I’m a big fan of Civilization. Those 4X games are a huge time sink, and you never realize how many hours you put into them until you take a look at the clock, see it’s 2 AM and grimace about having to be awake for work at 6. I love the strategy involved in those games. It feels great to create your own empire and take over the world hex by hex. Let’s take Civilization, add some fantasy elements to it, put the player in control of powerful mages that can cast world-altering spells, and you have Warlock: Master of the Arcane.
Each of the playable mages has his own unique starting spells and attributes. Think of them as the leaders of a civilization. Much like a Civilization game, you can choose how large the world you’ll be playing in and how many rival mages you’ll be going against. You will build up your first city with different structures that offer up production of gold, mana and food resources. Food is needed to supply a city with population. The higher the population, the more structures can be built. Certain structures can only be built if the city has specific resources nearby. For instance, if a gem deposit is within your borders, you can build a gem mine that will add more gold to your kingdom. Other structures will reward you with mana. Mana is needed to cast your special spells, which include healing units, throwing fireballs at the enemy’s cities and summoning monster units to fight for you in battle.
Each city can produce units for attacking and settlers that can establish a new city for your kingdom. For the most part, Warlock is all about combat. In fact, if you want to win, you’re going to have to get rather good with it, because destroying your rival mages is the way to victory. I would go so far as to say there really is no diplomacy in this game. Sure, when you meet a new mage, you can offer gifts and make a peace treaty, but later on in the game, you’ll be given a demand of gold and you’re only option is to pay up, or go to war. There’s not really much choice when it comes to the other AI mages except destroy them all.
I won’t beat around the bush. This game is difficult. I’m not shy about strategy games, and I was getting beaten on very easy. If you’re into the 4X games, you’ll be in very familiar territory, but if you’re new to the genre, you may have a hard time getting into this title. Even the wild monsters that you encounter are difficult to defeat. I have to give it to them; the enemy AI is very intelligent. They know when to retreat and when to attack. The tutorial is really nothing more than a series of explanations on the menus. More often, the learning comes from trial and error. Don’t get me wrong, it seemed like I was always getting beaten, but I still found enjoyment with the game. I lost a good amount of time even with the unforgiving difficulty.
Since the game focuses more on combat than any other aspect, you will be spending a lot of time creating new military units and using them to attack enemy troops and cities. Luckily, the combat is very well done. You can have only one unit per hex, so some maneuvering and positioning is key to winning battles. This is where your mage’s spells come into play. Using the mana your cities have produced, you can choose to use a magic. There is also a casting time that is needed. Think of it like a cool down. To learn new spells, you will have to research them, much like you research technology in Civilization. Depending on what spell you want to learn, it may take several turns to complete. During play, you may receive quests to complete. You can choose to complete these as they will offer you rewards. These quests include simply building a new city or killing a certain group of monsters. It’s a nice touch that keeps the game from getting old too fast.
I did have a few problems with the controls. Practically everything is handled with the left mouse click. I occasionally ended up doing something I didn’t mean to. If they would have utilized the right click more, it would have solved many of my problems.
While the AI is decent when it comes to combat, it is still lacking in a few areas. There was one game I had where the enemy had dropped my entire health on a city and never actually sent a unit in the take it over. They would just keep attacking it from afar and never send a unit in. This went on for fifteen turns. They seem to be good war strategists, but not very good kingdom builders. They never seem to establish new cities even when they have the resources to do so.
One thing that would have been nice would have been the inclusion of multiplayer. That way, at least the playing field would have been more evenly matched with human-controlled players.
All in all, I think Warlock: Master of the Arcane is a decent little strategy game. It has some problems, but that didn’t stop me from putting in over 15 hours into it. If you want to be really good at the game, you’ll need to become a rather hardcore player. This game is not really for the newcomers to the 4X genre, but if you enjoy a good challenge in the same vein as Civilization, you can still have a good time game for the inexpensive $20 price tag.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.