Warlock 2: The Exiled (PC) Review
Posted by Marc Morrison on 04.18.2014
411mania’s Marc Morrison explores the 4X world of Ardania in this sequel to an underappreciated game. See what he thinks of the sequel inside!
Title: Warlock 2: The Exiled
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Ino-Co Plus
I’ll admit, I was excited to see the announcement of Warlock 2 when news came out about it. I was a huge fan of the original Warlock, it had a great mix of 4X gameplay, essentially being a magical version of Civ 5 with much more of an emphasis on combat and attacking cities. The original game had some rough spots though, the magic system was unwieldy, the diplomacy options were shallow, and in a large sense, there wasn’t any story, or point to the game, outside of just crushing your foes. Warlock 2 hopes to redress some of these issues but it also adds a few ones to the mixture that make the experience feel weird.
Warlock 2 is a 4X game where you try to build out your empire through conquest, diplomacy, exportation, and research. At the start, you’re given a basic city, a few basic units, and are told to start building something new in your town, as well as to start researching a spell. The units you can send out to scout around your general area, hopefully finding a monster’s lair (which you can loot) or finding another city you can eventually take over. Turns go by, enemies spawn, research is done with spells, buildings unlock upgrades for units and additional specialized buildings, etc. etc. etc. If you’ve played a 4X game in the past decade or so, this all feels very familiar and old hat.
Warlock 2 sports two modes on the main menu, Exiled and Sandbox. I’ll start with Sandbox first (since its better), but both modes generally start out the same way. You pick a difficulty level (ranging from relaxed to impossible) and can change how often you want monster lairs to spawn. You can then pick the world (or universe in Exiled) size, and how many other great mages you want to deal with. In Sandbox, you can also dictate how many portals you want there to be in alternate worlds. Finally, you chose a character for yourself, which dictates the starting spells and species of your town. The original Warlock just had three: Humans, Monsters, and Undead. Warlock 2 has double this with: Humans, Undead, Planestriders, Monsters, Arethi Elves, and Svarts. Each character (around 15 or so) has different attributes and specializations to them. One character might be good at generating research and have a few spells at the start, while another might generate gold quickly and have the ability to create artifacts for your units. Or you can just scrap this idea entirely, and create your own custom character set up, with a few traits from a menu.
One incredibly nice upgrade to the game is how you conduct research. In the old game you had a five point star, with random spells being offered on each end. Once you completed a spell a new one would slot into its place, but the remaining four would still be there if you wanted to peruse them. The problem with this system is that it was all randomized. You wouldn’t get the most powerful spell in the game at the start, but some spells were definitely better than others, and if they never showed up, it could make the game a slog to get through, until one of them eventually appeared on the star.
In Warlock 2 though, there are just two simple research trees you can follow: Wizardry and Sorcery. There is a third tree, Divine Spells, but you need to have a certain amount of reputation with a specific god in order to cast them. Both Wizardry and Sorcery spells can do a variety of things from enhancing your troops, direct damage spells, improving your own character with permanent buffs, spawning units, or even terraforming the land around you, making it barren or fertile, and changing the height of it. You’re given around 7 or 8 spells to research in a given tier. Once you research 4 of them, you move onto the next tier (of 4). You can go back to earlier tiers to learn additional spells also; it just takes time and research.
The quest system also returns in Warlock 2 which can keep you motivated as you play. Quests usually involve simple things like killing a specific monster, taking over a city, building a specific building in your city, etc. Most of them are fairly doable and net you rewards of gold, or mana. The quest system is currently a little borked in Exiled mode. Normally, you can either accept or refuse a quest, which is simple. In Exiled mode there are special events like, “The bridge is cursed, how do you want to solve it?” With a few options given such as: “Dispel it yourself”, “Read the inscription next to it”, “Pay someone to do it”, or “Postpone”. Postpone is the broken option, because it’ll just keep nagging you to do the quest over and over. You have to get out of range of the object (by about 3 hexes) for it to finally stop bugging you.
The interface has been improved but also partially broken. Laying down improvements to your city is more intuitive now, since the UI will now tell you the pros/cons of a specific hex. Frozen hexes are great for mining gold, but terrible for food, mountains are good for research but upkeep on them is more, etc. The game still does an annoying thing where the left mouse button is used for both selecting a unit and moving them around. The right mouse button only seems to bring up the help screen, at specific points. While it is easier and better to research new spells, casting them can be annoying. The spellbook icon doesn’t change in a big enough way, and if you target a non-important hex, the effect goes away without warning. Lastly, you still can’t tell units to auto-explore which can be a real hassle with a large army.
Warlock 2’s biggest problem however, is how it deals with the Exiled mode at large. Don’t get me wrong, the seed of the mode is good, having different planets in the universe that you can populate, as you try and kill the “Unified One”. The problem is how the worlds are created and the city cap at large. In games like this, I like to explore a huge map, building cities generally far away, but close enough to each other to provide some back up. That’s how I play, and if that’s not what the designers want, that’s fine, but it kind of wrecked how I approach the game. Here’s why:
1. Each planet/new land you come across is incredibly small. Almost every one, except for the last one. I hit one volcano planet that was essentially one hex (for the portal I came through), about three sets of 2 hexes each, and then a hex at the end for another portal. That was it. One of the “X’s” in 4X is “Exploration”, with a map that small, you’re not exploring anything.
2. You can turn this off, thankfully, but in a normal game of Warlock 2 there is a city limit for how many town you can control at any given time. At the start you can only control five cities at a time, though this can be expanded with researching specific spells. You can convert any city into a specialized city, like a fortress or a “free city”, but you won’t be able to build units or buildings in the town, which makes it an unappealing prospect.
Both these issues combine into making the Exiled mode an almost complete waste of time to me. The areas are too small to really explore at the start of the game, and thanks to the default (likely for performance) city limit option, even if they were large worlds, you wouldn’t be able to adequately build what you would want to, anyway.
However, Sandbox mode is still cool, and worthy of a purchase just to play it. The game looks a lot more detailed now, the voices more corny (which is what you want), the research improvements drastically streamline the gameplay, and, as ever, it is just fun to take over as many towns as you want with the option turned off.
Combat is still varied and fun with a ton of units
Researching spells is less randomized and more streamlined
The game looks good, and the spell effects are beautiful
Exiled mode is fairly pointless
It can be hard to actually use spells
The game can be very demanding on PC’s
Warlock 2: The Exiled is still a good game, despite the main new mode being kind of antithetical to the nature of the game. Still, the sandbox mode is a blast, and a lot of the little improvements add up to make Warlock 2 a better playing experience. There are few good 4X games out there, and this is still one of them.
The spell effects look gorgeous. Unit detail is nice, and the worlds are nicely different from one another
Exiled mode somewhat bewilders me, but the basic gameplay still sound and fun to play a few times
The voices are corny but delieberate (I hope). Sound effects are fine and the music is innocuous
A 4X game is meant to be replayed over and over and this one is just like that. Mod support and multiplayer are here as well
It is still fun to storm around the landscape with your armies laying waste to all. Hopefully that never changes in these games