Warlocks Don't Quite Master Magic, But Are Fun

My last major game binge time has gone to Warlock: Master Of The Arcane.   72-hours worth, as it would happen - not too shabby!  I wonder if TotalBisquit has done a "WTF is" on it... oh, hey, he has!

Well, seeing how TotalBisquit has already exhaustively described the game in the above video, I suppose I'll just give a summary and mention what I find so noteworthy about this game.

Warlock: Master Of The Arcane is a 4X game in a fantasy setting where you're a wizard ruler trying to win against other wizard rulers.  Just like the ancient-yet-legendary 1994 PC game, Master of Magic... except not.  Warlock is a lot more streamlined.  There's no artifacts, no hero units, no schools of spells (although a few unique "divine" spells if you're more affiliated with certain gods), and combat takes place on the main map.  Basically, Warlock has less depth but faster pacing and (as it should for a game made so much later) better graphics.

Yet, despite Warlock falling short of many nerd fantasies about a perfect Master of Magic successor, it succeeds where it is important: here is a really fun and addictive game.  Warlock nails creating a cycle where you just want to keep hitting that "end of turn" button in order to see what happens next until you realize you are up far too late at night.  There's a goodly amount of customization to how you want the random map to generate like.  While it is (currently) only single player, the AI is actually fairly fun to play against.  The unit balance feels on-target and there's a fair amount of meaningful decisions to make each turn.  All prerequisite traits in a really solid game of this kind.

Unfortunately, something happens when a game is good enough: the player starts to care enough about the game that any little niggling flaws it has becomes that much more pronounced in their mind.  I've found Warlock has quite a few of these flaws, mostly along the lines of minor interface bugs, dumb behavior holes in the otherwise stellar AI opponents, and a number of minor desired features.  Some players have observed that, while other games of this genre may feel reasonably different for each game, each game of Warlock generally plays out the same.  I agree: it seems like, in every game, you're basically just upgrading elite units and steamrolling the opposition.

While Warlock is significantly more refined than a lot I have played, it has awhile to go until I'd call it perfect, and this is why you'll see a metacritic rating in the 60s for what's otherwise a marvelous waste of time.  I'm crossing my fingers the developers get around to fixing most everything I found wrong with the game while they add the promised multiplayer feature.

In the meanwhile, my experiences with Warlock have interested me in the fantasy 4X genre again.  Though I own both King's Bounty games, and they are excellent, that narrow "Heroes of Magic and Magic" approach isn't quite the same.  I find the Disciples series rather odd: it's pretty, but balanced strangely, to the point where I'm not entirely sure how to succeed in the game.  I've been casting a wistful eye to Age Of Wonders: Shadow Magic, a very solid 2003 take, and am sorely tempted to buy it for $10 off Steam.  A much more recent contender (2010) was Elemental, but it was a neigh-complete pile of ruin, the kind of release that has the CEO apologizing about.  Now, two years later, Elemental: Fallen Enchantress nears release: a remake that should be excellent if they manage to fix everything that was wrong with the original.


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