Is Warlock 2 a sequel? Is it a reboot? Is it both? Is there even a difference? I have followed the game online for months and there is no general consensus. I could not form my own opinion until the game was ported to OSX in late October ’14. Now I’m finally going to set my sights on Ardania. I have a score to settle. I seek revenge. I’m going to wipe out the other great expats of Ardania, and seek control. But first, I have to fight the non-stop hordes of monsters that spawn everywhere. I have a schizophrenic AI to tame, it’s time to break out my wizard hat. Let’s begin.
Warlock 1, a brief history: The world of Ardania is an old friend. I first visited it 14 years ago when Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom came out. Since then, Paradox interactive has set many fantasy games within it’s borders. A brief history lesson is in order. Ardania is populated by creatures big and small. It is a vibrant world full of wonder and mystery where magic abounds. The unified power of the Great King of Ardania, his royal advisor, and their combined armies ventured north to conquer more land in the name of their growing kingdom. Nothing was ever heard from them again. The kingdom, left without its monarch, and his rule, quickly descended into chaos. The Council of Mages, being the only organization strong enough to unify the land, instead went to war within its ranks. Over seventy years of war ensued between King Rat and King Lich. The Skaven and the Undead led by Nagash went to war… oh wait, that’s another game. Anyway, The gods of Ardania, seeing their powers erode, intervened by making the great mages an offer: Choose a Great Ruler and do it peacefully, or ELSE. The Mage Council, fearing their various Gods, argued for two months and realized that the only way to choose a new leader was through MORTAL KOMBAT… cue the background music…. Shang Tsung saunters in…oops, sorry. That is another genre altogether. But seriously, I’m not that far off. That’s Warlock for you. A game with so much irreverence for all things fantasy, that the jokes come at you from every which way. Just look at their official trailers.
Warlock 2: The Exiled picks up where Warlock 1 left off. The world is in literal shambles. The war rages on, but now you are a fringe faction fighting to survive. The world looks the same. The monsters and their infinite lair spawn is the same. But something is different. At the end of Warlock 1, while You (“The Hat”) were off fighting Dremargor in his pocket dimension (last DLC/expansion), Dauros, the Grand Librarian (another great mage) cast the Spell of Unity (the science/research equivalent victory condition) and subjugated the other great mages. Some joined his ranks as his lieutenants (4 to be exact) while others were killed off or banished to other shard worlds. Their descendants and followers took their mantles and now control your allies and opponents. Why do I say that? Because, the Schizophrenic AI is still rampaging through the Warlock games. More on that later.
Miralbus “The Hat”, while stuck on an outer shard world, joined forces with the Planestriders (a new faction), a mixture of humans, undead and monster races. The survivors of the various defeated factions return to Ardania and seek revenge against the United One and his minions. As you move from shard to shard to get closer to Ardania, you practice the 4X’s, and then you pack up your toys and move to the next plane. Each shard presents you with different challenges, factions and their mages to battle. The closer you get to Ardania, the more danger you will face. You must still venture occasionally back to an old battleground to defeat whatever monster lair spawned there because to move forward, you must control what’s left behind. Once you get to Ardania, you must defeat the “United One”. A battle that can be rather anti-climactic after all of the fighting you have done to get there.
eXplore: eXploration in Warlock 2 is the same as it was in Warlock 1, and practically every other 4X game with an overworld view of the map. Zoom out and you see the map covered by the typical fog of war. Zoom in, and the details emerge. You have the usual mixture of random maps that are composed of continents, islands, and everything in between. There are a lot more aquatic resources and unique art. Does that mean that the developers had an idea for their first expansion, The Wrath of the Naga, already in the works? Maybe. I don’t mind. Where the Warlock series stood out was the use of alternate planes in the first game, which are now actual pieces of land floating in the ether called Shards. Travel between shards (desert, ice, demon, dremer, jungle, undead, etc.) is simple at first. You open a portal through a stargate-looking device (quest related usually) but things get more complicated the farther you move from your original location. AI wizards and the natural denizens of the shard will bar your way and force you to conquer every tile just to survive. Sometimes you can even skip a shard if an alternate path appears. I also consider the tech tree, or to be more precise, the spell tree as a part of eXploration. You no longer research spells that are given to you randomly on a pinwheel. In Warlock 2 there is now some order to the madness. You have branches of: healing spells, various combat spells, buffs and de-buffs, and multiple summons (like ghost wolves, bats and snakes). I like having a clear path, but I also love randomization. I have mixed feelings about this change.
eXpand: This part of the game is rather tedious. After playing Endless Legend, I am uncertain if I will ever look at eXpansion the same way again. In Warlock 2, you can put your city whereever you’d like. Actually you had best expand and take some good locations. The AI will forward settle everywhere it can, and then get mad at you for having your original city too close to its newly created borders. City spam is always a concern in 4X games. Ino‘CO addressed city spam by putting in an option for limited growth, and adding spells that let you grow your empire in a controlled fashion. With the lack of a road network, you pack your cities tight to increase the mobility of your units as they move from one corner of your empire to the other. To increase your empire size, you need to specialize your cities too, or suffer the consequences. These focused cities reduce unhappiness and the tedium of micromanagement because the AI governor does it for you. The trade off is that you give up control of their production. It is like having a vassal in CIV. It’s not elegant, but it works.
