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PC Review: Warlock II: The Exiled

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Roughly last year, Paradox Interactive gave us a taste of turn based strategy with Warlock: Master of the Arcane. The game suffered from pacing issues and it struggled with bad conveyance. The art and atmosphere was still great because it belongs to the “Ardania” universe. A franchise that has been around for years and game iterations range form RPGs to Tower Defense to TBS games. Taking place directly after the events of the first game, Warlock 2 planned to fix the early problems with the first game and add a more simplistic approach to 4X Strategy. The final product? Let us just say early problems still exist, but the game does a lot to compensate.

The worlds have been shattered, and you have been exiled to one of these shards. The time has come to return to Ardania and seek vengeance on those who cast you out. Battle through the fractured realms inhabited by other exiles, hostile Mages and terrifying creatures. Once back in Ardania you will face your greatest threat: The United One and his four Vicars. Conquer all who oppose you, reclaim your home and take your revenge.

The single player story is very much what you would expect. It is not super deep, let alone have any sort of character interaction. Much of it is told at the start of the game to give you a setting. From there you just play the game and see the ending. There is not much to say about it. While it isn’t bad, it certainly lacks some kind of substance to get you to actually play the singleplayer. I mean, let us be on honest. In games like Civilization and Age of Empires, did you actually play the single player campaign? No you just booted up multiplayer or skirmish and played to your heart’s content. The same goes for Warlock. The option for a single player is nice, but it feel unnecessarily difficult.

ss_08c7b06cc3026208ac41fe91994546015a607613.1920x1080Everything is randomized. In singleplayer you start off with one town and a few units. On more than one occasion I started with not only a gold production deficit, but half my town was on some kind of hazardous terrain. Thus requiring me to use extra resources to build on land that barely gives me any benefits. Sure, there are spells to use so you can make the land habitable, but more often than not, you are using spells against your enemies rather than terrain altering spells. Since your main goal is to destroy, the odds of you not building a militarized nation are pretty slim. The game feels like the computer is always ahead of you and that you will never catch up. When I befriended a fellow warlock in the campaign I saw that this person had about 12 towns by the time I was barely able to scrape together 5.

You can’t seem to win in Warlock II. If you focus on population production you lose out on a lot of gold and will most likely go negative. If you try to get out of the deficit your citizens become unhappy due to food shortages and meanwhile you are still trying to replace the troops you are constantly losing to boss level enemies that take multiple turns and units to defeat. This is when you go into a mana production deficit because you couldn’t balance out the right buildings. In the middle of all of this mayhem you are still expected to amass massive amounts of units and explore multiple planes to find the next objective.

The game also feels like it is too big. I crossed roughly 6 portals in the standard map size and I still couldn’t find a queen that had access to a spell I needed to cast so some a****** would stop casting debuff magic on my cities. There was one instance where things swung my way, but it was because I got a nice roll and my first town placement had nothing but positive hexes.

The actual gameplay is pretty good, and a healthy improvement from the first game. Everything is explained better at the start of the tutorial so they do not throw too much at you in the beginning. City growth feels a bit too unbalanced though, so it becomes a challenge to create new buildings for new units. Everyone else is getting stronger while your armies seem to plateau. The addition of magic in a 4X strategy game changes a lot. For example, lets say some high level monsters appear when you try to cross a portal. Odds are, your units will not be a match for these enemies, you can use attack magic to deal free damage onto them. This way your units can easily finish them off with minimal casualties. This highly depends on the mage you choose though. Some are great for battles, others are more for units buffs or town growth. While the game plays a lot like Civilization, the addition of magic usage drastically changes the way Warlock II is played.

ss_2a113686a1a090abd5470ca9f06e61b09acca5b7.1920x1080Skirmish and Multiplayer modes are the real ways to play this game. They play just like the campaign except there aren’t random elements from the computer that will stunt your growth for 30+ turns. These modes are more free-form while singleplayer feels too constricted. There is more than one campaign too. The Exiled (aptly named) is a different way to play Warlock II having different side quests and a different storyline to follow. Essentially, you play the other side of the standard campaign.

There are a lot of other mechanics I did not speak about in this review, but there is a risk of this review being too long. City production and growth is highly improved from the last game and it feels familiar. Every mage you choose has different starting units, buildings, access to hired swords etc. Some are harder to start with than others.

Warlock II has a great art style behind it and the visuals are vibrant when they need to be and grim when it matters most. Despite the crippling difficulty and unfair AI play, Warlock offers an interesting challenge for strategy players. Despite the frustration I had while playing Warlock II, I still had fun playing the game. I give Warlock II: The Exiled a 7/10. This game is certainly worth your money. You can pick it up on Steam now. 

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