Warlock: Master of the Arcane, the latest Turn-Based Strategy offering from Paradox Interactive, has been released on Steam a few days ago. I had a great time with the demo, to the point where the game had to wrest the controls away after two hours because I was *far* from done, and I subsequently immediately pre-ordered it. Because I had so much fun with it, and to mark the couldn’t-arrive-soon-enough release date, I’ve decided to chronicle my first full game in text-and-screenshot form. Hopefully, I won’t fail immediately and spectacularly — although that would be amusing all by itself — and hopefully, I’ll be able to convey why I enjoyed this game as much as I did.
The Conclave of High Priests had risen in rebellion, and Ardania stood on the brink of chaos. But the Great King, in his infinite wisdom, united man and monster, and recovered the Crown of Ardania. And for a while after, all was well in the world. But then the Great King took his armies, took his Guildmasters, loyal Lords and High Priest, and marched over the Northern mountains. None have heard from Him, since.
With the disappearance of the Great King, the fragile peace quickly shattered under infighting and civil war. After seventy-four years of war, only the Council of Great Mages held any semblance of order, ruling over the lands of Ardania with their fearsome magical power. That was when the Gods came, and laid down their decree: to restore the mortals’ thinning faith, Ardania must once again be united under one ruler. The Great Mages, while certain one of their number should take this position, were unable to peacefully select a ruler, and it was decided that this matter could only be settled through a contest of might.
Now war once again wracks Ardania — hopefully, for the last time — as the Great Mages of the Council prepare their might and marshal their forces, ready to find out who among them is most worthy to rule… who among them will gain the title of Warlock: Master of the Arcane.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane, for those of you not up to speed, can best be described as an homage to Master of Magic poured into a Civilization V mold, then force-fit into the Majesty series setting. If you’ve played Master of Magic, you’ll recognize the basic idea and influences; if you’ve played Civilization V, you’ll instantly be aware of the controls, the UI and various rules and paradigms used; and if you’re played any Majesty game, you probably won’t be terribly surprised when King Ratt XLII shows up and expects you to treat him with respect.
Like its Civvy influence, Warlock doesn’t have any campaign or story mode. There’s no scenarios or challenges to speak of, either, nor is there any multiplayer: Warlock: Master of the Arcane is all about the regular single-player ‘start to finish’ game. Want a story? Tough luck. Make your own story.
I think I will do that, thank you very much.
Setting up a game goes in three steps. First, you select a difficulty. Now, I like to think I’m a certified badass when it comes to gaming, but the fact of the matter is I got burned pretty badly when, playing Civ V for the first time, I decided to just crank the difficulty up to like the second-highest setting in my first game. That… didn’t work out that well. So for Warlock, I’ll just go with the standard difficulty level. Not too easy, not too hard, let’s hope.
Second, you define your world. There’s a small number of options to set, here: general world size, map type, number of opponents and number of ‘other worlds’. World size is pretty self-explanatory, and influences both how many opponents and how many other worlds you can select. I opt for a Large world. Map type makes you choose between a Flat map or a Cylindrical one; assuming that the latter allows continuous east-to-west travel (the manual is a little silent on this), I select Cylindrical. I choose four rival Great Mages, which is the game’s suggested player amount for a Large Map. Finally, I decide upon four other worlds. In Warlock, you can find portals to other worlds in your travels: these portals allow you passage to these other worlds, which often contain rare resources and riches… and incredibly strong enemies. And once a portal is awakened, it’s a two-way connection. More portals means more amazing things to see, but also more danger. The game recommends three portals on a Large map, but I’m a sucker for cool sights and stupid, self-inflicted dangers. So four it is.
Lastly, you define your Great Mage. Now, Warlock comes pre-loaded with a selection of twelve pre-defined great mages, each with a race, a colour, and several perks and spells; and these are often already pretty cool. I mean, you can play as Wizard Santa…
…a rat king, complete with regal attire…
…a librarian with terrible fashion sense…
…or even a two-headed wizard dragon.
But me being me, I’ll never be content with playing someone else’s character. Luckily, Warlock makes creating your ‘own’ wizard pretty easy. You áre confined to using one of the pre-determined character portraits, but everything else is all yours to play with.
For my character portrait, I have to think long and hard, but… no, that’s a lie. Go up to that first picture, at the top. See that angry-looking wizard pimp? That’s Miralbus the Hat, supreme leader of the Mages Guild and the Council of Great Mages, and you can wear his face in this game. C’mon, tell me I made the wrong choice. I dare you.
Race is another easy one, for me. Warlock gives you a choice of three races: either Human, Goblin or Undead. Now, Human is right out, because a) that feels like the boring ‘default’ choice, and b) I already played with the Humans in the demo. Now, I usually like Undead, but… well, they’ve become a bit boring over the years, haven’t they? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: skeletons, zombies, bats, vampires, vampire bats, mummies, necromancers, black spikey architecture, green crystals, purple-hued death magic. I can practically dream the generic Undead faction of any game by now, and frankly I’d be up for a change up pace. So, by process of elimination, I’ll be leading the Goblin race this time.
Finally, perks and spells. Warlock gives you ten points with which to select any combination of starting perks and spells. Now, on the one hand, this is probably a weighty decision that strongly influences your play style and final results. On the other hand, I feel like just picking whatever appeals to me most and going with that. I’m particularly interested in how the Gods work in this game, and there are eight options representing starting favour with (and a free associated faction spell of) one of the Gods. For six points, I pick Helia, the sun-goddess, because lazing around in sunlight is one of the things I like best in life; this grants me a orbital flame strike spell and some starting favour. The remaining four points I put into the Researcher perk, which grants me +3 Spell Research per turn. I have no idea how important this will turn out to be, but I’m a sucker for playing the tech-heavy factions in games like this. Slow and steady might win the race, but rushing up the tech tree always gets you the best toys first.
So there we have it. Jarenth, pimp-hatted wizard leader of the Goblin race, sun-goddess enthusiast and researcher extraordinare, is ready to take the world of Ardania by storm. That world, and any other world I might encounter. Let’s do this.
I start the game, and after watching a slow loading screen go by…
…the screen flashes white, then fills in the colours, and I find myself looking at…
I swear I’m not making this up.
Next installment: I get my bearings in the land of Ardania. I probably won’t lose in the first few turns, now will I?