Warlock! Huh! What is it good for? Read this and I'll tell you!
A couple years back, Destructoid's handsomely verbose Fraser Brown reviewed a strategy game of his ilk that didn't instantly fill me with dread and and remind me of my general inadequacy. Warlock: Master of the Arcane was ostensibly a 4X game, but with a much greater focus on straight up, scorched earth warfare and colorfully cliche fantasy characters, versus Civilization V's equally hexagonal historical pretension.
"I could play this," I thought. I never did, because initiative is beyond me. But now I've had a chance to play Warlock II: The Exiled. "I could play this more," I thought. It is really is quite a bit of fun.
Warlock II: The Exiled (PC)
Warlock II takes place after the events of the first. In the first, you played on one large map, but the world is shattered and its dozen plus great mages are relegated to shard worlds that would still probably be too much space for The Little Prince but are enough for you to pull yourself up by your boot straps, become a titan of industry, and march back to Ardania to kick some vengeful ass.
You can also play the one giant map sandbox mode from the first game in Warlock II, if you fancy, but then you don't get to jet between continuum portals.
I began on a relatively safe fringe world with the hub of what I would spend two hours turning into a great city. I took my main unit and some ranged back up and began, turn by turn, exploring my little nook of universe, finding formidable fight in the wolves and bears around me. Like, a turn or two for a kill. I shouldn't have split everyone off so early. Or approached that giant orc thing before getting my sea legs.
As I ran through some exploratory turns I turned inward. Great infrastructure is the master log of a great empire. Just look at how the world's greatest powers -- Britain, the United States -- crumbled when too little attention was paid inward. I ordered myself some more troops, which would take a few turns, and started building my property.
New to the series, I found myself handling this navigation rather pain free. You are basically managing three resources: food, mana, and gold. Meanwhile, the UI was clear enough to tell me what I could do at any given point or what I needed to do to say, build farm.
Fraser's complaint of the ironically arcane and unwieldy spell system has been addressed as well, with new spell groupings and an easy interface to look towards what spells you're researching, as they fall into three main trees (offensive, defensive, terrain altering). You will also align yourself with one of the eight gods and their associated spells, which become powerhouse moves late in the game, but also take you out of favor with the other gods' magic.
Definitely build a city on penis island (above)
I skated by the portal guardian and finally made it through my first portal, at which point I arrived in a hostile, snowy land with only the unit that was closest to the portal at the time (and everyone else a few turns out). I am not good at forethought. Thankfully, the only enemy in range was on the other side of an impassable mountain and I was able to hide away from its ranged attacks.
The world is randomly generated each time you start a new game, adding some variety. The Exiled mode, in which you have to jump between portals (versus the big, sandbox mode) also seems like it will add a bit more challenge, especially to the late game where you're all built Ford tough and ready to steamroll over everything. The fragments of world you leave in search of further conquest remain active and monsters will spawn there so you'll have to look out.
A big focus this time around is the multiplayer, which came post-release in the first and was clunky thanks to having to wait for others to take their turns. This time around, turns can overlap a bit -- you're able to do any sort of non-offensive empire management while enemies are taking their turns, which is nice.
The multiplayer and singleplayer are basically the same game, except with up to three other real players replacing AI for other great mages. While four player PvP was the originally focus, you can just as easily band together with other players to play against the AI. Or you can do that, but also secretly posture yourself to screw your friends over once they've outstayed their usefulness.
Cleaned up in terms of usability and functionality, Warlock II's colorful, hexagonal world should prove a great bit of fun and, perhaps, a nice portal into the blistering cartographic world of 4X games.