+ Hex-and turn-based mechanics
+ Beautiful fantasy world
+ Solid Artificial Intelligence
- Limited information on magic system
- No multiplayer mode
- Limited story elements
Final score: 8 / 10
Controller support: No
Windows XP or Vista or Windows 7
Pentium IV 2.4 GHz processor or equivalent
1 GB of RAM for Windows XP and 2GB for Windows Vista and Windows 7
700 MB of free hard drive space
ATI Radeon X1800 or NVIDIA GeForce 7800 graphics cards
The most important things I learned while playing Warlock – Master of the Arcane are: never forget to fire spells, as long as you have the mana to spare; lava lands tend to mean tougher enemies are around; never try and use a world portal without having a solid power base to rely on.
Warlock – Master of the Arcane is a turn-based strategy game developed by Ino-Co Plus and published by Paradox Interactive that is uniquely suited for any gamer who has an interest in fantasy and a love of deep strategy challenges.
The concept behind Warlock is simple: eliminate any kind of developer-created narrative but give gamers the tools to create the worlds and the enemies that will then interact with their choices in order to tell new, interesting, exciting stories that emerge organically.
The world of Warlock is that of Ardania, also used in the majesty titles and their spin-offs, and that means a range of fantasy concepts that are sometimes played straight and sometimes subverted with humor or irony.
Although there’s no set story in Warlock – Master of the Arcane, it’s worth taking some time when playing to read the various descriptions, especially those for units, mainly because they create a great fantasy atmosphere and because they give interesting insights into the way the world works.
Warlock – Master of the Arcane is a game about strategic and tactical warfare, with magic thrown in to help balance the scales and a fantasy world for gamers to explore and understand.
There are some similarities to Civilization V, but for Warlock the focus is on frontline battles, with city management limited, although important, and spells and upgrades designed to allow gamers to expand their array of tactical options.
Only one unit can occupy one hex in the game at one time and that makes battles both interesting and highly tactical, although at times newcomers might be frustrated by the relative power of the various monsters that litter the world.
If for the first number of turns a Greater Fire Elemental is the biggest challenge players get, once rival mages are found, the difficulty creeps up as enemies launch incursions, skillfully defend their own territory and sometimes annihilate large armies with just one smart move.
The core innovation that Warlock – Master of the Arcane makes is linked to the Artificial Intelligence. It just about lives up to that name and can usually give the player a run for his own money, on the Challenging setting (where it gets a few small bonuses) for the more experienced gamer and even on Normal for the one who is trying out Warlock for the first time.
The Artificial Intelligence is best on the defensive, where it has no problem holding a battle line and launching sharp counterattacks when they see an opening.
I made the mistake of underestimating the AI of Warlock and there are armies of dwarfs and knights now turned to dust to prove why that’s a bad idea.
On the offence, the computer is not as smart and sometimes tends to miss clear targets, like lightly defended cities, and it has issues with using magic effectively; but the simple fact that it puts up a solid defense means that Warlock is superior to a lot of its competitors in the turn-based strategy world.
To succeed players need to pay attention to their economy, use upgrades when possible and make sure that one turn does not pass without firing off a spell.
For the humans the core choice is between food and gold, with the former allowing human wave attacks that focus on quantity while the later allows a limited number of units to get upgrades that allow them to become tougher on the battlefield and act as force multipliers.
Both strategies are valid, but they also have weak points and a lot depends on the particular setup of each game map and the initial distribution of both enemies and natural resources.
Warlock – Master of the Arcane is not as complex as it seems at first sight, but there’s a lot to like about its design, from the way if puts everything in the service of the actual military aspect to the joy of battling a number of foes that are smart enough to make the player pay for his own mistakes.
I would have liked clearer information, in the game, about the various resources and special areas that each map holds, and a little more innovation when it comes to the effects of the player controlled spells would have been appreciated as well.
But, as long as players remain aware of the limitations Warlock has when it comes to diplomacy and city management, this is one of the best turn-based strategies I have played since Civilization IV and a good spare time activity for the fantasy lover.
Graphics and audio
Considering that this is a game sold for less than half the price of an AAA release, Warlock – Master of the Arcane looks impressive, close to matching the look of Civilization V, the high-profile turn-based strategy from Firaxis.
The similarities between the two can be seen in the design of the hexes and the bright colors used throughout the interface; yet Warlock moves more into cartoon fantasy territory with the design of the various units and cities and with the spell effects.
The User Interface is also well designed and informative, making it easy to know what the player can do during each turn while keeping track of the various units and cities and their priorities (which can get a little tiring towards the end game).
I would have liked to see a simpler way of accessing the various enhancements that can be added to the units, because I have a feeling that many players will miss them tucked in near the portrait of the units and might never access one of the most interesting features of Warlock – Master of the Arcane.
The sound design is impressive when it comes to voice work, with each of the units responding to clicks and orders in a manner that feels similar to how units in the first Warcraft titles did, with a mixture of bewilderment and annoyance that is easy to love.
The music is more generic and can become repetitive, but this is a game about tactics and monsters not an atmospheric role-playing game where the soundtrack is an essential component of the experience.
Warlock – Master of the Arcane currently lacks a multiplayer game mode, which is somewhat baffling considering that the experience seems to be tailor made for Play by E-Mail and for hotseat.
The development team has said that they are working on adding multiplayer to their title, but at the moment there’s no clear launch date for it and no details have been offered on what kind of experience it will offer.
Warlock – Master of the Arcane is something of a rare beast: a well-put-together, engaging, just-one-more-turn strategy game that sells for less than half of the price of an AAA release.
I’ve already spent 50 hours with Warlock and plan to losing more time (and sleep, if you can believe it) to it in the coming weeks and months because it’s the perfect experience for those who love the Civilization series but cannot work with the limited intelligence of the computer opponent of the most recent release.
Warlock – Master of the Arcane lacks the depth of other titles, yet the development team at Ino-Co Plus was careful to use its resources where they would have the biggest impact and they created an experience that delivers both strategic and tactical challenges and that makes it easy to control resources and use units.
This feels a lot less 4x than your typical affair. But the developer did a laudable job of cutting the uninteresting bits to give us a compact yet well-rounded package. The game sits somewhere between a full-length 4x like Civ and an RTS in terms of gameplay. So don't expect a 550-turn marathon as you'd expect from a Civ game. I think Warlock plays best in a small and hence shorter game setting. Get into Warlock with the right mindset and you'll be rewarded with a fun strategy session. Expect this to be a Master of Magic spiritual successor and you'd likely be disappointed. A lot of reviews give Warlock a down check partly because of the alleged lack of depth. Good thing this one doesn't.