eXploit: Warlock 2 (1 did this as well) handles resource and city eXploitation well. The city growth mechanic of one building per one unit population returns as well as the ability to choose one of two possible buildings for construction when utilizing strategic resources. You can have a Dwarven armory for specialized weapon/armor bonuses, or Dwarven units for your army. Which do you like more? Almost every resource in the game gives you unique options. Though if you want both, you must eXplore further to locate more Dwarven villages to eXploit. That can also be the case with Elven/Xoatl villages, Dragon eggs, and almost anything else you find on these diverse shards. Diplomatically the AI suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder . One turn it wants to ally with me against a bigger threat, and the next it decides I have offended it somehow and it declares war on me while we are both fighting some enemy we allied against in the first place. I constantly get disproportionate trades out of the AI. Sure, that can be part of the fun, but not always. Not with all of the constant monster lair spawns which is another hit or miss. In Warlock 2 the developers added a control for monster spawn, which I and many other players are grateful for. But in the end, it’s just another resource to exploit. It means that you can level up your heroes while farming these lairs for money and other random prizes. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t pick on the weak, but how do I avoid taking advantage of the AI?
eXterminate: The last part of any 4X, and some might argue that it’s the most crucial, is the war-making capabilities of the game. Combat remains the same as it ever was. 1UPT with armor and weapon upgrades that are both magical (spell) and not so magical (building) upgrades. You can also level your units through gaining experience, which is a common 4X trope. The combat is not very tactical or strategic, but it does happen in the overworld map, and each unit has its role to play. You have ranged units, infantry units, cavalry (like the always favorite stubborn knights), flying units and a variety of support units. You also get to use your leveled up heroes which often are as powerful as the super units you get towards the later parts of the game. Who doesn’t want a dragon or a giant turtle as big as a city, eh? You saw the trailer too, right? The biggest issue I have with this game is the AI. I find it troublesome at best. It never poses a proper challenge, even at the highest difficulties. The AI has a hard time using its units properly. It does strange things during its war-making attempts. It’s very easy to distract, and it does a poor job of protecting its conquered territory. Granted, only a single unit can be on a city center since there is no garrison option, but it still doesn’t keep a reserve force. Sometimes the monster lair spawn posses a much bigger danger than the opposing AI ever did. Then there are the neutral cities that populate Ardania. They often make an easy target for conquest (by a human player). You’ll get a new settler type (city specific) and a city to exploit. The AI doesn’t know how to deal with them either. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen the AI fall to the spawned lairs and neutral cities. I don’t understand why the AI can’t be hard coded to keep a reserve force. It should be mandatory in a war game.
eXperience: So what has changed you ask? Not much I say. The victory conditions are all there with the addition of the Exiled mode. The single player campaign is different, but really, who plays that when you have a whole sandbox to play in? Thankfully, the mage customization has returned and it’s full of fun possibilities. It adds to the replayability of the game. The large pool of units is fantastic. The resource exploitation options only grow as you explore more and more shards. Warlock is a war game. Pure and simple. In MP games, I am told it shines. I personally don’t play MP games, so I am forced to contend with a benign AI incapable of getting out of its way. The AI appears to be identical to the first game. Many players have leveled accusations at InoCo’s inability to put out a good AI, and I have to agree. The game is still fun, but is a PvE type of game. From turn 1 you are waging war and you don’t stop until you’ve won. There is no respite. If this is how you like to play your 4X games, then you have a gem on your hand. I do not.
Did I enjoy Warlock 2? I did, and hope to play it again once it’s stable, but to me it’s a fantasy war game that’s very light on the 4X attributes. With such a rich world that shouldn’t be the case.
TL;DR: If you wanted a true sequel to the surprise that was Warlock 1, you’ll be very disappointed. At best, Warlock 2 is a polished Warlock 1 with a bit more content added. Granted, it was ported to MAC, but in it’s current state it is a broken mess. Warlock 2 is probably only worth buying on sale at a deep discount.
You might like this game if:
- You’ve always wanted to play a fantasy 4X game that mirrors a lot of what Civilization 5 does but with an even more neurotic AI.
- You like having a plethora of choices with faction units and don’t mind that they don’t look graphically up-to-date.
- You like the idea of one unit per tile and possibly prefer it over the “stack of doom”.
- You just want more of the same Warlock, with some minor upgrades and additions.
You might NOT like this game if:
- You like having meaningful diplomacy. None to be had here.
- You like your AI opponents to give you a challenge in single player.
- You enjoy stable games (on a MAC).
- You’re looking for a game that dares to be different. Warlock 2 plays it pretty close to Warlock 1.
Nasarog played for 70+ hours (Steam and offline) on a Macbook Pro 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7 w/8gb ddr3 RAM using OSX 10.9.5
Addendum: In early November, Ino’CO put out a patch that broke the game for MAC/Linux users. Since then, they have put out another patch, and it fixed something, but the SP game remains unplayable for any long periods of time. The quest system has a game breaking bug in it that forces CTD for any long games. I should rate the game lower, but I know that the developers are trying to fix it. We shall see.