by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Civ V meets M&M
Playing Warlock: Master of the Arcane is an odd experience, though not unpleasantly so. I remember seeing the first screenshots thinking “now that looks like a fantasy Civilization V” and I wasn’t wrong. Developer Ino-Co calls it a ‘turn-based strategy game set in the world of Ardania’, a gameworld known from the Majesty franchise. There is definitely a relation between Majesty and Warlock, but to me it feels more like the love child between Civilization and Heroes of Might & Magic.
From its Civ father, Warlock takes the hex based map and turn-based gameplay, and even some of its interface. Cities take up a hex square and have a colored bar that shows their name, population size and whether they are growing. Sound familiar? Wait until you start giving orders and go to the next turn, you will be wondering if you are playing a Civilization V ‘total conversion’ mod.
Gameplay is familiar. Your civilization spawns on the map which is shrouded by the standard fog of war, with new locations just begging to be discovered. Cities control the immediate hex tiles around them, overtaking additional tiles as they grow. Expanding your city is done by placing farms, barracks, guilds, markets and other buildings on the tiles. In the beginning, at least, you have limited building space. It takes a couple of turns for your building to finish but you can build new units and expand your city at the same time.
Undead, Human and Monsters, Oh My!
Units require upkeep though. How much and of what kind of resource depends on your chosen race which can vary between Undead, Human and Monsters. The upkeep for units of the latter two consists of a combination of gold and food. Playing as a Lich king means paying mana to keep them animated as well. Buildings are built without incurring a hit on your precious resources but they also require upkeep so resource producing buildings are likely to make up a large part of your real estate. But to gain access to higher level units, you may have to construct supporting buildings, so mixing and matching is needed for the optimum result.
With enough recruits you can start exploring the map. Much like its Heroes of Might & Magic mother, the map is filled with all sorts of treasures, beasties and special resources. Places of interest are often guarded. Some guardians can be pretty tough to defeat, requiring a veritable army to dislodge them from their hoard. Others can be swatted by a single unit, making a quick swipe of the prize – whether resource or loot – an easy undertaking.
Units level up quickly, gaining perks that allow them to – depending on their type – do more ranged or melee damage or be better equipped to deal with incoming damage of various types. Not all damage is done by units – some of it is magic cast by your very own hand. You will have a few spells available right from the get go and can research others as you progress through the research tree. Damage and health spells are obvious applications, but there are also spells to buff up your units and even a few to summon creatures to fight for you.
The preview build is an early beta, playable but still in a very rough state with tons of placeholder artwork and somewhat clunky controls. But even unfinished, it gives a surprisingly good idea of where the game is heading towards. It is an interesting concept, Civilization with magic, and I can’t fault Ino-Co for attempting a game along these lines. But to compete against Civ, the graphics will need to be beefed up considerably as at this time they feel plain and uninteresting, which was also the case with Majesty 2. If, on the other hand, they can make them sparkle and refine gameplay, this could be more than a mod. It could take its own place on strategy lover’s shelves.