Warlock II: The Exiled – Preview (PC)

Not just a Civ V re-skin

Warlock II: The Exiled takes place in a fantasy realm where you play a Great mage, exiled to one of the world’s broken shards, on a journey to exact revenge on those who banished you. You will battle with rival mages, build great cities and wield powerful spells in the name of vengeance.

As you might have guessed from the title of the game, it is the sequel to Warlock: Master of The Arcane. We hadn’t played the first entry in the series, but were eager to get stuck in to this unique RTS.

The first thing that stands out is the level of detail in the overall UI, even before starting the game itself. The menus are detailed and the splash art is simply fantastic. It may not be the most well-known series out there, but it impresses every bit as much as some of the biggest names in the genre.

Single Player gameplay consists of 2 modes : Exile Mode, the campaign which features the story – and Sandbox mode which allows the player to set all of the conditions of the game. Players can adjust difficulty, win conditions and map size. Before beginning the game you choose the Great Mage you are going to control and edit their starting stats and abilities.

It can’t be overlooked that at first glance the game looks very similar to the blockbuster title, Sid Meier’s Civilization V. From the hexagonal blocked maps to the icons over units, even the levelling up system is almost identical. It may appear to be a re-skinned version of Meier’s long-running series, but nothing could be further from the truth. Warlock II brings a fresh new twist to the genre.

Where other video games in the genre dropped the ball on performance, Warlock II kicks it out the park. Many turn-based strategy games in recent years have fallen prey to long, boring load sequences between turns, where NPCs take over. Even after a relatively small amount of time played, recent games like Civ 5 and Rome: Total War II would produce an ever-increasing “dead time” where the player is forced to just wait until it is their turn again. Warlock II keeps the pace nice and steady, with no such problems.

The game is filled with quirky characters and entertaining events to keep things from becoming stale. In addition to other mages, there are randomly placed neutral monsters. Defeating these can sometimes lead to a reward of gold, mana or special items. Each world is different and will require you to adjust your strategy to overcome challenges.

Warlock II incorporates city and unit building with diplomacy in much the same way as many other strategy games do. Multiple races and research trees do little to help the game stand out from the crowd,  but who cares? You play as a mage! As such, you get to conjure all sorts of spells from your spellbook. Healing wounded units or engulfing an area in flames is all part of the fun. The way you use these spells can also effect how the game plays out. NPCs will challenge you adequately along the way, and the random monster will keep you on your toes.

The only issues of note are very minor indeed : The in-game UI is a little messy in places which can confuse newer players – and that each plane you visit is relatively small in size. Fortunately there are lots of different planes to visit, providing a change of scenery every so often.

Warlock II immersed us, through a genuinely interesting story, fast paced gameplay and an aesthetically rich world. It is a thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience that will no doubt have players coming back for more. It will also feature full modding support via SteamWorks, so the community could keep things fresh and exciting for a long time. Ino-Co have developed a fine addition to the genre and any fantasy fans should get their hands on this for its release on the 10th April 2014.