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Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review

Greg Tito | 1 Aug 2012 21:00
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There's a lot of variation and customization in Warlock, which is the other reason I play it over and over again. There's a stock of 12 Great Mages you can play as with generic fantasy archetypes like the pointy-hat-wearing and thus aptly named Miralbus the Hat and King Lich V - which, I feel I have to make clear, doesn't mean there have been four Lich Kings before him, but that he's been resurrected four times. The writing is all tongue-in-cheek, not taking itself too seriously. Each mage has a default race - human, monster or undead - and a slate of various perks and spells, but you can very easily pick and choose these characteristics to perfectly shape your Great Mage to your playing style or give yourself a specific challenge.

City management is a lot less time-consuming than most 4X games. You build structures on specific hexes within the city's zone of control, but only when the population has grown to support them. A city with a population score of 5 can only have 5 buildings. Buildings provide (or cost) you resources - mana, food, gold or research - or allow you to build special units, but the streamlined UI lets you easily figure out where your deficit is. When your city grows and you get the chance to build something, it's pretty simple to build a farm when your vast goblin armies demand food. The relative simplicity of managing your empire places the focus on conflict, for those of you who like fighting wars more than building wonders.

The best part of Warlock is the spell-casting. Most of the spells will sound familiar, but I loved seeing their application in a strategy game. Sure, tossing fireballs and shadow bolts to deal damage is nothing new, but casting enchantments like water walking on your units really gives you tons of tactical options. In one game, I had a cadre of mages blasting coastal cities while standing on the ocean.

There are limits to slinging spells that keep the game from devolving into a fireball fight. Each spell has a casting time, so you can usually only cast one or two per turn, and ongoing enchantments have costs that can add up to seriously crash the mana market in your empire. You can pick which spells you research from a list of five, but those five are randomly chosen. It's easy to get frustrated without a linear tech tree to guide your choices.

While each tooltip has the information you need and some entertaining flavor text, Warlock suffers from a lack of documentation. There's no all-encompassing encyclopedia. I had to resort to wikis or forums to find out a lot of specific rules. The latest patch solved some of those problems by adding more tooltips, and making it clear there are other ways to win besides nuking King Rrat and his fellow Great Mages. (You can cast a Unity spell, or kill the avatar of a god; both of which require multiple steps to accomplish that still aren't exactly clear.)

Bottom Line: A well-crafted, easy-to-play game with an entertaining fantasy bent, Warlock will have you staying up nights taking one more turn to blast King Rrat to kingdom come.

Recommendation: If you have exhausted yourself with historical turn-based games, try being a Great Mage and taking over the fantasy world of Ardania.

Game: Warlock: Master of the Arcane
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: Ino-Co Plus
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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