Warlock: Master of the Arcane was one of the strategy games we were very much looking forward, mostly to change paste from “serious” titles like Total War and Panzers that we were focused at in the beginning of the year, and it hasn’t disappointed us. Warlock has provided us with some simple, clean, straightforward fun that made us think of Civ, MoM and similar titles, all fused into one.
After great deliberation, I have decided not to use the phrase “great balls of fire!”, but let me tell’ya, it wasn’t easy to resist the overwhelming urge!
Ruler of Ardania
It is never really a grateful task nor truly a successful last resort when comparing the games to describe a new one. If nothing, it implies the latest game being a mere copy of the “great titles of past”, but none the less, comparing Warlock with Civilization 5 mashed with something like Age of Wonders is the easiest way to relay the overall picture of the game. However, Warlock is still a unique game and has its own undisputed originality.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane is a turn-based strategy game with a map based hexagonal fields, and is very easy game to get into. In fact, the control of the game is so easy that you might actually confuse it for a lack of depth, but you shouldn’t. Admittedly, W:MoA is quite a simple, streamlined game, but you will get your kick out of the harder settings, if you are battle-proven veteran craving for challenge. And, before anything else, this is a TBS that concentrates on big fireballs, amazing spells, ogres smashing with tree trunks at your units and dragons pouring fire from the sky. W:MoA is all about combat.
You start off with your capital city that extends its influence to surrounding hexes, depending on its size and population. With time, city will grow, the population will increase and the city’s influence will extend for yet another hex row, which is important since you can’t build beyond the sphere of the city influence. The basic resources you manage and need to secure are gold, food and mana, and you need to micro-manage your building priorities and recruiting policy, so that you do not hamper your city’s development at the price of unnecessary army build-up. However, you will need army units to explore the world around you and defend yourself from wild beasts, “neutral” factions and, of course, rival mages and their kingdoms. As you explore the map, you will find different bonuses in different places, like ancient ruins and magic nodes, iron, silver as well as NPC guarded caves with gold. You can easily snatch the gold and transfer it immediately to your treasure, however, to really exploit the resources of a given hex, you need to have the hex in the influence area of the city and build an appropriate building on top of that resource. You can achieve that by either expanding your city or by founding new cities with your settlers in the proximity of the said resource.
To arms! And magic wands!
W:MoA is all about combat, be it with regular swords and shields and bows, with catapults and canon ships or with spells and magical units, and that segment is done superbly. Each unit has its movement range, attack range (melee can attack only the adjacent hex, while ranged can unleash death from several hexes away) and even the terrain has its effect on the bonuses applied to attackers and defenders, so be careful when you consider where to entrench your defensive units and pondering the attack on the enemy unit stationed up on a steep hill. Also, there are flying units in the game, and those can be attacked only by your own ranged units, so make sure you always have some to support your melee troops. Be careful when deploying your units, making sure to have defense melee units in front and ranged in the rear, so they can have some more protection.
There is a big diversity among units and different races that are available in the game, each with their own specific abilities and stats. To name only few, your armies can have regular soldiers, rogues, hunters, clerics and wizards, warships, summoned imps and wolves, not to mention the wide variety of different races from the conquered cities from where you can recruit zombies, vampires and goblins to fight among your “normal” troops. From human to undead, foot soldiers to dragons, there is a lot to see in W:MoA. When you are not exploring or attacking with your units, you can set them to defend themselves or be in a sentry mode and react when they spot an enemy. Damaged units with reduced HP can be healed for a portion of their health in the field by putting them on “rest” command.
Another very important aspect of the game are the spells. You research spells over a number of turns, depending on your research points and the amount of research required to acquire and master the said spell. There are many different spells, from banes and curses you cast on your opponents, summoning spells where you bring magic creatures under your command, healing spells and various enhancement spells that will increase your stats in different ways. When you find yourself on the battlefield of Ardania, these spells will often decide between victory and failure – provided you have enough mana to cast them in the first place.
