Warlords is a strategy game by Berlin-based developer Wooga, and it's tailored with a certain type of gamer; those who enjoy building empires in Civilization, slashing through Might & Magic, or fighting huge battles in Total War. Warlords takes inspiration from all of these and at Wooga they have set up a separate studio called Black Anvil Games to produce the game. The team of nearly 20 employees lead by Ex-DICE developer Wilhelm Österberg and Jesper Richter-Reichhelm, has been working on Warlords for about three years now, something that is noticeable almost immediately.
The game is, in its free version, perfectly adapted to delivering 20 minutes of entertainment. After that the signs slowly creep in that Black Anvil Games would like some money and this is given away by the option to buy diamonds and gold. Both can also be slowly earned and the gems especially are quickly depleted since they are the only thing that can bring depleted troops back. You can wait for them to recover but it often takes 30 minutes or more to do so.
The army available to the player will seem familiar, as will the villains who include orcs and all sorts of fantasy monsters, and you fight with three to five people against up to seven opponents. Each character has unique traits, abilities, attack and defence strengths, and number of moves on the hex map layered over the playing field. These values change depending on who you are fighting as, whether that be a knight or a fairy.
The fighting takes place on hex maps of varying in height and environmental style. There are forests where you take less damage, muddy swamps which delay troop movement, and bridges which funnel armies. There is an added complexity in the fact that different units can modify their weapons, and archers can send fire arrows into the air and swords can be upgraded with elemental damage. Each troop has one active and one passive special ability as well. All this is revealed slowly, but after a few hours you can recognise the sophisticated and profound game mechanics. The team clearly knows its business as they all started as a hardcore gamers themselves and wanted to take the opportunity now to attract the core gamers with money earned by Wooga in casual market, bringing them over to tablet or mobile.
The graphics are compelling and attention is paid to the small details, for which art director Silver Saaremäel is responsible. Once again the love of fantasy and an extensive knowledge of the history of the genre is visible. All figures are built independently despite their obvious role models, and later unlockable units can be absurd in design, but they're interesting as well. On the iPhone, though, everything (and especially the world map) is quickly cluttered despite the zoom function, and this also applies to the combat. Everything is completely playable, but on the tablet, the experience is way better.
Warlords is designed around the combat, but to a large extent it's also built around organising and improving your units. There are bonuses and items to be won and these can be found in treasure chests (which can also be won or bought), and using these gives the troops more hitpoints and even soldiers. The longer you play, the higher the numbers you get. It's a bit like a poker tournament in that the structure of the game remains the same, but you raise the stakes slowly, but steadily. In Warlords there are always small rewards and the carrot hangs in front of your nose to invest, but you can also play without being annoyed or feeling pressure to spend.
Warlords is a time-sink, in the positive sense. As you start to play you get pulled into the universe and you look forward to the epic music and the struggles in the constantly renewed game world. Again and again, those in attack may attempt to reclaim hard-won sections, with those who don't play for a longer period losing more and more ground. There are bosses you have to fight many times before they are finally defeated, and of course there is the PvP mode where you play asynchronously against AI controlled troops but with real players' setups. Currently the game is not yet available in Germany where it is being made, but it is out in the UK.