It's easy to see from where Warlock: Master of Arcane got its inspiration. Master of Magic may be the origin of the 4X fantasy/wizardry games, with a fair amount of games following in its footsteps, most recently Elemental: War of Magic from Stardock that largely failed in setting the world on fire. Lately, Paradox Interactive, have been trying to do hardcore PC fans right, by delivering spiritual successor or games inspired by some of the greatest early strategy games on PC. The Cartel is their take on Syndicate, and it is probably fair to say that Warlock is their take on Master of Magic. For those not familiar with Master of Magic, think of Civilization with wizards and monsters, less micro management and more combat and exploration.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane is set in Ardania. The world best known from the Majesty games and most recently Defenders of Ardania. However, it's hard to judge whether any of the humour is still in there as it comes across as a bit more serious in its tone.
Even at the somewhat rough state that the game is currently in (we're months off the suggested release date), it is easy to see the "just one more round" nature of the game coming together. Most of your cities evolution is not under your direct control, and your directed to raise new buildings when the city is mature enough for it. The playing field of hexagons contains terrain you can move quickly over with troops along with mountain tiles you cannot cross and lava tiles that do damage to your units.
A very interesting addition is planes and magic portals. Each plane has a portal that goes up, and depending on your map size there can be as many as 6 planes to explore. The upper ones have powerful monsters and valuable loot so going there may be key to winning the battle on the ground below. What's really nice about this system is that there is more to explore than the map you're trying to conquer, and it extends the period in which you are exploring, typically my favourite part of any round of Civilization.
"My dark horse among the games we are releasing in the coming 8 months is Warlock: Master of the Arcane, because it's kind of hardcore, it mixes a lot of elements of Civilization and Master of Magic that people recognise. But it has been flying under the radar so far, so many people haven't seen it, but once you start playing it you're just stuck. I played for 72 turns the other day when I should have been reading contracts", says Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester when asked about what title he is most excited about at the Paradox Interactive Convention back in January.
At the same conference Paradox producer Shams Jorjani called the game a "beer child", as compared to Fatshark's War of the Roses, which was referred to as the "love child". To put it simple, if you get a lot of nerds beer on a Friday afternoon this is the kind of game they come up with and want to play.
What we've seen of the game was still a bit rough around the edges, and there is a lot that needs to go in there in terms of balancing, interface, descriptions, and even functionality of some features. Paradox are working with Ino-Co Plus, the same team responsible for other Paradox published titles such as Majesty 2 and Elven Legacy. Russian PC titles have some particular characteristics, there are typically fairly hardcore and challenging, but it must be said that the interface looks very clean at this point, and according to Paradox producer Linda Kiby playing the game on easy, actually means easy with this game. Strategy games is an area where a lot of Western studios have moved away from development, and some of the most talented studios when it comes to this genre are found in what was formerly known as Eastern Europe.
What is very promising is the concept as such, and the sense that this is the kind of game you just want to sit down and play for a few hours or whenever the sun is due to rise up again. It's focused heavily towards combat, but the ways in which you can win the game (domination, religion, or through magic) makes for a very interesting affair where you will be forced to make choices on how to best win the title of warlock.
The way religion works is that you choose one God and by doing his biddings you gain access to more powerful spells, and ultimately you will be given God-like powers to trample your opponents. If you grow powerful in religion, other Gods may send down avatars to fight you, so there is a nice risk/reward balance there. Winning through magic is done by completing something called the unity spell. It takes a long time to charge up, so while you're doing this you will be targeted by the rest.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane may have been flying under the radar, but it sure looks like an interesting proposition, and some beer children actually turn into quite formidable adults. Or so I've been told.