It’s virtually impossible not to describe Warlock as Civ with wizards. And basically that’s exactly what it is. It’s a turn based hex strategy game that replaces Civ’s lust for diplomacy and economic stability for a combat focused style. With wizards.
Being new to Warlock I really found the first few hours to be quite a drag. I told myself that once the tutorial was done I’d be able to enjoy some freedom and get on with the game. On my first playthrough I was left completely stuffed by the time the tutorial had ended. I couldn’t fit any more cities in my starting area. I couldn’t push through to a different area because I would receive a sound thrashing from the local wildlife. I had no expansion options and my population growth was so slow that I couldn’t construct a single building without waiting many, many, turns. It seems completely backwards that population growth can only be altered by building new cities, which are limited by the space you have available, and buildings which you can’t build if you don’t have enough population!
Admittedly that was my first go and first goes never go well on turn-based strategies that are new to you. But it frustrated me that my only option was to sit there and watch as my lame attempt at an empire was destroyed by a few meagre bandits. I wouldn’t want Warlcok’s content or strategy reduced but when trying to learn the game there very quickly comes a point were it throws everything at you all at once even though you’ve only just figured out what everything in the HUD actually means.
Rather than a usual research tree Warlock presents you with various spells and such for your wizard to learn. There’s a nice progression to learning new spells and each is split into distinct classes so you can focus on whatever play style you want. It is a little frustrating that the AI seems to come ready equipped with various spells they can use to assault your towns with. Early on another wizard can change tiles into water or reduce lush hexes to nothing but desert. All this happens around you as you wait turn after turn just to learn a spell to repair the damage – or at least that’s a position you could be in.
It’s a difficult balance between keeping a game strategic and appealing to its existing fanbase and making it accessible to new players. Personally it wasn’t that I found the learning curve particularly sharp but everything the game has to offer is pushed on you in the first 20 or so turns. But then thinking back how much support did I have when I first played a Civ game?
And there’s certainly loads of different things to do in Warlock. It’s very rare that you’ll be sat there clicking ‘next turn’ constantly as you wait for the only left to do to complete. There’s just too much to do for that to happen. Between building and managing cities, raising armies and fighting battles and trying to outwit your wizarding foes you’ll have little in the way of free time.
And the combat focus is clearly what separates Warlock from Civ. Battles were never really Civ’s strong points although I always found them entertaining. Warlock’s battles follow a similar logic and use almost exactly the same mechanics except there’s more of them. But the era doesn’t change. The only real difference comes from the spells your wizard can cast.
You can choose to increase a units defence, haste them, heal them or whatever else you can find in the more than comprehensive spell research tree. It really is impressive and crammed full of stuff that you can actually use to effect. Considering you can even alter the map with some of them they’re both comprehensive and empowering. When you need to get an army past an obstacle it’s refreshing to decide between levitating it across water or creating land for them to walk across. If there’s a mountain in the way flatten it. It’s cool but can get frustrating when the AI just bombards you with late level spells, seemingly, earlier than is possible.
A major difference between Warlock 2 and its predecessor is the use of shard worlds. Each player gets their own mini-world to start on and to travel between these small islands your units need to travel through portals that can be found on the map. It’s a nice way to break up the campaign and allows for tougher enemies early on with the security that players can retreat back to their home world and relative safety as they build up an army or complete research or whatever. Although it’s worth pointing out you can alter this in the options when you’re setting up a game if you want a more ‘traditional’ large map.
Visually speaking Warlock 2 is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a turn based hex strategy game. The effects on the spells and animations when you alter the terrain are great. The cities and buildings are nicely stylized and some of the worlds are fantastically vibrant. Lush forests areas are particularly nice. But there’s nothing likely to wow or astonish.
The battle between Civ and Warlock is long and complicated and I’ve been battling it out in my head for some time. My main gripe with Warlock 2 is the combat heavy nature of gameplay and the super weapon style spells, which is exactly how it sets itself apart. I never liked super weapons, even back in the Westwood days so the spells don’t really appeal to me. And by far my favourite part of Civ is the fact that combat is important and can be integral but you can also completely ignore it and there’s plenty to do besides.
Warlock streamlines the gameplay to revolve around combat, but then seems unsure of itself and adds city building and complex research to the mix without adding the infrastructure to support them. I couldn’t help but feel that much of the depth and strategy of everything besides combat is lost in Warlock 2. I’m not really sure why Warlock isn’t just a turn based RTS rather than trying to add mechanics that are counterintuitive to a combat focused game.
But, if you want turn based hex combat and feel like all the ‘strategy’ is just filler that gets in the way, Warlock 2 is a definite choice. But frankly for less money on steam Civ V gives you a much more comprehensive game that allows you to focus on combat if you want to. Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two but Warlock clearly takes its inspiration from Civ yet seems to offer much less content. If Warlock had made more of an effort to step out of Civ’s impressive shadow rather than trying to mimic its exact shape I could see it as a game in it’s own right but it’s just too similar not to compare. To focus on combat would have been fine but Warlock 2 tries to do everything at once and focus on combat. As such, Warlock 2 feels like a turn based RTS with loads of content forced in that doesn’t really enrich the experience.