It seems like yesterday when there weren’t a lot of strategy titles to choose from in the gaming market. But all of a sudden, we’re now spoiled for choice once again, at least in the 4X turn-based strategy side of things. We have yet to wait for real-time strategy to get its fair share of new awesome titles, but 4X has been getting good stuff lately, including the announcement of Civilization: Beyond Earth, as well as this game.
Warlock 2: The Exiled looks a lot like Civilization V, as well as the recently-released Age of Wonders III, right down to the hexagonal grids and the core gameplay. Developed by the good folks at Paradox Interactive as the sequel to Warlock: Master of the Arcane, this is their take at a 4X strategy game with fantasy elements. Most would think that such a game that is so similar to its counterpart that was released 10 days earlier would be inferior, but that may not be the case with this one. It’s not as much of a copycat as it is a worthy rival.
It’s not like Paradox Interactive doesn’t know what it’s doing since this genre is well within their niche anyway. They have franchises like Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, Victoria, and Crusader Kings, which are all grand strategy titles that are all about depth and complexity. But with this though, most of its basic mechanics do play like that of Civilization V, from the various phases of each turn to the interface itself. The differences though lie in the magic and other fantasy elements employed in gameplay. While that may make it similar to Age of Wonders III, the difference is in how the fantasy themes are handled.
You start a game in the same way by picking map parameters and difficulty. However, instead of picking a nation, you get to choose a Great Mage, as well as his/her special abilities and spells to start things off. Aside from going up against other Great Mages, you are also tasked to take out the monsters that still roam the land after the events of the first game. There are also various places and events that you may encounter as you explore the land around you, like mystic portals, cursed landmarks, and so on.
Once you get into a game, you’ll notice that the map is not one giant sprawl, but a series of islands connected by bridging portals that you must activate and control to send units to other islands. You can then expand by establishing new cities in those islands and further your reach. There are also special resources that you can take control of and gather, which brings about a need for resource management. If you are able to have an optimal number of cities and harvest a lot of these special resources, then all the rest is just gravy.
As far as the spell researches go, it shows quite a bit of focus as you have only two trees to choose from. You get a limited amount of researches, so you have to choose carefully as those that you don’t get would later become permanently unavailable. It gets more interesting though with your choice of deity to worship, which gives you powerful bonuses that should suit the strategy and playing style that you’ve chosen to go for in that particular game. You wouldn’t want your researches to be too spread out; focusing on a certain set of spells is best.
You go up against various races like dragons, goblins, the undead, and many others. These different races don’t only have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they also interact with the environment in various ways. Some races will find it difficult to traverse through certain types of terrain more than others, which brings a whole new dimension of strategy through the use of wherever you may be in. You can then apply what Sun Tzu said about terrain in the Art of War, wherein knowing about the capabilities and limitations of both you and your opponents can help you outsmart them in various ways.
Aside from the usual singleplayer skirmish-style mode, you also get to play through the Exiled Mode, which is something like a campaign mode with quests strewn throughout the map. There is also an option to play custom campaigns, so you may be able to play whatever the community comes up with later on. This all adds up for the replay value, although clicking on that campaigns button in the singleplayer menu does result in disappointment from people who are playing the game for the first time as it comes up empty.
While Age of Wonders III sought to stretch the imagination with the breadth of its fantasy themes, Warlock 2: The Exiled is a bit more focused and stays grounded on the foundations of 4X strategy while using magic as your technology tree that binds everything together. If you want more after playing yet another mini eternal war on a Civilization game, then Warlock 2 is a good enough alternative for 4X fans. If you want something with a bit more originality though, go for Age of Wonders III.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 8/10