Civ-like strategy stripped down to all the good stuff

The comparisons are inevitable so I’m just gonna go ahead and make the obvious one right at the top: Warlock: Master of the Arcane owes its entire existence to Civilization. There. That’s out of the way. And while the comparison is inevitable and warranted, that doesn’t mean Warlock is some cheap rip-off. On the contrary, it basically takes all the best parts and melds them into a fantasy wasteland where throngs battle each other over land and sea. In a civilized turn-based fashion, of course.

Set in the fantasy land of Ardania, you’ll taketo the hex-based grid to raise your cities, build your army and take over the world, either by treaty or, if you’re like me, warfare. Starting a new game gives you the option to include more than one parallel world, and adding more than one essentially means you’ll have multiple maps to manage. You can also choose how many other enemies will be fighting over the same area. The more of either one that you add the more hectic it gets… exponentially more hectic. In my first match I set up one “world” and three other factions and the game lasted for only hours.

You have to build up your cities to build your units. To get the most out of your cities’ production potential they should be set up to specialize in either mana production, farming or gold mining. Cities can also be maximized in unit production as well but I always found that the units I could get from the other specializations to be competent enough.

Your combat units all take up an entire hex space, with no more than one unit allowed per space. If you set a multi-turn path of travel for a unit that is blocked or near unpassable terrain, they will always take the long way around. I found myself never setting long courses of travel for almost every unit, since you can not cancel a command once it’s set in motion. Combat shifts and turns quickly and constantly, so you never want any unit nailed down for more than a turn.

The interface feels familiar and conveys the game’s massive amount of information very well. I particularly like that there’s a button on the bottom right of the screen that you can continue clicking to focus on actions that need your attention. Whether a unit needs a command, whether there’s enemies at your city border, or whether it’s time to learn a new spell, you’ll never be able to end your turn without completing everything available to you. The only thing you’re not prompted to do is build more units, which is a shame since they’re the lifeblood of success.

 Master of the Arcane

 Master of the Arcane

Make no mistake, Warlock is a time-sink. This type of turn-based combat is stripped down, but remaining is a healthy chunk of strategy warfare that will keep you glued to your monitor for hours at a time. That “just one more turn” attitude takes over and never lets go. In a game like Civilization, there’s a lot of things to manage every turn. Here, you won’t be researching fine art or advancing through thousands of generations. You’re fighting your foes, building your cities, or exploring new territory to settle all in the name of being the last faction standing. If you’re looking for something deeper than that? Don’t come ’round here.

To me, however, it’s not the lack of depth that presents a problem. That’s a great, freeing aspect! My biggest problem with Warlock is how hard it is to get a leg up on your enemies. The game is on a strongly swaying pendulum that makes it hard for almost anyone to run away with a match unless the other factions severely screw up. A couple matches I played for quite a long time had me feeling like I never truly made enough progress to fully win.

While Warlock might not do as much as some of its contemporaries, it does pure, unabashed combat extremely well. Watching a swarm of rats attack a huge ogre never gets old and you’ll want to make that happen over and over again. Any game that can glue my butt to the desk chair and make me forget (or completely ignore) my responsibilities is doing something right.