Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review
Have you ever played Civilization, but just wished you could blast your opponent into oblivion with a fireball? Maybe you’ve dreamed of conquering the world, with an army of the undead. Or perhaps you’ve wished for the powers of a god, to smite your pesky foes.
If any of that sounds appealing, then Warlock: Master of the Arcane may be worth your time.
Dropping in, you’re given an impressive number of options. You can set the size of the game world, the number of “alternate worlds,” how many enemy wizards and their difficulty level. Next you’ll pick from one of twelve characters, each with a set of skills that sets them apart from the others—or you can make your own.
There are three races to choose from: Human, Monster, or Undead. Each of them excels in one way or another, such as the Humans’ free armor upgrade, Monsters’ additional toughness, and Undead with death spell immunity. Military units are unique, and finding the right combination leads to victory. Everything felt useful, with the exception of naval units which are under-powered. Also, the Undead seem to have an unfair monopoly on flying units.
Each race plays a bit differently from the others, which gives the game a lot of replay value.
Graphics and Sound:
Overall, art and sound fit the High-Fantasy setting. If you are familiar with Majesty 2, then you know what to expect in the style department (I suspect many of the art assets were “recycled” from that game). While not revolutionary, it still manages to make for a pretty game.
Units are unique between the races. Each has different animations, battle cries and click responses. There’s a lot of diversity between them. Same goes for spells, which is no small feat, considering how many there are. World models look great too, ranging from ice-caped polls, warm green equators and muddied swamps.
After picking your options, you’ll start with a single city and a couple of military units. As expected in an x4 strategy game, you’ll want to start making buildings. Some increase Gold, food, magic, or research points — the four resources of the game. Other buildings permit new units, or stat increasing upgrades.
Each city ends up filling a different role. Some of mine only produced food for example, while others trained unique units with silver weapons and magical armor. You can switch a building “off,” to conserve resources, but oddly can’t destroy them.
City building in Warlock is satisfying, as you construct successive buildings and unlock units in the tech tree. Lacking the option to demolish buildings, can lead to some frustration, especially later in the game.
Warlock features a fairly deep spell system with a multitude of options. As you research, you’ll discover new and more powerful spells. Some buff troops while others bring death and destruction. Also, some powerful spells are dedicated to a specific god; they must be impressed with your deeds, to lend you their power.
The sheer number of available spells is astounding. I’ve conquered two-thirds of a large world on challenging, and still haven’t seen the end of them.
As you discover more of the world around you, you’ll locate monsters, some guarding treasure. Their caches contain special units you may not normally get access to. You might also come across gates to alternate worlds, where hordes of undead or elementals wait to tear your limbs off. Many times they stream out of these gates, and harass nearby cities—a good way to grind some experience.
Building a city near a special nodes—such as holy grounds—permit you to summon super units that are dedicated to your god of choice. Of course, they are expensive, but well worth the cost as they steam roll your opponents.
Liberating holy ground from its guardian, and building a city that gives you some crazy super unit, is a real high point in Warlock.
Units level as they fight, unlocking new abilities. You can also buy them upgrades from special tiles, such as silver based potions or the expensive but powerful Nevril armor. Losing a fully upgraded unit can be a big blow to your battle plans, considering the cost.
You can’t simply depend on one “super unit” to rule the day, in a world where powerful mages cast plan-destroying spells. You’ll have to keep a your strategies malleable.
In one case, I was at war with the Empress. She sent a large force to assault me by the mainland, where our boundaries met. I had unlocked the water walking spell. I spent about six turns casting it on a small force, waiting on the beaches across the sea from her HQ. After our main forces were engaged, I sent in my skeleton-team-six, and began taking her unguarded cities along the coast. Shortly after, her capital was mine.
Sadly, I never saw the AI attempt such gutsy moves. At times, their units simply stood at the edge of the ocean, seemingly unable to make a decision. Perhaps I am incapable of understanding the complex plot the AI was cooking up, but somehow I doubt it. At times it probed for weaknesses in my lines, or overwhelmed my defenses with brute force assaults. It’s not stupid, just simple. To really have a decent fight against the AI, you need to play on the “challenging” setting.
Eventually you’ll meet other summoners, and diplomacy comes into play. There’s not much to it. They’re initially demanding, and often threaten you with war if you don’t give them resources. Other times, they seemed to be very eager to make peace.
The only tradeable currency is gold and mana; map information, cities, or unit trading would have made things more interesting. An alliance quickly fades if you don’t “feed” allies with resources to keep the relationship up—a favor never returned.
Sadly, diplomacy is very watered down, feeling a bit shallow. However, its simplicity may appeal to those who don’t like to muck about with formalities, and just want to burn the world.
Another minor issue, is the lack of “lists” in Warlock. In many games of this style, you have an info-center, where lists of your cities or military units can be found. Such a feature would make managing a large empire in the end game easier.
Multiplayer is strangely absent. For many (such as myself), it’s not a big deal. Especially given the low price tag on the game. That said, having multiplayer would give Warlock a longer lifespan. It’s a shame it was left out.
Each of the three races feel unique, and play differently. City building has just the right amount of complexity. Researching the countless spells, and casting them on your foes is endless fun. All this diversity offers a ton of replay value. Diplomacy is overly simplified, and the strategic choices the AI makes is occasionally bad. Missing basic features (such as multiplayer) hurts the game’s longevity. However, the positives far out-weigh the negatives.
Despite a few flaws, Warlock: Master of the Arcane buffs the X4 genre with an enchantment of +10 fun.