Warlock: Master of the Arcane Preview (PC)

First things first – Warlock: Master of the Arcane isn’t finished. As is customary with preview builds, the game’s presented in work-in-progress state. Much of its interface is missing and it still needs a healthy dose of graphic optimisation. That said enough of Warlock exists in a playable state to consider how Paradox’s latest Turn Based Strategy title is getting on.

Yes, you’ll draw the comparisons with Civilization V. At first glance, you’d be forgiven thinking it’s an official mod. It does indeed share a great deal with its well known cousin, but in reality there are large differences between the two.

Alton Towers expands its rides

Where Civilization V focuses on alternative histories and past races, Warlock transports the player to a fantasy realm filled with goblins, spiders, giants and ratmen. If Games Workshop had created a Civ-inspired strategy title, this would be it.

The setting itself is familiar (although who nowadays hasn’t played a fantasy game or watched Lord of the Rings) and you already know how to play, due to the elements gleaned from Civilization. Hexagonal movement, city founding, science/research trees – it’s all here. It’s worth reiterating the point that comparing it to Firaxis’ series isn’t intent of offense. Furthermore, even if the inspiration was intentional that doesn’t suggest the game’s lacking in creativity.

After all, Warlock isn’t a simplistic fantasy reskin – the developers have created an entirely new game from a tried and tested strategy staple. Every unit’s been measured in relation to others and while some balancing is still necessary, the rock-paper-scissors approach so common with TBS titles is proving to be as competent as any of Warlock’s competition.

Despite the fantasy, Warlock feels oddly fresh. You’d think we’d be feeling fatigue towards Tolkien-esque source material, but the different genre gives it a breath of fresh air. The overload of historical and WWII TBS games have meant there’s a real void of fantasy titles, especially those that handle the strategic elements so well.

In Warlock, city management offers real depth for customised realm expansion but unusually presents itself in a way that’s extremely simple to understand. The same goes for combat – a wealth of factors are calculated when two units come up against each other, but it’s never hidden from the player. If you lose a unit, it’s because it was under strength or up against an opposing unit that was always going to win. This means you quickly learn what’s effective, how to utilise your forces and what the best way to play your chosen faction is.

Research also gets a magical overhaul. Obviously you’re not researching nuclear power or chainmail. Instead your realm’s intellectual expansion comes in the form of spells, (all of which can be combined with enchantments), for improving combat chances and supporting your warmongering. Resources are equally fantastical – there’s no uranium or iron – it’s more of a case of harvesting pumpkins and donkeys. Yes. Donkeys.

The ash cloud grounds Fantasy Airlines yet again

As previously mentioned, Warlock does require some graphic polishing, but even in its current state, there’s enough there evaluate its visuals. Landscapes are broad, and when you’re closer particularly striking. The same goes for units – they’re lovingly created and contain real character. For a genre that’s often focused on menu screens, statistics, and information, having a world that so alive is welcome.

At the moment, Warlock is shaping up to be a solid strategy game that appeals to both strategy veterans and new genre enthusiasts. It’s likely to stay under the radar of most till release, but if the quality follows through to release, it might make a bigger splash that most would expect.

Most Anticipated Feature: Giants.

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By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Jan 10, 2012
Please don't be a bug-riddled mess!
By Kres (SI Elite) on Jan 10, 2012
Looking forward to this one!