on August 5, 2014
Warlock 2: The Exiled is a turn based strategy game focused HEAVILY on combat. You'll read in other reviews that it doesn't add much that wasn't in the first game ... and that's not entirely untrue, though that which it does add is potentially substantial depending upon how much you like to "tinker" with things. You'll also read that it is very similar to, or even a "ripoff" of Civilization V ... which is, in my opinion, a bit of serious misinformation.
True enough, the game LOOKS very much like Civilization V, borrowing unabashedly from that game's excellent interface. However, there are a great many things to micro-manage in Civilization V and it's predecessors. There is a focus there not just on building and feeding a war machine, but on growing an empire and keeping it's citizens happy. There are also apt to be periods where not very much is going on and your turn consists of simply hitting the "Enter" key.
Warlock 2, by comparison, has precious little of this. Yes, you need to build a network of cities and mine resources from them. But the mechanisms for doing so are much simpler, and you will be mining resources SOLELY for the purpose of feeding your growing war machine. Moreover, since you will likely ALWAYS be in conflict with someone or something, you will rarely, if ever, waste a turn by just hitting the "Enter" key. It is a COMPLETELY different experience.
You'll start by choosing a "Great Mage". This is the in-game "you" for all practical purposes, and depending upon your choice, you'll start out with various abilities that make you unique. These could be spells that will immediately be available for you to cast without research, special units or buildings in your domain, increased abilities to mine food, or gold, or mana, etc. There are quite a few magi with interesting back stories to choose from, and if you don't like any of them, you can also "roll your own" by choosing your own combination of starting abilities. Each "perk" is assigned a number of points based on perceived value, and you're allowed to have any combination you like -- so long as it doesn't exceed 10 points.
You can also choose from several game types and allowed victory conditions. New to this version are "Exiled Mode" and "Battle for the Outplanes". Exiled mode is a somewhat scripted adventure where you start on a tiny world, or "shard", and must make your way through several other shards (of various sizes, terrains, etc.) to get back to your homeland of Ardania. Along the way, your nemesis "The United One" will send various perils in your path, and you will also encounter rival magi ... who could be friend or foe depending upon their overall demeanor and your interactions with them. Battle for the Outplanes provides random maps that include all of the various shards, but without the scripted adventure. You're free to set a victory condition from the standard choices of 1) Anihilating the other magi, 2) Capturing 50% of the holy grounds (special resource tiles that can be scattered across the many shards), 3) Defeating an Avatar (when you become so fervently aligned with one god, his divine opposite will become so ticked off that he'll take on the form of an in-game unit and seek your destruction) or 4) Cast the Unity spell, which is available for research only after you've mastered practically every other spell in the game.
You can also play the old game, without all of the shards, but I actually think they are a huge improvement. In the first game, I would always disable every victory condition except the Holy Grounds. This forced me to explore all of the other worlds, and to find a way to deal with their very poweful inhabitants ... who offer a much greater challenge than the AI controlled magi. The Outplanes and Exiled modes force you to explore the map regardless, so artificially limiting the terms of victory is unnecessary.
Inside the game, you'll explore your surroundings, make friends with some neighbors, conquer others, and continually strengthen your army in pursuit of your chosen victory goal. And you'll also learn many powerful spells along the way to aid your army's efforts. Can't mount an attack because the city is on an island? Raise the land around it to create a bridge your armies can cross. Or, cast spells that allow your units to walk on water, or even fly! You'll find new and varied ways to wreak havoc on every randomly generated map. The spell research interface is another of the game's improvements. There are pre-defined trees for different schools of magic. Unfortunately, there are only two (Wizardry and Sorcery), but they provide a good visual path to any particular spell you're trying to learn, such that you never feel like you're "wasting" research on a spell you'll never use. The random way that spells became available in the first game was interesting (because it forced you to research and use spells you probably would not have otherwise) but sometimes wholly unfair, as you could potentially gain a game-changing ability very early.
You'll also expand your empire by building new cities, but with a new twist. In the first game, there really wasn't any good argument for NOT creating or occupying a new city every time the opportunity presented itself. More cities = more resources = more power. But there is now an "optimal city limit". It can be gradually raised through spell research, but you'll really need to pick your spots. Seeking out prime locations (close to special tiles that enable the construction of unique buildings) is more important than ever.
