By the time Paradox Interactive released one of its titles set in the Majesty universe game setting in 2012 the 4x genre was well established with the Civilization series and its latest iteration Civilization V serving as standard bearers. Warlock: Master of the Arcane takes many traditional elements made popular by these other titles and adds a strong fantasy combat aspect to it. Indeed, saying that Warlock is a ‘fantasy Civ V with more combat’ would be a pretty accurate summary of the game’s overall appearance and performance.
Warlock, despite its similarities, was not meant to be a Civ V clone but rather uses reliable mechanics of 4x play to facilitate its new concepts of fantasy adventure and conquest. Domestic management, particularly in the areas of ideology, policies, and great people are toned down or practically non-existent. The centrality and dynamics of military conquest takes a prominent, almost central role with each faction featuring its own unit and unique building roster and special Lord hero units appearing to add their considerable ability to a faction’s might. Spells also make a significant appearance, providing the only element that could be equated to technology as the spells must be researched before they can be used.
As with many 4x games the storyline is oriented around the characters that represent a faction’s leader, in this case the Great Mages. When selecting a Great Mage the player can view several paragraphs of biography and backstory. This ties into the in-game lore, accessible when clicking on the portraits of units, and to a lesser degree the narrator’s exposition when the player achieves victory. Aside from this there is little story to be found, with most of the in-world immersion coming from interaction with AI Great Mages and the exploring of the uncharted Ardanian landscape. While this does effectively limit the game to one mode in singleplayer and multiplayer this is not a major detriment to the enjoyment of Warlock. Just as in other 4x games the narrative is primarily crafted by the player. Players can even customize or create their own Great Mages by choosing a portrait, name, faction color, race, and starting spells or abilities.
Other prime elements of single player enjoyment stem from exploring Ardania and parallel worlds. With each new game resources, monster lairs, and neutral cities are randomly generated offering new challenges each time a new game is begun, ensuring that each race can be thoroughly tested before the process becomes routine. Sadly the AI is less lacking in staying power with limited diplomatic ability and generally simple (if sometimes effective) defensive tactics. The world’s monsters however form a vastly greater threat, particularly in pursuit of holy sites or rare resources in the parallel worlds.
Although multiplayer doesn’t exactly bring anything fresh to the experience of Warlock (aside from the obvious benefit of another human) the game is fairly easy on internet requirements. It’s turn-based play is sadly limited to the active player, no simultaneous turns are present, but as a turn-based game with little in the way of In-between-turn processes the game experiences little variance in bandwidth requirement. Unfortunately random crashes can be more common than one would like and frequent saves are recommended. Several patches have ensured that primary functionality are maintained so simply playing the game is unlikely to induce an error, yet with the release of Warlock 2 further multiplayer support is not to be expected.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane for all its flaws is a masterful first step in what could become a very entertaining and endearing series. Warlock 2 (which will be discussed later) follows in its steps with many improvements and gives great credit to everything Warlock served as a proving grounds to develop. Warlock’s games are lively, humorous, and for the most part fairly prompt with a fair amount of customization options for players to explore. Any 4x player, skilled or casual, who wanted to see fantasy and more combat in their Civilization games will be more than satisfied with what Warlock: Master of the Arcane has to offer.