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Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review

Greg Tito | 1 Aug 2012 21:00
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"Parley! I must have parley!" cries King Rrat XLII, who is of course an anthropomorphic rat wearing a tiny golden crown. The rat doesn't just want to talk, he demands I give him mana and gold. Refusing King Rrat is a tacit declaration of war, so I must carefully consider. I look at my forces - the band of black minotaurs, the studious magisters who fling fireballs and ice blasts, the high healer heroine - and the list of spells at my disposal as a Great Mage of Ardania, and then laugh. Come at me, Rrat. You will burn.

It's easy to compare Warlock: Master of Arcane with Civilization V. The two share a bunch of genres and classifications - turn-based strategy, 4X and "freaking addictive" come to mind. In both games, you found cities that produce military units you can use to attack your opponents. Each turn you can engage in diplomacy, manage resources or choose to upgrade the infrastructure of your cities. The two games even share a similar presentation and a one-unit-per-hex combat system, but don't let the cosmetic similarity fool you. Playing as one of Warlock's Great Mages feels completely different than anything from Sid Meier except for one very important detail - it will keep you playing late into the night, mumbling "Just one more turn" to yourself again and again.

Warring mages have a lot of fun toys at their disposal, and trust me, you'll need all the help you can get. You start out with one city, a spell or two in your book and a few units. As you explore the edges of your map, you'll come in contact with all manner of monsters like spiders and werewolves who want your blood. Even neutral cities - those not owned by another Great Mage - are automatically hostile to you. To defeat them, you'll need to smartly deploy units like skeleton archers and goblin spearmen. Because you are a Great Mage, you can cast spells to support your efforts on the field of battle; a well-timed healing spell or lightning bolt can make a huge difference. Because there can only be one unit on any given hex, managing the tactics of protecting weaker glass cannon units like archers behind burly ogres can be a fun challenge and I was impressed when my AI opponents did the same.

In fact, the AI is a big reason why I keep playing Warlock. Strategy games typically either come too easy, or artificially add difficulty with tricks like adding hit points to the AI's units. In Warlock, your opponent actually plays like a human player might, moving wounded units back to heal or feinting with a weak summoned unit to draw your attention before moving in en force. The AI will still make bonehead moves like inexplicably breaking an alliance you've had all game, or sending countless embarked units towards your capital to die under ranged fire, but it's a big step forward.

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