When I first heard of Warlock, it reminded me of Heroes of Might & Magic; fantasy strategy/RPG with magic, experience gathering units and resources that allow you to expand your kingdom. After looking at the game screenshots and trailers, it hit me. Warlock is like Civilization with magic, even the graphics look very similar.
The game doesn't have any singleplayer campaign but the manual tries to explain why there is conflict in Ardania, the fantasy world from the Majesty series. It seems that after the events of Majesty 2, the newly crowned king got bored and decided to conquer some more land for his own personal amusement. His crusade wasn't very succesfull and he disappeared in the northern mountains. With the kingdom without a king, civil war quickly ensued. The war raged for 74 years with only the most powerful magicians, known as Great Mages, keeping the kingdom together. This did not please the Gods so they decided it's time to unite the war-torn kingdom under a single ruler. The Gods confronted the Great Mages and told them that one of them could be the next ruler of Ardania. The Gods, in conflict with each other, decided that a contest of might is the best way to choose the next ruler. Thus the story of Warlock begins. Do you have what it takes to be the Master of the Arcane?
When you click 'New Game' you're greeted with 5 different difficulty settings. The difficulty of the game ranges from Relaxed to Impossible and they are very descriptive; with the easiest setting you really don't have to worry about what building to construct or what unit to recruit. The hardest setting, on the other hand, requires you to really pay attention to building types and bonuses and you really have to plan your strategy if you want to claim the title of Warlock for yourself. After you've found a suitable difficulty, it's time to choose the world that you want to conquer. The maps of Warlock are randomly created, with various player-selectable settings to determine the outcome. You can choose the map size (XL, L, M or S), type (Islands, Continents, Supercontinent or Great Land), shape (Cylindrical or Flat world) and also the amount of additional worlds (1-6). Additional worlds are perilous places that can be accessed via portals from the main map and they house some of the most toughest monsters in the whole game but they also reward any foolish enough to explore them with awesome loot. The map size determines the maximum amount of enemy Mages, which can be choosed up to a maximum of 8. Once you've decided the map layout and number of enemies, it's time to choose your own Mage. There are 12 pre-defined Mages that can be customized with perks and spells. You have 10 points to spend on various perks (these include things like more starting money, increased casting speed or more experience per turn) and spells. Spells in Warlock are very basic and familiar from any other RPG game; you have direct damage, minion summoning, heal and others. You can also choose the race which your Mage will be controlling. There are 3 races; humans, monsters and undead. The race selected determines the available units and buildings with each race having unique units.
When you're satisfied with your selections, it's time to fight for the title of Warlock. Immediatly after the game has loaded a map, you start to wonder; is this just a modification for Civilization V? The game looks, feels and plays like Civ V. If you're not familiar with Civilization, here's a short description of the gameplay mechanics: you and your enemies take turns in recruiting units, building structures in your cities, exploring the hex-grid world and, eventually, fighting each other to the death. There are 4 resources that you must gather; gold, food, mana and research points. Gold is used to construct buildings and recruit new units, food is required for the upkeep of recruited units, mana is used for casting spells and finally the accumulated research points are used to research new spells. You can get these resources from abandoned ruins, caravans and other points of interest on the map and also with building certain types of buildings in your cities. The construction of buildings is done a little differently then on Civ. Each city has an influence range and you can build on any empty hex within that range. The range increases as your city grows. Some buildings require a certain resource on the hex to be able to build, for example the pig farm can only be built on a hex that has pigs. Logical. You can't construct some buildings unless that city has other required buildings already constructed. Other buildings allow you to recruit troops like settlers, who are able to build new new cities and expand your territory, but more importanly units that are capable of attacking enemy units and cities. These units include everything from basic warriors and archers to giant flying ships and monsters. The types of units available for recruiting depend on the selected race but if you capture an enemy city of a different race, you can then build and recruit that races buildings and units on that particular city.
