The Average Gamer

Warlock – Master of the Arcane (PC) Preview

Strategy games like to give you choices, lots and lots of choices and all those options can be overwhelming. When you start up a game you don’t always want to spend twenty minutes fine tuning exactly how many Barbarians are going to appear and how vicious their sneers are likely to be. Warlock does an excellent job of providing control via choice without baffling you enough to spend precious time reading a manual, so having had a quick flick through the available avatars I plumped for “Anna the Benign”. Granted she’s probably not going to win any awards for being fearsome but a handy healing spell and an additional 20% food production perk will help me ignore that.  Spells and perks are customisable along with faction colour, map type / size, opponent count and additional worlds.

With Angela as my Deity (real name Agrela) I was plopped down in the middle of nowhere with just a city, rogue and ranger units to my name.  Being a veteran of these kinds of “starting out in a new land” situations I immediately sent my ranged unit out to explore the surrounding area for shiny treasures to help get my Benigness off the ground. Back in Silvertown things were starting well, I was defending myself from potential attack using my Rogue and the alert system had indicated I could build a new city structure to help me on the way to world domination.

Warlock – Master of the Arcane” uses these city structures to produce: gold, food, mana and research as resource commodities and does it without subjecting you to squinting at your city panel trying to work out exactly which hex is the best place to build your longed for pig farm. As you explore your domain and move further afield you’ll come across special land tiles which (when they have the correct building on) will give you otherwise unavailable buildings like “Mana Pumps” or upgrades to your units, these add a slight unknown to the game as it’s not clear what they’re going to unlock, I’m still looking forward to seeing what a “Dwarven Settlement” is going to let me build.

Early on in the game you’ll find that turns end quickly and it can be frustrating waiting for the other Wizards, Neutrals and Monsters to get through their moves. I’m hoping that the retail release will see this delay reduced but if not and you lack the patience or a good book then lowering the number of opponents when starting the game will significant reduce the sitting around. As your turn starts again a little shower of alerts will appear down the right hand side of the screen. These help to keep track of your new buildings, new units and any quests being offered.

Quests are usually simple tasks like building new cities or ridding the world of a particularly large monster. I was tasked early on with rescuing Silvertown from a “Monster-Eating Spider” a mission made simpler by being able to pelt him with arrows from my city defences rather than dragging my ranger back from his scouting. Naturally I won and was amply rewarded with gold and a chunk of mana, very handy indeed as this game is as much about resource balancing as it’s about crushing everything in sight. Buildings require gold, armies require food, the discovery of new spells requires research points and my favourite part of the game (smiting people with spells) needs mana.

Happily Ino-Co have managed to make the City Management aspects of the game streamlined and easy to understand, a tool bar at the top of the screen gives you a breakdown of which city is generating what and every city structure has a tool tip outlining its effects on your resource pools.

Supporting an army to look after my lonely ranger required a bit of expansion and a couple of settlers. Subsequent new cities later saw me with a more healthy bank balance and plenty of food to go out and conquer. You can’t stack units in Warlock so offensive manoeuvres are an exercise in seeing who you can fit where on the map without giving your opponent an advantage.

I failed somewhat and suffered a fatal blow from a very large “Elemental Giant”. This was to be expected given his health pool versus mine and as I was watching that part of the map I knew it was happening. something Ino-Co could improve here would be to introduce an alert system for when one of your units gets butchered and you don’t happen to be on that part of the map. More than once I pondered where a ship had disappeared to before realising a lurking Kraken had probably nobbled it.

Should you suffer too much from rampaging sea monsters you don’t have to lay down and take it. Warlock gives you a floating God-hand with which to cast those spells you’ve been diligently researching. More than once I found myself muttering “feck OFF Ratmen” before remembering I could zap them with a lightning bolt. So I did, hah. You can use less violent spells to help your empire along but they’re really not as much fun as casting a rain of fireballs at an enemy settlement.

Once you’re in need of somewhere else to explore you can seek out a “Mystic Portal”. These are guarded by very tough monsters and having spent quite a lot of time and a small legion of archers in defeating one I was feeling quite awesomely powerful. It didn’t last long. I shoved a unit through and sighed at the screen as the clouds of war revealed a dragon and assorted groups of imps. I didn’t even bother watching to see when he died.

It’s twists like the addition of these parallel worlds that make Warlock an incredibly absorbing game. Ino-Co is managing to blend together the best bits of the Civilization franchise with the creative twists of titles like Alpha Centauri and Populous. Paradox Interactive are looking to release in Q2 2012 and By Angela I’m looking forward to it.