Warlock: Master of the Arcane is the latest sequel to the cult favorite Majesty series. However, other than sharing the world of Ardania and its lore, Warlock is very different from Majesty. Warlock looks like Civilization and thatís because the game borrows heavily from it in terms of basic gameplay. While it would be easy to quickly dismiss Warlock as ďCivilization with magicĒ at a glance, you would be doing yourself a great injustice.
Starting the game for the first time, you will be confronted with a selection of options: defeat conditions, map size, difficulty, number of rival mages, etc. The defeat conditions range from defeating all rival mages, defeat an avatar (god), cast the unity spell (the ultimate spell), or capture 50% of holy grounds. You can toggle on or off whichever ones you want. You will then be tasked with choosing either a preset mage to represent yourself, or customizing a mage from his abilities, default unit type (human, monster, undead), etc. Once the game gets going, the story is pretty bare bones, but that helps you jump into the action. (There is plenty of lore to be read about on pretty much anything you can click though, so donít worry if you wanted there to be an fantasy rich environment.) You will begin the gameplay at your capital, deciding what to focus on economically, and then begin to expand and explore. In a matter of turns, you will have likely developed one or two towns and possibly have discovered a rival mage. Your progress likely wonít be stopped by another mage at this point, however. You are more than likely going to be forced to strengthen your units and expand your towns economies, because there will be insanely strong neutral monsters roaming between you and your rivals (dragons, golems, krakens, etc).
This is where Warlock begins to make its differences from Civilization clear. If you want to expand any further, you are going to have to become strong enough to defeat monsters and sometimes even gods (should you anger them in some way). The two best ways to go about this are by building new structures in your towns or by having your units fight battles they can win: Each town is based around a castle which can be defeated in order to take over the town. New structures can be built on hexes surrounding the castles, depending on the size of the population. Some structures require special resources on a hex to be built (water for a port, iron for a refinery, gold of a mine, etc). New structures will almost always lead to some kind of buff that can be purchased for your units (armor, health, experience, etc) or the ability to produce a new unit (vampires, eleven archers, minotaur, etc). The really nice thing is that that units produced in the town with the buff will automatically get them, units from other towns have to pay a small fee for the buff however. If you use your units regularly (and donít get them killed), they will level up, adding new buffs. OH, AND DID I MENTION THAT ALL THE BUFFS STACK!? This means that there is a heavy emphasis on keeping units alive so that they become nearly invincible!
Now that you have your strong units itís time to begin attacking other mages towns or ridding open areas of dangerous baddies. Many of the strong neutral monsters in the game either already exist on the map, spawn at random (you usually get a notice at the beginning of your turn: eg ďElementals are InvadingĒ), or they come through a gateway that connects to a dangerous realm. This means that if you are going to begin developing towns in ďdangerousĒ zones, you will usually have to dedicate strong units to protecting that area, even after the baddies have been dealt with. Not that your towns are incapable of protecting themselves: The castles at the center of each town can shoot arrows at enemy units and the capital can cast magic missiles. Additionally, you can build towers or magic towers to help defend your town.
If you decide to attack a rivalís town, you should be sure that you are attacking with units that wonít be wiped out in one shot. This means that if you are attacking a town surrounded by magic towers, your character better have a strong resistance to magic or high melee resistance if the town is protected by soldiers. Once you have captured a town, you gain access to its race, so if you are playing as undead and capture humans, you then have access to human buildings and units.
Battles play out somewhat like Fire Emblem, with an estimated damage indicator for each side before you decide to attack. This is especially helpful since identical unitís strengths can vary greatly due to buffs.
If at some point you find yourself in a difficult battle or short on food, money, or mana (the three economies in the game), you can simply cast a spell that will help you since you are a mage! All spells require mana. Spells (besides your default ones) must be researched before they can be cast. You can also randomly receive spells by looting monster lairs or by completing certain favors that gods ask you to do (build an altar, defeat their enemies, etc). Spells vary from giant firestorms, plagues of locusts, summoning ghost wolves, to spells that weaken or buff units. Each spell takes a different amount of time to research, depending on how strong it is and how many buildings you have dedicated to research. The thing you are going to either hate or love about the game is that you can only research one spell at a time, and the spells you can research are completely at random (starting with weaker spells). At first this annoyed me, but I believe that it is there for balance so that you canít choose the spell that will lead to a giant fire spell right at the beginning of the game.
It should be noted that Gods play a significant role in the game. They can greatly help you if you do their bidding. However, if you piss them off, they might just come down and start destroying all of your towns.
Another huge part of the game (and a nod to Majesty) is the inclusion of lords. They are essentially very strong mercenary units that have a high upkeep cost. These units can also equip special items to enhance their abilities, which normal units can't do. Winning a battle can often come down to whether or not one of your lords is participating.
There are also some light diplomacy elements which allow you to negotiate with rival mages. You can declare peace, war, non-aggression, or trade. The diplomacy isnít very detailed, but it does affect how rival mages perceive you, if they will allow you cross their land, and if they will attack you.
Technically speaking, the game gets the job done well enough. Sounds are great and satisfying; the clash of metal when soldiers attack and the sound of arrows hitting are spot on. Each lord has their own voice actor that helps give them their own personalities. Some of the units are also voiced, with the human units generally having comically over-done heroic lines. Graphically, the game is pretty and has its own style, but ultimately isnít anything thatís going to blow you away. Itís nice that you can zoom right up into the action though and get a semi-detailed look at your units. There are lots of varied landscapes (snowy mountains, deserts, swamps, etc) and each of the races has their own structures that make them easily identifiable.
My first game on normal difficulty on a medium sized map, took me 15 hours.With the amount of content and beta multiplayer just starting, the game is a steal at $20! If you enjoy sending units off into unknown lands behind the fog, building up your army, and conquering anybody that dares stand against you, this game is a must buy! Itís definitely a ďJust one more turn...Ē game that will keep you up later into the morning than you probably want.
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