Warlock II: The Exiled – Preview

Warlock: Master of the Arcane was one of those games that just got better the longer it was out. At release it felt somewhat uninspiring, but over time it saw a number of patches that enhanced and polished the game enough to generally realize the fundamentally good idea that was born decades before with Master of Magic. Developed by Ino-Co and published by Paradox, Warlock was a slow burn. But by the end I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth.

If I’m honest, I was a little surprised — though not unpleasantly so — to discover there was to be a sequel.

Since the announcement in October of 2013 — an announcement which came with with delightfully cringe-worth tagline "Pure Hextacy" — I found myself increasingly interested in the development of Warlock II: The Exiled. In this iteration we find a fractured world, where you play as an exiled mage seeking to traverse between the broken shards of your world in order to get back home, and in the process defeat a powerful mage responsible for the cataclysmic destruction.

It’s an interesting take on the original game, but there was good reason to wonder if the sequel would come out of the gate having learned the lessons of the first release, or if it too would need its own time to percolate. Well, I’ve had a week with a full preview build of the game, and I think I know the answer.

You don’t, as a rule, want to lay down a lot of declarative statements in a preview, because who knows what may change between now and the April release date, but what I’ve seen so far of Warlock II is highly encouraging.

At its heart, the most basic mechanics of this hex-grid, turn-based strategy game are familiar whether you played the first Warlock or not. If you played Civilization 5, then you come to this game pre-equipped with all the basic requisites to quickly grasp most of the concepts presented. City-building, army controls, tech development, combat and city management will all be relatively familiar, though Warlock II has its unique little spins on all of them.

Fundamentally, the sequel lands close to the mark set by the fully realized first game, largely upping the ante in the ways you might expect. There are more spells, more land types, more monsters, more options and, in general, more variety. But this version feels further down the track of the same ideas expressed in the first Warlock, and as a result plays cleanly right out of the gate.

The shattered world mechanic both encourages and enhances the sense of world exploration while giving you a feeling of ownership and progress. As you acquire and control landmasses, the segmentation gives you lots of small steps to follow toward success, and so even though you may only really have 2 of the 10+ worlds controlled, it feels like progress, which is nicely motivating.

The shards do feel a little small at first, and it can be easy to feel cramped on a single land mass with more than 3 or 4 cities, but the game is also somewhat stingy about letting you build up an empire of volume rapidly, and tends to frown on mages that build a dozen cities. Apparently mages aren’t particularly great urban administrators, and besides it probably wouldn’t be all that fun as a player to manage so many cities across multiple landscapes, each on an independent world. I’d much rather be casting spells and sending dragons to fight Krakens on the open sea of my tropical world, or my minotaurs to smash some skeleton archers on the dead fields of some other hellish landscape.

Warlock II knows where its bread-and-butter play is at. For a spellcaster that means having cool spells to sling at evildoers, and this game is always encouraging you to do just that. The familiar tech trees of 4x games is here about spells and spells only. You won’t be asked to make heart-crushing choices between learning a cool fireball or being responsible and investing in some mundane technology to better manage the water systems of your empire. Presumably, as a mage, you hire someone to worry about things like plumbing; you have things to set on fire!

What I’m most pleased with in this iteration of Warlock is how dynamic it feels. There is rarely a moment where I don’t have 3 or 4 different short-term goals I’m trying to accomplish. As a result there are interesting things to do on almost every turn, and those things were far more often of the "protect against some rival mage" or "kill that weird, giant, armored turtle thing" type than the "manage some spreadsheet screen" type.

Warlock II has a delightful sense of fun to it that makes the game feel much lighter without being silly. The visuals are colorful. The different landscapes, which range from great fields of ice to a burning hell-world, add a layer of variety. The questing mechanics give you interesting things to do at a nice pace to fit in between the already interesting things you were probably doing. There are oodles of spells to play with, and equally as many different kinds of creatures to fight through on your long path across the multiverse back home.

Warlock II is shaping up to be a serious strategy game that avoids the trap of taking itself too seriously. While far from easy, it does a great job of rewarding you when you do something right and giving you good reasons to keep pushing forward — or at least start a new game — when you do things wrong. It is in almost every capacity a step forward from its previous iteration, a game I already thought was fun despite its flaws. From all indications, it will be a game worth carving out a nice chunk of time for.

Comments

Colour me interested. This is the first I'd heard of a sequel.

Although the first game felt a bit wonky, I did enjoy the dozen or so hours I played it soon after release. I did know about a sequel being made, so it's good to hear that it seems to be an improvement over its predecessor.

With Age of Wonders 3 just around the corner I don't know about this. Terrible time to release these games this close together.

Two very different games, aside from the fantasy elements. It's Heroes of Might and Magic compared to Civilization.

I don't know if I'd call it "hard-core" strategy. The AI was never particularly great, and eventually your heroes would get so powerful that they could steamroll any army that the AI players could put up against you.

But it was really great for me because it matched the way I play these types of games, which is less competitively and more narratively. For instance, on a Civ game way way back, I found my Egyptian civilization postioned on a massive lake. Clearly, my civilization worshipped this lake, and would not tolerate any unbelievers on its shores. I managed to put cities about halfway around the lake before running into the Russians. The subsequent war did not go well for me. But I've always found this kind of scenario more engaging than the somewhat accounting-centric gameplay of more competitive Civ players. And Warlock appeals to this kind of play. Here are your heroes, driving back Ogres on the frontier. Here is the city of arms, where all armor is forged and the military is trained. Here is the city of minotaurs, the city of magic, the market city by the sea. Warlock's resources give its cities so much more character than most 4x games.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to this one.

