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Review

Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review (PC)

In which werewolves wear top hats.

I haven’t played a strategy game for a while now. I’m a big fan but it’s difficult to find the time to devote to conquering the world in a single game when it can take so long. The biggest test when it comes to the genre is whether or not the game can make you do it without even noticing the time pass. The first time I played Warlock: Master of the Arcane I played for six hours without even noticing.

Warlock is a strategy game that immediately calls up a comparison to Civilization 5 due to its hex-based map. It’s very much in the same vein, right down to units that level up, city screens to manage your cities from and different leaders to play as. Where it differs most is the inclusion of magic and magical creatures, bringing a comparison to Master of Magic due to the combination of spells and strategy gameplay. You earn mana like you might earn gold or research and can use said mana to cast spells, heavily influencing the game. A well placed spell can completely change the outcome of a war, give a city a much needed boost or reinforce your defense.

Info:
  • Publisher: Paradox
  • System: Windows
  • Price: £14.99
Let’s start with the basics, though. Before starting, you choose your difficulty, map size, number of enemies and your great mage, of which there are 12. Your choice of mage is mostly cosmetic as all perks and starting spells can be customised before starting the game by spending your 10 points on a list of options, some costing more points than others.

When in-game, you manage each individual city via its city screen, which is accessed by clicking on the city, naturally. A city’s size is measured in levels that increase once it reaches a certain population, at which point you can construct a new building in the city. The building you choose must be placed on the game’s map itself – that is to say, they take up space on the map rather than everything being contained in one tile.

There are numerous types of buildings, from farms and marketplaces that generate food and gold respectively, forts/magic towers which can attack enemies who stray too close, and some types that can only be built on a specific resource. A gold mine can only be built on gold, for example, or an Order of Stubborn Knights can only be built on donkeys. Building certain buildings will also allow certain units to be trained in that city – an obvious example is the Order of the Stubborn Knights, which allows you to train Stubborn Knights, as you’d expect.

Other buildings also unlock perks which, once the building has been constructed, will allow you to upgrade any units that the perk applies to with that perk in exchange for some gold, as well as automatically giving that perk to any new units to which it is applicable. You can also upgrade any units you had previously to a more powerful version should you unlock one by constructing the correct building – the Noble Werewolves, for example, can be upgraded to Court Werewolves for 600 gold (that’s quite a lot of gold) once you unlock Court Werewolves with the necessary building.


The game is rather pretty both graphically and aesthetically
All of this combined with the perks gained from unit levelling results in what is quite a different system to similar games when it comes to combat. Rather than having masses of units to attack your enemies with, it’s actually far more beneficial to have fewer units that have been upgraded, levelled up and decked out with perks.

My favourite unit in my first map was a group of Court Werewolves that started life as my very first Noble Werewolves early in the game – they ended up going from dealing around 20 damage when I first trained them to around 76 damage per hit, which was inflated all the way up to 107 damage against cities thanks to the brilliant ‘city fighter’ perk. Those werewolves, some Fire Elementals and a couple of groups of Old Trolls ended up being the most powerful units on the map because I used them to capture almost every city from two different great mages.

As you can no doubt tell, wars in Warlock revolve around keeping your units alive and improving them wisely, especially since your troops can’t be stacked on the same hex. Thankfully, you can use some rather nifty spells to achieve this. Along with the basics like healing and resistance boosting, there are also spells that will give a unit elemental damage, more movement points (to move them around the map more quickly), even convert them to flying units so they’re no longer hampered by terrain.

Then there are the offensive spells, from the obvious things like fireballs and thunderstorms to draining an enemy mage’s mana supply into your own or weakening their units. Not all spells can be used immediately, though, some can take up to three turns to be ready, and there’s always that ever-present need for mana holding you back.

