Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review
What is Warlock: Master of the Arcane? Whenever I heard of Turn-Based strategy games I thought Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic or Chess. The Turn-Based Strategy market had plenty of different games. Some of them gained plenty of fame, other disappeared without a trace into the oblivion, which is time. We come back to the question, “What is Warlock: Master of the Arcane?” Is it a copy of Might and Magic? Perhaps something similar to Age of Wonders? When I sat down to it first I felt like a toddler making his first walking steps, clueless of what he is doing yet confident of success. In the end, I was very positively surprised.
What is Warlock: Master of the Arcane?
Warlock: Master of the Arcane was designed by Ino-Co Plus, while Ino-Co (it’s the same group, yet different!) developed Majesty 2, Elven Legacy and Fantasy Wars. I dare say Warlock: Master of the Arcane is most certainly one of their crown jewels.
The game itself is a Turn-Based Strategy game, set in the world of Majesty, something that became apparent to me after I met the ever-present Advisor. The game lacks a campaign as such, and instead tells you “Play it however you want.”. During the initial setup you choose the size of the map, type of map, number of other worlds, number of enemies and whether the world is flat or round. Then you begin the crucial choices of your wizard’s perks and starting spells. Why are they important? Your initial choices greatly influence how easy or quick a start you have. You might start off with more cash or money, have a steady increase in a specific type of resource, or pick out a handful of spells. Together with your wizard comes the “race” he is associated with. Humans, “Monsters” and Undead. Each race is special in some way, with its strengths and weaknesses, and it is worth your while to have a few practice games to learn something about each of them.
Each game starts in a similar fashion. You have your Capitol, two combat units and some basic town structures already constructed. Your entire economy is based on three crucial resources. Gold, Food and Mana (there is also Research, but we will talk on that later). When you construct more advanced building you will start facing trade-offs (more food, less gold, for example) and with an army which has to be fed (in some way) the first and obvious element of Warlock: Master of the Arcane is management.
Races, Buildings,Units and Magic
Each race might use a certain resource more dominantly that others. Skeletons use Mana and Gold, Goblins need Food and Gold, summoned creatures (depending on the creature) also have their own needs. Each city can have a number of buildings constructed around it equal to its population. As the population of your town grows so too will its influence, allowing you to claim special resources, which can be used to recruit special units, gain unit upgrades or obtain a huge profit in one of the four resources. Unlike in most other strategy games, Warlock does not allow you to have a fully built-up city, with all possible upgrades. After population 10 your city will grown very slowly. This means whenever you build or take over a city you must plan what will the city focus on. The speed at which you construct buildings or recruit units is constant. A bigger population does not speed up your production, only offering a “Stronger” Castle and more buildings to build. This is another interesting element about Warlock. In a lot of games you need a Garrison to protect a city. In Warlock the city itself counts as a “Unit”. As your city gets bigger its attack and defense value will increase, as will its HP. Once the HP is reduced to zero can the city be captured. You can also construct towers or forts to protect you city better, but they also take up building spots and population.
Each race has their own selection of units, and which units you can build depends on the buildings constructed in the city. Usually it will be impossible to build every single unit type in the same city. Aside from recruitable units you can also summon help, in different shapes and sizes. Summoned units need time and Mana to be summoned. Once they arrive they cost you upkeep and do not dispel, unless you want them to or they are killed. The benefit of summoned units is that you can call for them anywhere on the map (as long as you have sight of the hex). Calling for reinforcements to your besieged town is quick and easy this way. Unlike recruited units, summoned units will at first be very weak. As you research more spells you will have access to stronger summons, as well as defensive and offensive spells. The rate at which you research spells is based on how many Research points you get per turn. This can be increased with specific buildings, and although not always necessary it is a good idea to be ahead of the competition.
Magic in Warlock is very thorough. The healing spell alone has a number of variants, depending on how much you want to heal your unit, how much mana you have and how long will it take to cast the spell. Defensive spells come in a number of forms. They usually protect your units from specific damage types. Offensive spells target enemy units. They might be weakness spells, fireballs… anything! The choice is very vast and researching every single spell is not something you can do overnight. Then there are enchantments. If you have a unit that you feel is too weak for the task ahead you can cast enchantments on it. These include travelling enchantments, such as flying or walking on water, combat enchantments allowing the unit to increase their damage output or a healing enchantment which regenerates the unit at the end of each turn. Enchantments cost you mana to upkeep, and as such you will usually be unable to have an entire army “fully buffed”, unless you have enough mana. Certain enchantments may also be cast on your city, to improve the population growth for example.
All your units are divided into five categories. “Monsters”, Infantry, Ranged, “Magic” and “Support”. “Monsters” are a broad term, because they include zombies, ships, bears, wolves and other creatures. This simple division is expressed through the upgrades and perks each unit type can have. Certain buildings grant special equipment to specific unit types. Each unit type will also have access to specific perks you can choose from as they level up.
So far the big slogan of Warlock: Master of the Arcane is “Choice”. You have to decide on how you expand your cities, which spells you research, which perks do you choose for your units, etc. This is also reflected by your relationships with different gods. If you anger a god he or she could send his Avatar against you, most likely crushing you in the process. If you do what a deity asks you will gain access to new spells and units. Building temples dedicated to specific gods will improve your relations with them, and also grant you access to new units. Gods are a picky bunch, so if you please one you might anger another. Specific Deity spells often require the god to like you to a degree. If a god does not like you enough the spell will not work.
