Back in 2012 Paradox Interactive released a new 4X strategy game called Warlock: Masters of the Arcane, which despite average reviews was able to quickly gather a loyal fanbase. Now Paradox has teamed up with the developer of the original, Ino-Co Plus, to deliver the follow up, Warlock 2: The Exiled. In many ways Warlock 2 is a fairly standard sequel, retaining the same hexagonal shaped maps and turn based strategy gameplay from the previous entry. In the main story campaign, players are instructed to take control of a civilisation know as the Planestriders in order to defeat the United One, a Mage who has taken control of your home in Ardania. To do so, you will have to traverse across a land which has been shattered into various different shards such as the undead world, the jungle world and even the moon world.
As soon as you start a campaign, two of Warlock 2‘s greatest strengths are revealed. The first of these is customisation. The game allows you a great deal of choice when deciding how you play the story campaign, giving you the ability to choose the difficulty, world structure, number of opponents, characters and more. In sandbox mode you can even customise the victory conditions. The simplest victory condition is a military victory called conquest, which simply requires you to destroy all of the other Great Mage A.I. enemies. If violence is not your thing you can instead to choose to go for a diplomatic victory by researching and casting a Unity spell, or a religious victory by building cities on enough Holy Sites. Yet to me the most interesting option involves making use of the favour system. In Warlock 2 the you gain favour with the gods by building various temples but every God has a rival. So getting +5 favour with one God will result in -5 with the rival God. Once you reach +99 favour with your chosen God his rival will come to earth in the form of an Avatar. As the direct manifestation of a God, Avatars are incredibly powerful units but you’ll have to defeat one if you want to win through this condition.
The games other great strength is its tutorial. As a 4x strategy title, Warlock 2 has quite complex gameplay mechanics that can be very daunting to new beginners. Yet thanks to the useful hints and tips, I never once felt overwhelmed. The game takes you through each of its different systems steadily but thoroughly, from how to build your cities and armies to the best way to manage your gold, food, mana and unrest. The fact that each turn you are given a reminder of all your different tasks is especially helpful. There were a couple of moments when I was unsure of what a resource or unit did but these were very rare.
Once I’d gotten into the game I did find myself becoming addicted rather quickly. As with all good strategy games, Warlock 2 is very successful at creating that ‘just one more turn’ mentality that has kept me playing for hours on end. It’s able to do this by always offering something new almost every turn. As your cities expand you’ll quickly be unlocking new buildings and units to use, and with 170 different spells on offer you are always going to be finding new ways to use your mana, right up until the endgame. The dynamic quest system also stops you from becoming bored by constantly offering new and interesting challenges to overcome. One of the more memorable moments of my campaign came in the first few turns. Having built up a small army I had sent all my forces to wage war on another Great Mage, only to have my capital attacked by a couple of 2 headed dragons on the very next turn. With a system like this it is very important for a game to be able to tread that fine line of being able to offer difficulty without feeling unfair. Thankfully Warlock 2 was able to accomplish this and it kept me engaged through my play sessions.
However this does not mean that the game is without its faults or that everyone is going to like it. Whilst its gameplay elements are certainly those of a strategy game in terms of progression, it feels more like a fantasy adventure game. Right from the start of The Exiled campaign my path to victory felt more linear than in other 4X games. This is most obvious in the way other Great Mages are handled. Their lack of ambition coupled with the poor diplomacy system makes your A.I opponents seem more like roadblocks on your path to victory rather than an opposing player with their own desires and objectives.
Nevertheless I have certainly been enjoying my time with the game and would recommend it as an excellent alternative for players who enjoy the Age of Wonder or Civilisation franchises. Look out for Warlock 2: The Exiled when it launches on April 10th.