Review

Warlock 2 Review

  • Game release: June 30, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Wizards and warlocks.

by

It was sometime around the 13th straight hour of playing Warlock 2 that I realized I probably should have been asleep a few hundred turns ago. Despite that realization, I couldn't quit playing. Warlock 2 is a classic 4X strategy game that focuses a bit more on the combat and exploration side of things, and it works stunningly well for the most part. Warlock 2 starts with a novel premise--warfare split across multiple dimensions--and executes that vision with an inspired artistic flair, some unorthodox design choices, and a haunting, emergent narrative.

Before each match in Warlock, you pick your "great mage," a grand and nigh omnipotent leader to help guide your forces and vie for power with others of your kind. You research world-rending spells, gather your forces, and wage war on a transdimensional stage. Play, for the most part, revolves around slowly making your way across different planes of existence. These are radically different dimensions, with some being pits of demons and hellfire and others so imbued with the energy of life that simply being there heals your soldiers over time. Strange dimensions were a big feature in the first Warlock game as well, but this time around, they've moved from being an ancillary novelty to the focus of play.

Sometimes it's easier to just surround your enemy with dragons.

The dimensions are linked by a haphazard network of portals. These act as choke points, much like Sins of a Solar Empire's phase lanes. Until the very late game, most of the strategy revolves around controlling as many of these portals as possible. As a given match progresses and your burgeoning empire begins to stretch across several of these planes, maintaining efficient troop movement and matching your empire's upkeep costs can become overwhelming. Around eight hours into my first match, I was struggling to maintain a decent flow of cash to support my armies. I was forced to take a hard look at each of my bases and nix the unnecessary ones. Simply destroying them can cause quite a bit of unrest in your citizenry; instead, you're encouraged to convert them to either massive forts or temples for your favored deity.

There are eight major gods you can follow, and each correlates with a broad class of forces: life vs. death, earth vs. wind, fire vs. water, and so on. Earning the attention of gods can be accomplished only by building temples and shrines in their honor, and doing so can give you access to some of the best spells in the game. In the main research path for spells, you only ever have two healing spells, and by the late game, those start losing their utility. I chose as my deity the god of life, and had quite a few options for keeping my troops in proper fighting condition. Toward the end of the game, my patronage had started to annoy some of the other gods, and I saw the living avatar of the god of death descend from the heavens to kill me. I didn't have the armies to repel him, and I was close enough to satisfying another victory condition that I just let him destroy some of my older bases. With that, though, I began to notice an underlying theme in Warlock 2--the idea of balance and order.

Things start to look pretty chaotic after many mages have done their worst.

The first Warlock had you seeking to attain the highest power in the land. Following those events, one omnipotent being controls all of creation and has torn it apart to maintain his position as the United One, a title that's about as ironic as they come. After finishing my first campaign match, I saw a terse clip confirming my interpretation. Gods seek your favor, but should any one gain too much power over any other, they descend to correct the imbalance themselves. Everyone naturally seeks power and hopes to expand and conquer in this world, but after a point, that becomes problematic.

Powerful spells that can reshape vast swaths of land help buttress the central theme of the game, namely that as a great mage, you are one step removed from a god--a power that you probably shouldn't have. Each type of land has its own effects, and these move beyond the standard defense and movement bonuses. While I was invading the plane of death, I noticed that this unholy land was steadily killing my holy warriors. I steadily reworked the land and filled it with life-giving hills and flatlands. While it was nice to have that ability, it seemed fundamentally wrong. I was twisting and contorting the world to suit my own designs, but, as far as the basic setting goes, that's exactly how the world became so broken in the first place.

Sometimes the land-changing spells can be a bit too powerful, and it's far easier to destroy than it is to create. If an opponent simply scorches your plains to reduce farm output, your farms themselves aren't destroyed. They just become less efficient. If your farms or any other buildings are sunk entirely, however, you need a spell to fix the land and then rebuild all of your damaged structures. If another mage strikes the proper city with one of these spells, that can stall a military campaign or kill your ability to maintain units. The results are not too far removed from the role of nuclear weapons in other strategy games, but these spells can be cast very cheaply and cannot easily be blocked without constantly running counter spells. In multiplayer especially, it can often become a contest to see who forgets to block whom first, and that can get tedious quickly. Ostensibly, powerful spells are intended to be balanced by the fact that you can't cast where you can't see, but building up a small cadre of scouts to keep large chunks of the map visible at all times is hardly difficult.

Because the focus is on such small groups, distinctive visual design helps reinforce the idea that each piece of your army is special. Ships, lords, and even foot soldiers are remarkably well designed.

Even with a few scouts on hand, armies in Warlock are noticeably smaller than in most strategy games. At my strongest, I was fielding a force of maybe 20 units, and typically running about 10. With unit upgrades and the very limited movement speed of units, games focus more on managing small teams of powerful, well-trained soldiers than massive fodder armies. You also have the ability to keep up to four lords, which, depending on their level and upgrades, can easily overwhelm just about anything. That's for the best, because it avoids one of the biggest problems of games like Civilization. With the exception of the awkward pacing issues I mentioned earlier, games progress evenly and don't bog down with hundreds of soldiers in the late game. Managing their equipment and buffs is also much easier and more straightforward than it really should be given how many potential boosts you can give to any one unit.