On Combat and the Wilderness
Let’s jump to the combat and movement. Each combat unit takes up a single hex. You cannot stack units, but units can pass through each other, if they have enough move points. Ranged units can attack at range, and by default they will do that (they will never charge into melee, unless somebody attacks them first). Terrain influences combat greatly. A unit up on a hill when attacking a unit down below will have a bonus. A unit hidden in rough terrain will have a bonus to defense. If a unit is damaged sufficiently it will flee one hex and your unit will take its position. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on the local situation. Terrain also influences movement. Swamps and “Lava Land” hexes will turn a march into a snail drag. Hills and forests will also hinder movement. Certain units have easier time moving over specific terrain, while different perks can increase movement points or how easily can a unit move through terrain. You have to be careful with some of your “Passive” orders, because once you order a unit to go into the defensive it will use up all of its movement points.
On one hand you have to decide on your “Industry”, on the other you have to plan your army so that you do not stumble into a bog and get sniped by enemy archers. Unlike a lot of other Turn-Based Strategy games, Warlock is not easy. The game is not brutal from the beginning though. Initially your first couple of turns will be calm, allowing you to expand your kingdom, build up your defenses and recruit/summon your army. Later on things get much more demanding when not only the other Great Mages want to fight you, but also all the “Wild” creatures (bandits, wolves, werewolves, Ogres, etc.) have a population boom and decide to spread to their surroundings. During one of my games I was expanding to the unknown frontier, my army focused on a huge concentration of undead. Suddenly, a number of boats appeared at the shore-line near my capital, and before I knew it I had three Ogres on my head.
Just like in the Majesty games you have to get rid of the wildlife. Creatures have their spawning spots, but they might appear in the fog of war, from time to time. Then, when you think you are safe and you cleared out your continent there is still the question of Portals and other worlds. Only because you got rid of the basic wildlife does not mean a Dragon will not suddenly pop up and destroy the countryside. Fighting the “wildlife” gives your troops xp, and if you destroy their dens also gold, mana or treasure (sometimes units). You could discover that the wildlife is far more dangerous than your opponents, though you have to keep an eye on them as well.
Gameplay, Graphics and… the humour factor
In terms of gameplay, Warlock: Master of the Arcane is an incredible experience. It feels like a fine mix of a number of different Turn-based strategy games, with a small touch of its own innovation. The graphics are pleasant, as colourful and energetic as what we find in Majesty 2. The music is fitting, though I would not say inspiring. It has the air of epic adventure, humming in the background. Now, what was very interestingly done were the voices and descriptions of the units, as well as the entire world itself. One of the most clear examples that tickled my fancy were Goblin spearmen. In the Total War series any unit you click proclaims what you just selected, “Knights!”, “Spearmen!”, “Armored Sergeants!”, etc. When you click the goblin spearmen one of their possible responses is “Spears! Oh wait, you know we have spears.” The world of Majesty 2, and Warlock: Master of the Arcane is littered with humour. One example of this are the Stubborn Knights who were created when their founder tried to flee on a donkey (the unit itself never flees from combat).
A problem arises much later on during a game, or when you play on a huge map, where you might have so many cities that you will not be able to manage all of them easilly. Although they will stop growing at a certain point it might be hard to remember what you wanted to construct in every single one. This also becomes apparent when you rapidly conquer an opponent. On the other hand, since it is a Turn-Based game you have all the time in the world to plan your kingdom. Units do not suffer the same problem. Whenever a path is blocked for a unit that had a set movement order the game will adjust it, so that the unit can continue its journey. Any unit set into Sentry mode will “De-Sentry” whenever an enemy is two or three hexes away, giving you a chance to see what is happening.
Diplomacy and Winning the game
With the already complex management decisions you have to make, what about Diplomacy? Espionage? You might be a bit disappointed but Diplomacy is very limited. You can only declare a war or ask for a non-aggression pact, or demand either gold or mana from your opponents. On one hand a fan of the Civilization series might be disappointed, but this lack of diplomatic options only shows that you are not meant to get along. The aim of the game is to dominate your opponents.
What might dishearten some is how long a game could last. Any game can be won in a number of ways. The simplest path to victory is destroying all your opponents. If that does not work, you have a number of other options: 1) Occupy every single Holy Ground (including those on other worlds), 2) Cast the “Unity” spell (highest level spell, takes a very, very long time to research), 3) Defeat a god’s Avatar, by angering one of the gods sufficiently. In comparison, it does seem like the easiest way to victory is beating all of your opponents. Still, expect any game to last longer than a handful of turns.
What are the problem with Warlock, if any? During each round a list appears of the different tasks you have to perform. Sometimes when an enemy unit appears in range of the city you will be prompted to “attack” the creature with your city. If you did not want to anger the Wyrm that was only passing by, tough luck. Overall the game could be demanding, even to a beginner. On the other hand the adjustable difficulty level will allow anybody to learn about Warlock.We could consider the lack of a Campaign to be a flaw, with no set hero to become the champion. On the other hand, the story is that simple. The greatest mages of Ardania are fighting for power. Create your own story!
Overall, Warlock: Master of the Arcane is an excellent title for anybody who enjoys a colourful Fantasy Turn-based Strategy game. It might not be as gloomy as Might & Magic, or feel as “Epic” as Age of Wonders, or even allow you to recruit heroes to your side, but the game aims at something different. Unlike all the afore-mentioned titles you have to plan your Kingdom far more carefully. Each city is priceless to you, and you cannot carelessly build “Whatever” in it. That is an excellent selling point for Warlock, because no other game, other than Civilization in part, has not reached out for tough management decision.
Overall Score: 9/10
- Very pleasant graphics
- Easy to Learn (yet challenging)
- Fun, and Funny
- High Re-playability
- Lacks automatization
- Somewhat simplified Diplomacy
Alex “WriterX” Bielski