How different is this to Fallen Enchantress ? There are parts of FE legendary heroes i love, especially the RPG like skill trees for your heroes, such a great combo with a Civ type strategy game. What i don't like is the crashes, the hard to decipher production/food/magic side and the somewhat cheesy and low quality graphics. Will Warlock2 scratch this itch i wonder?

The first Warlock was one of my favorite 4x games. It feels a lot more tactical than strategic. I'll be looking forward to its release.

@Brownypoints: Warlock is different than FE. The hero and inventories weren't in the original Warlock but added later. It is not nearly as complete as FE's implementation. FE has much more RPG elements to it with the strong tie to hero led war parties vs. Warlock's non stacking armies. I found Warlock's resources obvious and easy to manage (gold, mana, food, research pts).

Where Warlock is certainly weak is the "tech" tree, in the form of new spells is limited to 6 randomly picked spells. There isn't anything more to it than that. You can get different and more advanced units from special tiles or conquering a different race's city.

I liked FE's RPG elements but I played a lot more Warlock.

Where Warlock is certainly weak is the "tech" tree, in the form of new spells is limited to 6 randomly picked spells.

Warlock 2 is very different in this regard. Much more of a tech tree, and much more control of the direction you want to pursue.

Will this finally be a good reincarnation of Master of Magic? So many disappointments over the years decades.

Keithustus wrote:

Will this finally be a good reincarnation of Master of Magic? So many disappointments over the years decades.

That is the $64,000 question.

There certainly have been many attempts to capture that lightning in a new bottle that have, in one way or another, come up short.

Will this finally be a good reincarnation of Master of Magic? So many disappointments over the years decades.

Honestly, if that's how you are likely to go into it -- and I'm not criticizing, I've done similar -- then no this probably won't live up to the decades-long legacy you've built. It's a good game on it's own, but it's not one I'd put up against a shadow of a colossus.

I think we should try to get over the past.

There will never be another Master of Magic. Ever. Repeat that however many times you need to, until you believe it, deep in your heart. Then go enjoy other fantasy-based 4x games on their own merits.

Or go play Master of Magic. You still can.

If we could do the same for MoO/MoO2, we might enjoy these types of games more.

tboon wrote:

I think we should try to get over the past. There will never be another Master of Magic. Ever.

I would have thought the same, but with all the new development of 2D TBSs on iOS nowadays I have A New Hope.

tboon wrote:

Or go play Master of Magic. You still can.

No I can't; the sound effects and resolution are lethal.

Keithustus wrote:

Will this finally be a good reincarnation of Master of Magic? So many disappointments over the years decades.

I'm curious: what is it about Master of Magic that causes every other Fantasy 4X to fall flat? I can barely play it for various reasons.

Open-ended character/magic selection + 4X world/city/army building + good turn-based combat. There were several races with their own unique units, which when combined with the various schools of magic meant a lot of replayability.

"Empire" on iOS touches a bit on it, as do various incarnations of Elemental and Warlock I, but nothing has had the same mix.

Keithustus wrote:

Open-ended character/magic selection + 4X world/city/army building + good turn-based combat. There were several races with their own unique units, which when combined with the various schools of magic meant a lot of replayability.

I always thought Ages of Wonder was a pretty worthy successor. The latest version - Shadow Magic - was very good. While the campaigns were never very interesting, playing on a random map was always fun.

I have high hopes for AoW III.

I sometimes wonder if the "magic sauce" for MoM and MoOII was their 'broken' nature. In the world before the ubiquitous internet it was great fun to try and 'break' a game. "What combination of all these options give me a 'win button'"? I don't know if this theory holds water, but if it does I wonder if it can ever be replicated.

The multiplayer fantasy 4x wonks love them some Dominions. Dominions is often held up as *the* fantasy 4x and it seems it's because of the metagame of putting the pieces together before the game as much as the game itself.

I don't really know about Dominions as I could never get into it and I have no desire to play multiplayer strategy games.

Carl

As an aside I see that Dominions 4 is on sale on Steam....

Carl

carljetter wrote:

I don't really know about Dominions as I could never get into it and I have no desire to play multiplayer strategy games.Carl

The AI is strong enough to play a decent single player game. Very hard to get into - so many different ways to go that it's overwhelming.

I'm enjoying Fallen Enchantress which provides an interesting tension between RPGing your heros Vs PvE Vs PvAI. My only (minor) criticism is that leveling up the heros is a lot easier and quicker than advancing military or civil tech.

Is the AI improved enough in Warlock II? In the first, it was poor at best. You'd watch it try to handle a dozen ships, and it would move one forward one movement point, then do the same to another, then another, then move the first one back to its original spot, then grab a fifth to move just one movement point, and so on, and so on. It was so bad I'd deliberately avoid having scouts overlooking any AI fleet larger than three ships, if you couldn't see it, it went much faster (but still as poorly). Tactically, it would occasionally make sound moves on land, more often if it was trying to swarm outlying areas, but it couldn't handle a strong push into its territory. Strategically? It just didn't handle strategic planning at all.

Spell casting, the AI did horribly with - very poor handling of buffs, either casting them or dispelling them. After a while, I learned to handicap myself by avoiding the use of any spell that altered the terrain - raising, lowering, replacing.

Overall, the AI was bad enough that I couldn't justify buying the DLCs, so if the AI in Warlock II isn't significantly better, then I see no reason to buy it.

Elysium wrote:

Two very different games, aside from the fantasy elements. It's Heroes of Might and Magic compared to Civilization.

Which on is best compared to Civ? I want to play that one!

What's the verdict on Warlock II? Has anyone picked it up? Thoughts? How does it compare to Warlock I? Better/worse/different?

Cheers,
Carl