It may not have one of the more recognizable franchise names, but Warlock 2 is going to be a great game.
2012's Warlock: Master of the Arcane, was a little-known fantasy strategy title published by Paradox Interactive - Click here for my review of Warlock from back then. At first glance, it's a skinned Civ V, complete with one-unit-per-hex combat balanced with city management. Once you played a few games of it though, the depth of the spell research, AI and deities of Warlock - not to mention the endless customization options - was refreshing. The team put out some content DLC which added features and story elements like more quests and heroes, but they were also working on a sequel made with a new graphics engine. The result is Warlock 2: The Exiled, which I got to play for two hours last week at the Paradox Convention.
I wanted to play all night - they had to pull my crooked fingertips away from the keys to "eat dinner". The fools. It's that kind of addiction-inducing gameplay that makes this a war game, despite the sometimes humorous tone.
"Warlock II is a serious game, but light-hearted," said Jorgen Bjorklund, Senior Producer on the game from Paradox Interactive.
The background concept for the new default play style called "Exiled Mode" of Warlock 2 is simple. One of the Great Mages of Ardania betrayed the others of the council and shattered the world into several shards. You play as one of the exiled, starting on one of the easier shards, and you have to fight, colonize and explore your way through portals to the other shards to get back to Ardania, defeat the bad guy's henchmen, and reclaim your homeland. The mode is an interesting twist to the 4X model with a finite goal in place rather than a flat map with 3 or 4 possible win conditions.
The sequel also looks much better than the first Warlock. Particle effects and animations are smooth, and the various worlds look and feel very different. Every tile of the jungle world, for example, is teeming with vegetation and life, while the swirling snow of the ice world is as foreboding as the ice trolls which lob boulders at your forces. There is a lot more variety in enemy units in Warlock 2 - you'll be attacked by double-headed dragons and giant turtles.
Luckily, you also have a lot more tools at your disposal. The spell research system has gotten a lot more predictable - instead of the randomness of the first game you can select the spell you want to research next. There's also a bit more of a progression, as the more you research in a specific branch, the more advanced blessings or damage dealing spells become available. You'll find glyphs in the world which you can attach to spells for a more devastating effect, usually with an increased cost of casting time or mana.
You can also recruit some truly amazing forces to fight for you. Early on in my play time, I randomly received a quest - mini-story popups, usually with a few choices in how you complete them - and the reward for completing it was a magical purple dragon that could breathe lightning. I saw another player recruit a massive clockwork golem to fight for him. I'm looking forward to playing around with all of the options of the six total races in the game, an upgrade from the three available in the first game.
If the shard-to-shard play style doesn't sound appealing, you'll still be able to play Warlock 2 on a large single map and take out your rivals to win. The team also updated and improved online multiplayer for the sequel, so it will theoretically be possible to crush your friends with a well-timed fireball spell. If you actually like your friends, well, there's also an online coop mode available to work together to crush the other great mages.
Finally, the sequel will offer full SteamWorks support for mods, and open up nearly everything to the modders to change to their hearts' desire. For a game that's already fully customizable, the mods are going to be crazy.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm jazzed about this game. It's got all the things that push my buttons - turn-based tactical play, fantasy tropes, quirky tongue-in-cheek writing. Look for it to come out on PC this Spring!
And this trailer is pretty funny too: