Last year, Red Orb Entertainment released Warlords III: Reign of Heroes, the much-anticipated sequel to Warlords II. And although Warlords III was a great game, some of the best features of its predecessor, such as the excellent army editor, weren't included. With Darklords Rising, Red Orb has filled in some of the gaps, and reaffirmed the Warlords franchise as one of the best strategy series around in the process.
In Warlords III, you're positioned as the commander of a fantasy army at war. You gain power by capturing cities, which provide you with both the income and the ability to produce more armies. Along the way, you command heroes that seek out quests to uncover magic items or beastly allies to aid you in the conflict. There are even mercenary armies and heroes who can join your cause, as long as you have enough gold to pay for their services.
Veteran Warlords enthusiasts will find almost all of the features that made the deluxe edition of Warlords II such an enjoyable game. Included in Darklords Rising are 31 new armies, five new hero types, a scenario editor, a campaign designer, new skills and spells for heroes, new options before and during gameplay, nine new game types, new victory conditions, new scenarios, new campaigns, and new terrain types. This horde of features gives Darklords Rising almost endless replayability. Strategy gamers who have yet to check out the Warlords series will find themselves occupied for hours upon hours just experimenting with all that this gem has to offer.
The story follows Reign of Heroes, but this time you play your foe from the previous game, Lord Bane, who has come to reconquer the lands of Siria. Throughout the campaign, you'll have to deal with old allies and enemies in almost a reverse plot of Reign of Heroes in which you led the knights of Siria. While this story isn't explicitly original, the chance to play with evil armies and watch them gain experience more than makes up for it. In addition, the other campaigns give you the chance to play the armies of other races besides the ghastly undead or honorable knights. Although they're considerably shorter than the main one, the orc and dwarven campaigns allow for some variety.
As for the graphics, they're pretty much the same as in Reign of Heroes, giving you the overhead view of the landscape with realistic terrain. The land features (trees, mountains, hills) don't have the cartoonish quality of Heroes of Might and Magic II, with the exception of water and lava, which are brighter than is to be expected. The realistic terrain in Darklords Rising makes for more believable battlegrounds than are found in its competitors. The new scenarios and game styles in this version are also a great asset. Common game types such as "king of the hill" and "capture the flag" are included, along with others that highlight some of the unique features of the Warlords playing style. Heirs to Ancient Power and Battle of the Titans will appeal to those who enjoy Heroes of Might and Magic, where controlling individual heroes and their armies is the key. In Heirs, you're provided with a powerful magical artifact, and in Battle, you're given a highly advanced level-ten hero. In this manner, the focus of the game is directed more towards building armies around your hero.
Darklords Rising gives you both a scenario editor and a random map generator, and the amount of detail you can put in your custom scenarios is truly amazing. As long as you stay within the standard Warlords rules, you have complete control of the major elements of the game. The only drawback is the lack of an army editor. The Warlords II Deluxe Edition featured such an editor, which allowed you to create any type of army, including sci-fi and World War II ones. They gave you premade armies ranging from the realistic, such as the Civil War set, to the fantastic, such as the elemental beings set. This great feature made Warlords more than just a fantasy wargame, promoting it to the realm of a "wargame creation program." Sadly, this feature has not been included in Darklords Rising due to the difficulty of allowing you to animate your custom armies.
If you're looking for something to tide you over until the holiday rush, Warlords III: Darklords Rising is highly recommended. In fact, you might even forget about the games you've been waiting for. In this update of Reign of Heroes, SSG has done a great job of giving fantasy wargame fans a game worthy of the Warlords name.