"Master Ardania via Sword and Sorcery"
Warlock: Master of the Arcane, Paradox Interactive's latest addition to the Majesty franchise, is a hex-based, turn-based strategy game - sort of like a high fantasy Civilization, if one wanted to make an analogy.
Players will choose a unique wizard as their "general", then research spells, build cities, and train armies in order to completely crush the opposition. There are three different types of resources: gold, food, and mana. Gold is used to purchase units and buy upgrades, food is basically your "upkeep" on most units, and mana provides energy for spells and serves as an upkeep resource for certain buildings and units, particularly of the undead variety. Certain buildings in Warlock generate resources each turn, while others exponentially increase the total resource wield of a city. Other buildings are required for units, but they need you to construct something before you can build them, while still more structures are purely defensive in nature.
There are also "research points", which are solely used to decrease the rate at which you discover new spells.
Warlock has three different races: the Undead, the Kingdoms of Man, and the Beastmen. You can choose a general from any of these factions or customize your own Great Wizard to lead your armies - each wizard has a number of small bonuses which make them better at certain things (for example, an archmage might have increased mana regeneration and decreased spell cost). They're pretty enjoyable, and each of the three has their own unique "feel" to them - you're hardly limited to playing your race, though.
All it takes is capturing a city that belongs to an opposing faction, and you have access to pretty much every unit in that faction. It adds an interesting angle to combat and lead to the discovery, on my part, that the Undead are actually pretty inept at fighting one another due to their resistances.
All in all, it's a rather colorful and entertaining romp. The units are fully-voiced, the music is forgettable but not terrible, and gameplay is enjoyable and more than a little addictive. However, Warlock: Master of the Arcane definitely isn't without its problems, and there are several irksome flaws in both design and execution that make it far less than the game it should be.
See, the economic and diplomacy systems feature only a skin-deep complexity. There's no reason to trade or seek out resources - any city can be a gold-generating hub or a farming center. What's more, capturing a city can actually end up penalizing you in the long run - there were several occasions where, rather than granting me additional resources and netting me an advantage on the battlefield, I found myself slapped with a huge chunk of additional upkeep. My choices were to start building in that city and hope it eventually stopped being a drain on my economy, or to just destroy it and start over. More often than not, the latter choice was the better one.
Diplomacy is not really in the cards here, either. There are no alliances, only non-aggression pacts, and two nations can go from peace to outright war at the drop of a hat. That's not necessarily bad in and of itself, but there were many occasions where I found the A.I. to be infuriatingly fickle, making increasingly ludicrous demands and threatening war if I failed to comply - peace is virtually impossible to maintain in Warlock: Master of the Arcane for any extended period of time without sacrificing huge portions of your resources to increasingly demanding "allies", and you're very likely going to find yourself at war with several different Great Wizards at once.
Ultimately, the only way you can actually win a match is through complete military dominance - the much touted "unity" spell is worse than useless, and it can be countered with a flick of the wrist.
The game also suffered from a number of graphical and interface issues. As my campaign went on, I noticed the game locking up without warning at several points, more and more frequently. There were issues with scrolling in the spell menu, which necessitated a restart, and controlling units wasn't always an easy feat: you left-click to select a unit, left-click to give them a command, and left-click to cancel that comment. Right-clicking shows you information about them.
There also seem to be some balance issues in Warlock, though it may have simply been my perception of it at the time. Certain units, such as Elder Vampires, Dragons, and Line Galleons, are so powerful it's virtually pointless to use anything else, as they'll easily dominate almost anything you throw at them. Golden dragons are particularly nasty, and I could only watch in horror as a single one managed to chew through an entire army without a scratch.
The quests, while a nice touch, didn't really have much "zing" to them, and they usually consisted of "go here, kill this", or "capture this city" or "build that building". Some actually feature penalties if you don't complete them.
Oh, there's also no multiplayer; it's a single-player game. But you know what? In spite of all this, I enjoyed my time with Warlock: Master of the Arcane. It's an enjoyable, addictive, light strategy experience, and the perfect way to kill an afternoon… or several.
GameDynamo's Score for Warlock: Master of the Arcane (PC)
A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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