The movement of units is done in turns. Every turn a unit can move a pre-determined amount of hexes. The movement range is modified by the terrain type, for example a simple warrior unit moves slower through forested area then on plains. Flying units don't suffer these penalties. Other thing that Warlock does differently then other similar games is the way units cross water. Once you move your ground unit into water, it transforms into a ship. Smart. At first the world map is clouded with the legendary fog of war but once you begin exploring it, you'll find lots of old ruins and other places you can loot. Looting is done by simply moving your unit to the hex. When you venture onward you'll eventually run into monsters. And some more monsters. The maps are literally filled with monsters ranging from rats to fire elementals that don't hesitate to attack your units. There won't be a turn when you don't get the message 'Enemy at the gates'. You can attack an enemy unit by simply clicking on it when it's in the units attack range. There are units that are capable of attacking from a distance. When you hover your mouse over an enemy unit, the game calculates the outcome of the attack and shows it on the bottom-left corner. Very handy when trying to figure out what unit is the best against an enemy unit. The capturing of neutral or enemy cities is done the same way, just keep attacking it until it runs out of hit points. By defeating enemy units, capturing cities and collecting loot every unit collects experience and once it's gathered enough it levels up. During level up, you can choose a perk for it. These perks include things like more melee damage or more resistance against magic.
Magic is a bit disappointing. You can research spells by using research points. Researching a spell takes time and once it's finished, the spell is ready for use. The casting of spells takes also time and some spells require you to select a valid target for it, for example a direct damage spell must be cast on an enemy or a neutral unit. The summoning spells are very overpowered, a few summoned ghost wolves can easily capture an enemy city with the lower difficulty settings. You quickly forget the existence of magic when you're busy recruiting units and expanding your kingdom. The game does ask you to research a new spell when the old one is ready but you just end up selecting a random spell.
Occasionally you receive a quest from either your advisor or one of the Gods. These quests are very simple and require you to for example build a harbor in the given time. There doesn't seem to be so many quest types, during a single game I received at least 10 'Build a farm' quests. Quests can be rejected but this makes the quest giver angry. Same goes with failed quests, if a God gives you a quest that you fail or reject you lose reputation with that God. If a God gets very angry at you, he might send his avatar to destroy you. The relations with a God can be renewed by building temples for him. Relations with the Gods isn't the only form of diplomacy found in Warlock. You can form alliances with enemy Mages, declare war on them or trade goods with them.
As you might have noticed, I haven't said a word about how the game is won. This was a mystery to me also when I played my first game. There is no option to choose a desired victory condition. I think this is why game manuals are made. I browsed through the manual and found the victory conditions neatly listed; you have to defeat the other Great Mages, seize all the holy grounds, cast a certain spell or defeat a God's avatar. So it seems that the game can be won without fighting.
Graphically, the game is pretty good. The maps are filled with all sorts of structures, trees and lush plains. This also means that it's sometimes hard to see a required resource on the map when you're trying to decide a good location for a new city. The overall quality of the terrain textures is very weak though, especially when you zoom in close. You can't zoom very far from the ground which is a negative thing in my books. The units are much better looking and they are easy to tell apart from each other. Especially the huge fire elemental looks very beautiful. The unit animations are also excellently done and it's a pleasure looking at the little critters biting each other. There are a range of graphic options to make the game playable even on an older rig. The only thing really missing from the options is Vsync. I experienced very heavy tearing, especially when I kept the camera zoomed in and started moving it.
The sounds of Warlock are very good and really support the game's fantasy setting. Clashing swords, roaring ogres and good music really help you dive into the world of Ardania. The only thing that bugged me about the sounds are the poor voice-actors. The tutorial narrator speaks with a very over-the-top fantasy accent which almost ruined the game. Other voice-acting that really hit me in the eardrum is the flying galleus unit. It has got to be one of the most ridiculous voice-acting I've ever heard in a game (yes, I have played Final Fantasy X). If you've ever played Civilization or any similar games before, don't go through the tutorial.
Apart from the low quality voice acting the overall the game is excellent. Great sounds and good graphics really bring the world to life. I played a pre-release build of the game and the developer has promised to update the aggressive AI. They have also promised to add the missing multiplayer with a free patch later this summer. Most likely it's going to be very similar to the singleplayer experience, but with better "AI".
If you like strategy/RPG games and don't mind the lack of singleplayer campaign, this game is definitely worth every penny. It'll keep you playing until the sun rises.