Warlock 2: The Exiled - PreviewPlatforms: PC
Back in 2012, Paradox Interactive released a new turn-based strategy game by developers Ino-Co Plus that went by the name of Warlock: Master of the Arcane. In a break from the grand strategy titles Paradox are famed for, such as Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings, this was a 4X game - which stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Because of this classification, it suffered from some unfair comparisons to the most famous series in that genre - Civilization. The first place this would start with most people is with the visual likeness to Civilization V. However, it also actually bears resemblance to the developer's own earlier titles, Elven Legacy and Fantasy Wars, which pre-date Civilization V - and in any case, how many different ways can you make hex grids look pretty? Warlock: Master of the Arcane also compared a little unfavourably with Civilization by being weak in a number of traditional 4X areas: diplomacy, city building and research. However, to knock the game too much for this was to misunderstand what the game set out to be - an accessible wargame. It was always designed with a heavy focus on the combat and it did this extremely well. The game played like a single level of Elven Legacy blown up to a worldwide scale with 4x elements supporting the combat rather than Elven Legacy’s campaign structure.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane received quite a favourable following amongst gamers that accepted the game for what it was rather than dismissing it as a Civilization clone. However, as good as it was at what it set out to do, it wasn’t perfect, and now Ino-Co Plus and Paradox Interactive are back with the sequel Warlock 2: The Exiled, to improve upon the original game. The game is released on the 10th April but you can actually play it now if you pre-order. You will gain access to a pre-release version containing most of the game, with the notable exception of an editor which will be delivered upon the games release. The game is available in three different versions depending upon how much you want to pay: a standard edition including the basic game, a digital deluxe edition including soundtrack and digital books, and a premium edition including some bonus in-game content. For the most part the pre-release version seems perfectly stable with the notable exception that fog of war is disabled due to some debug code currently in there which will be fixed for the release.
Like its prequel, Warlock 2: The Exiled, is once again set in the universe of Ardania which features in many Paradox games including Majesty 2, yet another title by Ino-Co Plus. The sequel can be played in two distinct ways: sandbox mode which is the same as Warlock: Master of the Arcane, and the all new Exiled campaign mode. One of the more unique features of the first game was a parallel worlds feature which allowed you to send units to other worlds. This was little more than a distraction, an extra challenge for the player, but in the sequel this is fleshed out to make the core of the campaign. During the introduction it is explained that whilst your character, the Great Mage, was away on distant worlds fighting a war against a race known as the Dremer, the events possible in Warlock: Master of the Arcane took place culminating in a mage casting the Spell of Unity (a winning condition in the first game) and so became ruler of Ardania. Your goal is to lead your forces across the ruined shards of worlds destroyed in the war, back home to Ardania to confront this mage.
Warlock 2: The Exiled is promising to fix some of the issues that affected the first game, as well as address a few that plague the genre in general. It also adds new features, expands upon others, and in short, is sounding every bit like a sequel should. The most obvious improvement is in the visuals - these were good in the first game, but the terrain detail in particular is spectacular in the sequel. Once you’ve got over the graphics, the biggest news for fans is the promise of an improved AI. The AI was always competent at a tactical level when you were in combat, but it was generally considered lacking any overarching plan to actually win the game by extermination - which is quite a downside in a game so heavily focused on that. The AI tended to mostly win only if you failed to wipe it out before it cast Spell of Unity. Another major change is that the spell research tree is no longer randomised. The randomisation mixed the playthroughs up but removed the ability to plan your research which is a staple of most games in this genre.
Perhaps the most controversial change in the sequel is the introduction of a city cap. All 4X games seek to limit rapid expansion via means such as upkeep costs or population unrest. Nonetheless, it is still invariably optimal to colonise every inch of the game world in most such games. This can make your management of each settlement in the late game a little tedious causing players to either spend a lot of time over this or to neglect certain less important settlements depending upon their patience. Warlock 2: The Exiled tackles this by placing a hard limit on the number of cities you can directly manage - a limit which can be raised a little through research. To keep under that limit, you have to convert your extra cities to a choice of autonomous cities that bring a variety of benefits to your empire whilst not requiring, or even allowing, any micromanagement from the player.
Other new features include the ability to hire and equip hero units, an increase in the number of races to six, and the ability to control the unit animation speed to greatly reduce the time you spend waiting when it’s not your turn. A variety of quests, events and randomly spawning monsters and monster lairs will ensure you can’t just forget about your previously conquered worlds as you move on through the ever increasing in size and difficulty shards on your path to Ardania. Warlock 2: The Exiled is promising to flesh out and perfect the Warlock formula - though these new features do come at a higher retail price than the first game. Look out for the full review after the game is released to see if these changes improve the gameplay enough to justify it.