In all, it makes for a rather unique and enjoyable 4X experience. The Outplanes and Exiled modes are interesting, there are a couple of new races and building types, and there are plenty of new monsters. (Watch out for Shadow Dragons!) If you absolutely loved the first game, then there's probably enough that I've mentioned already to merit a purchase. If not, then by all means don't overlook the game's greatest new addition ... the Mod Editor.
With this fabulous toy, you can create new magi, new units, monsters, entire races, etc. It's fairly simple to grasp, and some of the contributions (all free) from the community already are quite impressive. If you're the type that likes to tinker around under the hood, or even one who just likes to enjoy the creations of others who do ... it' s right up your alley and easily the biggest reason why this game is better than the first.
There are some problems, though. Chief among them ... the AI. It is, in some respects, noticeably better than before. It understands terrain, knows how to support melee units with ranged support, and will (in the early game) often frustrate you as it builds some surprisingly well designed and complete cities right alongside your own. Eventually, however, the AI's crushing weakness (absolutely no idea how to run an economy) will rear it's ugly head and you will reign supreme. It can build a decent city, complete with all of the advanced buildings necessary to wage a good fight. But it can never seem to hang onto enough gold to actually hire the more powerful units. So in the beginning, when you're both butting heads with tier one infantry and ranger units, it's engaging and challenging. But as you grow, and move onto buffed heroes, temple units, advanced rangers and infantry, etc., he'll still be sending hordes of low level fodder at you ... until finally it will remind you very much of the battle scene in the movie Avatar, where hordes of the native inhabitants were attacking huge Gun Ships with rocks and spears! At this point, your battles with a hostile neighbor will prove more tedious and tiresome than challenging, and you'll feel compelled to wipe him off of the map just to rid yourself of the annoyance. Thankfully, however, the game presents many challenges beyond the AI magi that are more difficult. I won't spoil the fun by revealing too much here, but the fact that you've managed to put King Rat or King Lich in their places, or even run them off the map entirely, doesn't automatically guarantee success ... not by a longshot.
The second glaring weakness is the complete lack of a manual ... not even in PDF! Unheard of for a strategy game, and extremely disappointing. There is (finally) a fairly decent guide online, which I would highly recommend downloading, printing, and keeping by your side while you play. There are enough little things to remember (like what resources are available for a particular type of special tile) to where this will significantly enhance your experience. In addition, there is an online Wiki covering both the first game and this one that is also helpful. It still doesn't take Paradox off of the hook, but considering how much time I've spent playing this game of late, I can't really take a star away ... because I'm obviously enjoying myself immensely!
If you were a fan of the first game and like to tinker. Buy it! It's worth it for the editor alone. If you spent many hours playing the first game because it's unique mix of 4X and fantasy just worked for you, pick it up also. This game builds solidly on that foundation, surpassing it in many (albeit subtle) ways, and figures to get even better with contributions from the mod community. On the other hand, if you bought the first game but didn't really buy into the magic ... then enjoy it for the sub $20 bargain it was, and wait for this one to drop in price. Because you're likely to be among the "there's not enough here to merit a full game purchase price" crowd.
And finally, if you're new to the series altogether, and excited by the prospect of mixing a little wizardry into your 4X, then this game, not it's predecessor, is probably the right place to start. It's most popular criticism is that the two are too similar, but this one IS better, and is still being actively patched and improved ... both by Paradox and the mod community.
on August 12, 2014
First off, Warlock, Masters of the Arcane was a GREAT game - it loads and runs every time without problems. Never had a problem with loading save games and very few issues with over 1000 hours played. Warlock 2, not so much. The save games are in the Steam Cloud not on your hard drive - the game has to "Synch" with the Cloud before every game start, which can take 4 or 5 minutes with my internet connection. There is a way to disable this in Steam, which I assume changes the saves to local, but mysteriously, Cloud Synch is re-enabled every time I start the game, and the save game files from my previous session are gone. If you play up to around 100 turns and save every turn, you may find when you try to load a game, the save game file cannot be found. Then if you try to load an earlier game, it can lock the game up. Deleting each old save individually to free up Steam space is a pretty tedious process that never had to be done in the past. The gameplay is a bit different from the original, a little more challenging, and the spell research tree is cool, so if they can ever get the bugs out, it might be a good game, but at this point (53 hours played) I really consider this game a major step backward.