- Format: PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Developer: Ino-Co Plus
- Players: 1
- Site: www.warlock2.com
Turn-based strategy has certainly seen a lot of contenders in the last few years, mostly due to Civilization V showing that the genre could be made both accessible and yet still interesting to its legion of stalwart fans. Warlock 2: The Exiled is the latest challenger, Ino-Co Plus and Paradox Interactive aiming to make its mark on the genre in this world-spanning title.
The game features every customisation option you would want, beginning with two difficulty sliders; one for the level of challenge you wish to face, the other to set the frequency at which enemies creep into the world. Naturally, you can change the size and shape of the world, customize your warlock, and how many – and even which – rivals you’ll face. This overwhelming menagerie of options could have done with a shortcut – a “Quick Start” option, perhaps – to entice journeyman strategists before throwing them in the deep end.
Exiled mode ostensibly tells the story of our Warlock’s journey to make his way home and vanquish the United One, an ominous entity with an army of ancient evils on his side, though you’ll probably gain victory by killing off his lieutenants first. Sandbox mode does away with both the goal and the limited scale in favour of setting your own goals and taking on up to eight rival Great Mages across a maximum of seven worlds, each of which can be much larger than the claustrophobic maps of Exiled Mode. That one’s probably for the veterans.
It’s impossible to discuss a large scale turn-based strategy game without comparisons to Civilization, since a lot of them have fallen into the trap of feeling like little more than a mod for that game. Warlock 2 is instantly familiar and features everything you’d expect: all the city and resource management, hex-based movement, politics, and religious choices are all there and functional, this time with a fantasy twist.
Spells play a huge part in Warlock 2, often making the difference between being run out of your own city or invaders fleeing from their own ablaze buttocks. There’s also a surprising variety; while there are a number of magic missiles and healing cantrips, your Warlock of choice can also imbue their troops’ weapons with elemental power or breathe new life into the farms.
Warlock 2 borrows from other genres in search of new things. There is a party system similar to that found in an RPG, allowing you to recruit solo Lord units to command. Unfortunately, you can’t do anything special with them aside from equipping artefacts to increase stats, making them little more than regular units with higher health and damage values, occasionally with a spell you can learn on your own. A real missed opportunity; had recruiting the rat prince given you access to summoning a swarm of plague-ridden vermin for example, it would have been a worthy addition.
Each map features a gate between “Shards,” a splinter of a new world containing anything from a desert landscape manned by giant bugs to a lich-ridden wasteland. This is little more than a glorified level progression, and while this lends the game a huge amount of diversity, each one is so small that they might as well be combined into a single map. There’s a very strong sense that the game lined up these mechanics with great potential, then backed away when the time came to pull the trigger on them.
Even with this diversity the game is aesthetically dull, once again pulling from high fantasy to create designs that evoke absolutely nothing, perhaps symbolic of Warlock 2’s biggest flaw: Its struggle to carve any kind of identity for itself. It rests upon the multiple-world concept like a crutch, plucking overused fantasy tropes and mechanics from the vast well, becoming an insipid and generic parody of the genre instead of a respectable entry. Even most of the writing reads like the kind of cookie-cutter novel you glance at before apathy quickly overcomes you.
The game shows some brief life during the opening, in which a Sean Connery parody outlines the bare-bones plot of the game, and in (an unfortunately scarce number of) the character biographies: A tongue-in-cheek vibe similar to Discworld, itself a parodical mish-mash of high fantasy but one with a key component – humour. Had this been applied to the rest of the game – and there is plenty of room to do so – it would have given the gameplay some much needed flair.
The editor grants access to crafting just about anything: Maps, campaigns, enemy units, and playable characters are all there. Those familiar with editors should have no problem using it, and it’s laid out well enough that newcomers can make sense of it.
Fans of both turn-based strategy and fantasy might find some value in Warlock 2, though it would be permeated by the very strong impression of treading on well-worn ground. Dissatisfying, borrowed mechanics and a derivative world culminate in a rather rote and tiresome product.