Warlock problems: mages flooding your farms with spells from halfway across the known universe.

Because the focus is on such small groups, distinctive visual design helps reinforce the idea that each piece of your army is special. Ships, lords, and even foot soldiers are remarkably well designed. Even with the basic troops, there's plenty of variety and flair to their visual presentation. Subtle graphical effects, such as the continually twisting rays of light that hover over holy, life-giving plains, make the overworld visually busy, but in such a way that helps the entire game feel more cohesive and solidly constructed. The user interface is similarly intricate, and all of these pieces work together to help sell this rendition of the standard fantasy setting.

That level of detail sometimes clashes with the lackluster execution of some of Warlock's better ideas. The potential for political interaction between the disparate factions is limited. With the exception of the undead's weakness to all things holy and life-giving, there's not a whole lot to make each faction feel distinct in terms of play. And when it's time to sit down at the negotiating table with other leaders, your choices can be summarized by "Give me stuff" and "I'll kill you."

Warlock was a creative game that tried a few interesting new things--namely the global spells and extra dimensional planes--and Warlock 2 takes them all a step further. Making the multiple dimensions a priority instead of a side bit refocuses play toward direct combat and exploration. The small army sizes prevent floods of units from taking and holding all points on the map and necessitate greater care with movement and empire expansion. Together, this creates a slow but focused style of play that's unlike anything else on the market.

The Good
Combat focus yields to a more aggressive play style
Creative underlying premise
Powers and spells provide a sense of scale and progression
The Bad
Limited ability to interact with other players beyond battling and resource trading
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Dan spent over 27 hours in several matches conquering the planes of the elements and summoning an army of dragons to support his cause. His eternal search for a perfect strategy game is still far from over, but he's pleased to see people are still getting creative with one of the older genres around.

Discussion

20 comments
pimplordmofo
pimplordmofo

Another master of magic clone? After 20 years they're still doing it?

Freedomination
Freedomination

Fun game, but the single player gets too easy a bit quick. If you take a hero or a holy unit and get a few levels and buffs on them you can quickly get them to well over 90% damage reduction to almost everything. You usually have to let the AI live on purpose if you want to try any of the other victory conditions.


I don't regret buying it, but the gameplay is just a bit too shallow to end up playing it for anywhere near as much as the best strategy games

gruber23
gruber23

Looks quite similar to the original, which I played a bit. Not sure if the new game has enough new content to justify it, but hard to tell. I am glad to see that the 4X genre is growing again after a long lull with the exception of the stalwart Civilization. Now all we need is Master of Orion 4.  Battlefield 4 - Call of Duty Ghost

greek5
greek5

I've been playing this game since release, its really fun, have at least one game every night with friends, the combat is awesome played out on the map, randomness of getting hero units and taking risks makes the game even better, I really didn't expect to have this much fun with this, really great game.

OldKye
OldKye

I just came here because I saw a score other then 8&4 lol who broke the curse and returned the other numbers to the staff?

Thank you kind nameless hero. o7

Gallowhand
Gallowhand

I've enjoyed playing the first Warlock game, so I'm glad to see a positive review of the sequel.  I'll have to pick it up at some point (and prepare to lose track of time again).

meatz666
meatz666

Too many fantaciv games in the market. I have homm6 (I refuse to say Might & Magic: Heroes) and age of wonders 3 here, but no time. I'll not take a third anytime soon.

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

Pacing and global spell issues  aside, this looks like it could be worth some time.  AoW3, although somewhat enjoyable, never really sunk its claws into me for some reason -- perhaps this will fit the bill better.   (To date, replaying HoMM2 via DosBox Turbo on Android has out-consumed my time vs. all other strategy games for me this year.... So there's something to be said for classics.)

jemoedr
jemoedr

The game looks like civilization V with a fantasy skin.


Seriously, even the menu's and Gui look a lot like it.

Setho10
Setho10

Enjoyed the first game quite a bit. I'll have to try this one out.

WereCatf
WereCatf

Seeing as I liked the first game well enough I am pretty certain I'll enjoy this one, too. It's been on my wishlist for a while already, in fact.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@DanCStarkey

Dude, you might have made a typo in the pros and cons list: they have two identical entries.

hitomo
hitomo

@gruber23  why is this gengre growing again? ... dude, cut the high percentage stuff ^^

grove12345
grove12345

@Pyrosa  recommend you try masters of magic.best 4x turn based fantasy game out there. 

hitomo
hitomo

@jemoedr you are totally right, and thats what makes this and the first part of the game so good

jemoedr
jemoedr

@hitomo @jemoedr  Then they might've at least given the menu's a makeover.


This reeks of codetheft...

DanCStarkey
DanCStarkey

@jemoedr @hitomo  It does look REALLY similar, but if it helps stuff like city management is really cut down. Under the hood there's a lot of changes that make it feel a fair bit different. 

Warlock 2: The Exiled More Info

First Release on Jun 30, 2013
  • PC
Warlock 2 is a turn-based strategy game of fantasy warfare.
7.7
Average User RatingOut of 9 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Warlock 2: The Exiled
Developed by:
Paradox Interactive
Published by:
Paradox Interactive, Ikaron
Genres:
Strategy, Turn-Based