"Once I started to engage the game and got further and further towards my ultimate goal of defeating the opposing Great Mages I found that the game does more than enough to separate it from its inspiration."
Imagine having to manage entire cities across different planes of existence. Imagine the thrill of victory as you deal crushing blows to your enemy while your forces continue onwards into yet another realm. You begin to explore and continue on your way, finding new territory and coming closer to your ultimate goal: conquest. Suddenly a dragon appears in a realm you thought safe. He attacks your main city, breathing fire and fumes while it lays undefended. What would you do? You have an entire library of spells you’ve painstakingly researched, but your mana is low and you can only use a handful of them at once. Do you send your troops racing back, or summon a horde of the undead and hope that their weak skeletal frames will be enough fodder to keep your city alive while it builds up defenses. Of course, if those options don’t sound appealing you could always make the sky boil red with brimstone until it rains down in waves, leaving you victorious but destroying parts of your painstakingly built city…
This is the world of Warlock 2: The Exiled, a turn-based hex-grid strategy game developed by Paradox Interactive. On its surface the game appears to be exactly like Civilization V meets Age of Empires, but once I started to engage the game and got further and further towards my ultimate goal of defeating the opposing Great Mages I found that the game does more than enough to separate it from its inspiration. It takes the idea of researching technology from Civilization and spins it just enough to feel different by instead focusing on multiple trees of magic.
"There are other differences that go beyond just the addition of magic, though. Overall the game prides itself on constant involvement in combat."
There are many different trees of magic that can be explored. Some allowed me to focus on laying waste to all that opposed me, some let me support and reinforce my armies with healing and summon spells. Some let me change the territory around me making it easier to pass, and others gave me an opportunity to create more resources to help my cities thrive. The options are overwhelming, but I was forced to learn to measure want versus necessity because I quickly discovered that Warlock wouldn’t allow me to be a jack-of-all-trades without losing a lot of my effectiveness.
There are other differences that go beyond just the addition of magic, though. Overall the game prides itself on constant involvement in combat. You’ll face menacing hordes of wolves, giant beetles, trolls, turtles, dragons and much more, but the catch here is that combat isn’t always traditional. You see, Great Mages are the primary enemy in this title, and the ultimate goal is to defeat them and reclaim your power. Great Mages constantly attempted to overwhelm me with brute force, not hesitating to throw minions at me all willy-nilly, but occasionally I was forced to deal with other annoyances. For instance, I faced a Great Mage that just casted a random spell every 3-5 turns until I could locate a spell he had never heard of. This had me fending off constantly evolving terrain, floods and monsters. The spells affected my ability to produce resources, slaughtered random units and created impassable terrain that I would have to deal with before I would be able to continue. As frustrating as this battle was, I found myself truly engaged by the idea, and I wouldn’t stop until I found the necessary spell.
"Given the fact that the game only allows for one unit to travel through each portal at a time I found that it was sometimes hard to amass forces and keep them alive long enough to deal with the threats on the other side."
Moments like this are when Warlock 2 shines and I can promise you that these types of smart out-of-the-box engagements are littered throughout the game’s campaign, which is now titled Exiled mode. This mode is a sandbox of sorts, but it won’t just allow for idle play. It constantly forced me to push forward to deal with the threats of the three Great Mages, offering incentives to conquer new territory and spread out my armies to their breaking points. Instead of one large map, Warlock 2 had me jumping through portals to other realms. Each realm is randomly generated and features different terrain types and threats. I had a blast exploring each new realm and learning how to manage my forces while using the new maps to my advantage, but occasionally the randomly generated territory became a huge source of frustration. There were several times when I would enter a portal and find that I was surrounded by impassable terrain with enemies on all sides ready to pick off my units at a moment’s notice. Given the fact that the game only allows for one unit to travel through each portal at a time I found that it was sometimes hard to amass forces and keep them alive long enough to deal with the threats on the other side. It hardly seemed fair, but given this occasional steep level of difficulty it was a rewarding experience when my frustration was alleviated by victory.
"Overall, in spite of some frustrating annoyances due to randomly generated terrain, I loved the time I spent with Warlock 2."
Warlock 2 places an emphasis on variety, both with spells and units. Each building offers up new and inventive ways to upgrade your armies so that they can be tailored to your play style, and when combined the ever evolving spell trees players can change their experiences substantially with each play through. I didn’t play the first Warlock, so I can’t comment on the changes made from the first to second, but as a new player I quite enjoyed the level of depth and strategy that Warlock 2 presented.
Overall, in spite of some frustrating annoyances due to randomly generated terrain, I loved the time I spent with Warlock 2. I haven’t played with all the different mages yet, but if you’re anything like me then that will be the reason you come back again and again. Don’t let its Civilization appearance fool you into thinking that this is just a copy of what you’ve already played, because the game is brimming with character and strategy fans ought to find enough challenge and replay value to keep them entertained for a long, long time.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC