Back in May I reviewed Warlock: Master of the Arcane, a delightful magical 4X game which tasks mages with building empires and generally kicking the crap out of each other and the hordes of unfriendly NPC monsters that roam the landscape. The title wasn't without its issues, but there was more than enough there to keep me occupied for many hours.
Conspicuously missing from the package was a multiplayer mode. Ino-co Plus promised that they were working on it, but wanted to get the game out first. Well, they've come through on that promise and now the beta version is available to everyone who owns the game. There are still a few bugs and the occasional hiccup, but it adds a fun new dimension to the game. A wee while ago I got to take a look at it and fight some actual humans. Those humans being Paradox's Jakob Munthe, the game's producer and my guide (and eventual nemesis); Paul Dean of Shut Up and Sit Down; and Adam Smith from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. On that fateful day in June, a Swede, a Scot, and two Englishmen fought on fields of lava to take home the crown of top mage.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane (PC)
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Ino-co Plus
Released: May 8, 2012 (Multiplayer beta released on July 17)
Before we even started up the game the plotting had begun. Adam was delayed and that gave Jakob, Paul, and I a bit of time to make a quick alliance and agree to gang up on Johnny-come-lately. This put me at ease, I hadn't played the game since I reviewed it and one of my opponents was the bloody producer. Early alliances would be important to my continued survival, I assumed. Diplomacy isn't really working right now, Jakob explained, so while you can make alliances using the in game mechanics, there's nothing stopping the actual players from just breaking them instantly. There's no way to get anyone to stick to deals. This was something they were still working on.
When Adam showed up, we jumped in-game. Our battlefield was to be a small one, the logic behind this was that it would make for a quicker session. Jakob had a group of American journalists to show the game to later and so we couldn't battle for countless hours. That was okay, I thought, I'll probably get destroyed by fire elementals within the first ten turns. Bloody NPCs.
I opted to play as a two-headed dragon overlord, ruling over silly little humans. The first couple of turns had us each explore our surroundings. I spotted a neutral city in the east, very close to my capital. Perfect for safe expansion. Jakob also discovered a neutral city to his west. A turn later I was raining down a fire spell on the unsuspecting town of rats. Jakob asked "Who is fighting a neutral city?" Bollocks. We'd both been talking about the same city. It became a race to see who conquered it first.
I claimed that victory.
At least I knew where Jakob's city was, or at least the general direction and that it must have been fairly close. I still had no idea where Adam or Paul were. They seemed to be having troubles of their own. Paul's capital was being punched by a giant tree, for instance. His wooden aggressor was unrelenting and it seemed like it would keep him busy for some time.
Several turns had passed and there had still been no confrontations between us. We were all fighting the environment, which remains just as aggressive in multiplayer is it did in solo mode. The wandering monsters are one of the things that I found so enjoyable about the game initially, and they certainly spiced up our session. Then, just as I was getting comfortable, I'm notified that Jakob has declared war on me. He laughs. It's an evil laugh. I become concerned. It's the laugh of someone who knows something that I don't. "I'm rich!" I exclaim, "Do you need money? I can give you gold." Jakob explained that I could indeed bribe him, but he'd still continue his war against me. "Bugger."
Our alliance against Adam was short lived.
I had bears and wolves invading my territory from the north, Jakob to the east, and the unknown factors of Adam and Paul god knows where. Jakob boasted that he had now constructed a Minotaur Palace and he would soon be fielding his man-bulls soon, ready to conquer my two towns. Perhaps to compete with Jakob's boasts, Adam mentioned that he now had ships. I must admit that it was the minotaurs that worried me, not sailors. He was also at war with bears. Then again, we all were.
Paul was still having problems with big trees.
Separating my territory from my despicable enemy's was a huge plain of lava. This was the best thing that could have happened to me. His forces had a hell of a time making their way through it, as it slows movement by 50%. It gave me more than enough time to spend all that money I had been saving for bribes. I spent it on a vast army. Now it was my time to laugh evilly. I even splashed out on a new city to expand my northern borders. That's where the bears were coming from. Screw those guys.
My war with Paradox's cruel mage-producer wasn't going badly. It wasn't going well either. It was a stalemate. He was confident that as long as he could keep me on the defense for the time it took for him to get his minotaurs then I'd be royally buggered. I thought that he was probably right. Then there was a flash near my capital. Imps appeared. "Are those NPCs or...?" I asked to nobody in particular. Adam chuckled. "Seriously?" Yes, he was sending one solitary unit of summoned imps to take on my well defended capital city. He thought he could at least harass me and do some damage. He was wrong. They were dead in one shot. We were now at war.
"I now have minotaurs."
I was anticipating the worst. I'd be waiting for these minotaurs for at least two hours, if not more. Actually, probably more. I'd actually started to think that it was just a big bluff. At least I didn't have to worry about Adam trying to attack me any more. He was being eaten by a kraken. When the hairy bipedal bulls appeared out of the fog of war we emitted a collective "Ohhhh." Jakob had been on the level. I was now in serious trouble. As they made their painfully slow progress across the swelteringly hot fields of magma, I did the best I could to slow their march. I moved all my archers to the border and refused to let up. One minotaur died. I cast a fireball and then attacked the unit with several warriors. Another went down. "How are they so strong!?" The shoe was on the other foot. Thank you, leveling up mechanic.
Jakob tried to retreat. I disagreed with his tactics. As the last minotaur fell I let out a great whoop. Not only had I destroyed his beloved unit, I'd done it before it even reached my territory. "I'm clearly winning." Pride before the fall my friends, pride before the fall.
Our session was coming to a close. Jakob had to entertain our cousins across the Atlantic. I felt smug. Surely I'd be hailed as mage-supreme. Then -- because bad luck always happens at the worst of times -- archers appeared in the north. Paul, the tree victim, turned out to be this session's dark horse. Another archer appeared. Then a warrior. My northern frontier was barely defended at all, I'd sent all my troops to deal with Jakob. Paul didn't actually realize how big my army was, however, and so he was slightly surprised when reinforcements started to arrive. Too little, too late. My city was still fairly new and weak. As Paul's forces marched through my streets I was crestfallen. He was hailed victor and we parted ways. From nature fodder to champion. It was quite the climb.
Warlock's multiplayer thrives on the stories that will undoubtedly be told by players. Other than diplomacy, most of the game is unchanged, but that human factor makes a lot of difference. The issues with waiting for conflict that plagues quite a few similar titles is deftly dealt with thanks to the hostile environment. Our session on the small map lasted for almost five hours; five hours that flew by. This is a real shot in the arm for a game which was already a lot of fun.
If you've had a chance to try out the beta, let us know your stories of conquest and stolen victories in the comments. I also feel I should apologize for letting Destructoid down and not claiming victory. If it makes you feel better, I slaughtered the most units. Also, I had a cold, and a sore neck, and I'd just quit smoking, and there was a baby crying next door. If it hadn't been for those things, I would have most certainly defeated my foes. Totally.