Mana is handled in the same way as gold and food: it’s generated every turn and affected by upkeep. Upkeep is the gold/food/mana being used per turn to maintain your army and buildings. Different units or buildings use different resources for their upkeep – undead units, for example, only use gold and mana as they have no need for food (they’re dead, after all), whilst mana generating structures tend to do so at the cost of gold.

The way in which food is handled differs slightly from the other two resources – any unused gold or mana is simply stockpiled so it can be used to spend on hiring/building/summoning, whereas food is handled simply as a positive or negative figure. If your food supply is at zero you are using up exactly as much food as is being made every turn, if it is negative you are not generating enough food and if it is positive, you are generating more than you are using (the extra food is turned into gold). When a city isn’t creating enough food to sustain itself the rate at which it grows will diminish considerably.

Research is used to research spells and the amount of research you generate affects how quickly they will become available. Like the other resources, it is increased by constructing the relevant buildings. The biggest problem with research is that there doesn’t seem to be a tech tree; rather, the options you are given tend to be quite random, so it feels like it’s missing some linear progression. You just have to hope that a spell you want is available for you to research or you’ll just have to choose one at random.


My Court Werewolves were my favourite unit throughout my first game. They wear top hats.
This might all sound quite complicated and, to be fair, it would be if the game didn’t present it to you so well. On the right of the screen there is a next turn button, except that it’s not a next turn button until there are no more tasks left for you to complete. Pressing this button will take you to a task that must be completed, whether it’s choosing the next spell to research, giving a unit orders and building something in a city, the game will do everything it can to ensure you don’t forget to do something. This is incredibly helpful, especially when you own half of the map and are juggling multiple battles, managing 20 cities and fighting off monsters. There is a small bug where it can direct you to something you’ve already done, and every once in a while the button says ‘end turn’ yet still directs you to another unit to be moved. Relatively inconsequential, but certainly worth patching in the future.

The monsters are part of the map, they’re supposedly neutral but going anywhere near one of them will definitely result in having to defend oneself against them. These neutral monsters can consist of everything from low power human rogues or archers to vampires or ogres and generally the bigger they are the more you want to avoid them.

Greater fire elementals are especially powerful and should be avoided should you be unlucky enough to encounter them early into a map. Some neutrals roam around the map, others defend neutral cities (very useful to capture early in the game to expand your empire) whilst still more defend portals to other worlds. These other worlds can be very dangerous but also very rewarding if you decide to venture into them. Full of resources and monsters, they’re accessed by sending a unit through a portal once you discover it on the map, provided you can kill the enemies that are likely to be nearby.

Pros

  • Engaging strategy that is well executed.
  • The three races offer distinctly different play styles to each other.
  • The wealth of magic completely separates it from any other similar games.
  • Well textured and good looking throughout, at least as far as a strategy game can be expected.
  • Levelling troops over time can result in a feeling of devastation when you lose them.

Cons

  • The spell research seems to be relatively random.
  • A few small bugs.
  • Currently no multiplayer but it is due to be patched in at a later date.

Warlock actually took me by surprise. I haven’t enjoyed a strategy game quite this much since I first played Civilization 3 and it’s been a long time since I’ve been pulled in quite so much by one. Though it has a few bugs there are few recent strategies as satisfying as this. At £15, the game is an absolute steal and definitely worth playing if you’re a fan of the genre.

Score: 8/10

You can buy Warlock: Master of the Arcane from Steam for £14.99 or GamersGate for £14.95 (activates on Steam).

2 Comments
  1. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    I’ve downloaded the demo, but am yet to try it out. I thought it was a bit pricey considering it has no MP, but glad to hear that will be patched in.

    Comment posted on 17/05/2012 at 10:08.
  2. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Makes me want to enjoy these types of games but I simply can’t. Still… lovely review and the title of the game (and artwork) caught my attention on Steam not a single day ago.

    When I finish Legend of Grimrock, I must write something nice up for it. Great so far.

    Comment posted on 17/05/2012 at 12:39.

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