Keeping up with the Mage next door
Economy is an important, albeit very simplified segment of the game. As pointed out before, you got gold, food and mana, and all these resources will fuel your expansions, buildings and units. Most of the units will require constant upkeep, and you need to be careful to provide enough of these resources. Expanding cities will definitely help, and you need to pay attention to keep your economy sustainable and not to go in to the “red numbers”. This should be fairly easy, at least in the beginning of the game; later, when you face yourself with the opposing mages and their respective kingdoms, you will have to protect your assets, so keep in mind to have decent defenses in the form of armies and magic towers ready to fight. Developing your cities will be linked with the population, a passive resource of sorts, and you will be required to wait until the city grows to a certain size and you can build yet another building. Choose carefully, because time is of the essence, and don’t try to cover all the bases within a single city. Make sure you also expand in a timely manner, and keep your settlements relatively close to each other, so you can move troops between them quickly enough to repel any random attacks.
Ardania is not a safe place for a random traveler, and there is a fair number of rogue beasts, monster spiders, ogres and undeads, sea beasts and winged menaces that are guarding treasure points. There are also neutral factions and cities that beg to be conquered and added to your empire; do not hesitate doing this, since they have no other purpose whatsoever, can’t be traded or negotiated with. Engaging them in combat will award your troops with experience and will speed up their leveling, not to mention they will loot some fair amounts of gold from monster infested caves and lairs. Exploration and expansion are crucial, unless you want to find yourself encircled by neighbors with little or no room for your growing empire. Have in mind that there are, depending on the game settings you decide yourself for, several other mages that will relentlessly push the boundaries of their own realms and inevitably clash with you to decide the true and one and only ruler of Ardania!
Diplomacy is by far the most lacking part of the game, which is a bit disappointing – the mad strategist in us demands as much options as one might hope to get! But, on the other side, it is understandable, since the game was designed to be fueled by combat and spells, not diplomacy and backdoor intrigues that will enable you to wage cold wars without resorting to violence. In W:MoA there is no victory through the means of economic superiority or diplomatic/cultural domination. Simply said, only when the last fireball has been cast and final enemy stronghold has been overrun and turned to ashes, you can celebrate the victory.
Once you encounter the other mages you will be able to engage them in a diplomatic exchange. Basically, you can initially offer a non-aggression pact which can later be expanded into an alliance. If you are in not such a favorable position when making demands, you will hear an appropriate comment from your fellow mage and, to top things off, there will be a display of a scale which is tipping in either your favor or the favor of your counterpart. For example, if you wish for a non-aggression pact and your colleague mage is militarily stronger than you, you will see the scale tip in his favor, indicating that he will reject the proposal with high probability. In that case, offer some extra money and/or mana, and when you see the scale balanced out (don’t offer too much gold or mana!) you can rest assured that the suggestions will be accepted. Next, there is also a possibility to trade gold for mana or vice-versa, but that is about it. No exchange of research, no fine tuned negotiations, nothing else. This is probably the greatest issue with the game, but, once again, if we focus on the fact that this strategy is of the light hearted nature and that is focused on fun turn-based combat, this is not much of a deal-breaker.
The King of my Castle – final thoughts
In the end, when all is summed up, Warlock: Master of the Arcane is a very solid and fun game. Two weaknesses that stand out is the aforementioned rudimentary diplomacy and the somewhat troublesome UI. It is not bad per se, but it needs more streamlining as well as more cowbell. One interesting feature is the turn button on the top of the mini map in the lower right corner. That button will literally run you through the entire realm and all units that require orders. For instance, at the beginning of the turn, it will show if you are attacked, and upon clicking on it, it will take you to the place of the attack. Once you’ve taken care of it, it will lead you to the next item, and once you ran through all your units, building notifications and the rest, it will convert to turn button. Of course, you can always hit turn button and skip all this, but the nice thing is that the game is trying to alert you to things you may have overseen, making sure that doesn’t happen again. The graphics are actually quite appealing for the genre standards, the music and sound effects are pulling their weight (which means that they are good and immersive to the point you stop noticing them until you are forced to comment on their quality) and overall, this game is simply solid and well designed. On an interesting side-note, the developer has the social media contacts integrated into the very game: Facebook and Twitter icons in the menu take you directly to the FB/Twitter, as well as the official forums and developers website. It is worth noting though that the game does not have a multiplayer – yet! The MP will be added some time later this summer, as a free DLC.
Overall, Warlock:Master of Arcane is a game well worth getting and it will offer you many hours of straightforward fun and amusement.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane is available for purchase on GamersGate for € 19,95.