get to Fire Elementals, which might as well be a hard border for your nation as they can easily wipe away entire units with a single blow. I’ve only managed to take down one by exploiting the non-aggressive AI and hitting it from afar with a catapult while the monster was trying to take down one of my buildings. A more lenient curve should be introduced for spawning monsters or players will be set back several turns just amassing an army to take them out. Finally, I couldn’t find a research tree or building tree anywhere in the game, which meant I was building and researching blindly trying to discover what came next. Sure, the final release may have the trees in the manual, but I’d rather they have one in-game for the sake of convenience.
Casting spells, multiple worlds, gods, and mana all remind me of the classic 1994 4X game, Master of Magic, which is a good thing considering how fondly that game is remembered nowadays. Warlock truly brings a new twist to the genre that hasn’t been explored much lately outside of Civilization V, and if they can clean up some issues with the GUI, it’ll be a fine addition to the Majesty series.
Disclosure: The writer was given a preview code of the game through the Steam service and played 7 hours of a campaign map under normal difficulty. Multiple versions of the build were previewed with the 0.9.2.6 version seen here in the screenshots.