First impressions are important. Warlock 2: The Exiled crashed the first time I booted it up, then it did the same the 2nd and 3rd time – and I still have no idea why. A reinstall fixed the issue, but Warlock 2 certainly wasn’t off to a good start. Sadly, the technical issues continued: key presses were missed and frame rates and general speed dropped during busy turns (incidentally, my PC is just above the recommended spec.) First impressions are important, which is a great shame because behind the technical missteps is a solid 4x strategy game.
Once I managed to get things running a quick introductory video explained the somewhat confusing story that played out in the first Warlock title. From what I can gather the Untitled One has taken the city of Ardania, and it’s down to you to cross the numerous shards and take back Ardania. The story is neither good nor particularly important so the poor quality doesn’t have too much of an impact, though a stronger narrative and a bit more of an explanation of what’s going on would have been nice.
The story is crafted for the Exiled game mode, which can be seen as the single player campaign. Despite the narrative’s secondary importance it provides the main reason to play the Exiled mode, which sees you scour the many world shards in an effort to reach Ardania and defeat the Untitled One. Exiled mode throws numerous quests at you during the course of the game that add some narrative continuation. Unfortunately these pop up in every Exiled game you play, so after a few games in Exiled mode the more traditional and free form sandbox mode will prove the least repetitive and frustrating of the two options.
Perhaps the most interesting elements of Warlock II: The Exiled are the multiple shards you explore on your way to victory. Shards are different areas of the world that have been broken up, and the only way to access a new shard is through a portal. Your first shard may be a lush oasis with lots of vegetation and water but the portal located somewhere within it may lead to an icy wasteland or a barren desert. Colonizing a new shard is no easy task in most cases, and will take some time, but expanding my armies across each of the shards was my preferred way to victory.
The shards are interesting, as until you send a unit through the portal there could be pretty much anything on the other side. You could be met with a rival army waiting to destroy the single unit you sent through, or there could be an empty barren landscape just waiting to be colonized. There could even be a giant turtle there for no real reason other than it’s a giant turtle and it wants to destroy your army.
The core gameplay is entirely what you would expect. For those uninitiated in the Warlock series think of Civilization V but with more of a fantasy vibe. The hex based maps are to be explored, cities are to be built (although a pesky city limit makes colonizing every inch of every world impossible) and other mages (as well as wild monsters) are to be fought or collaborated with. In exiled mode you effectively win by reaching Ardania, while in the sandbox mode more win conditions are on offer – one of my favourites is the casting of an insta-win spell.
Units can be sent to hexes to explore, fight or build a new city, and occasionally they’ll find some extra resources to add to your collection. Your cites will need to be built from scratch, with each different building offering different advantages: some will produce resources to keep you well stocked, while others will offer the chance to create new units or offer some other bonus. Creating the right mix of units and resourceful cites is key to success, and keeping them both safe is mandatory. Lose your cities and units and it’s game over, although when playing on the lower difficulty this will be a rare occurrence (unless you really mess up) as the AI is really not the smartest.
The gameplay isn’t particularly revolutionary, but is instead solid. There’s very little wrong with it but there’s very little innovation. If you’re not a genre fan then Warlock II: The Exiled won’t make you fall in love with it, partly thanks to its very vague and text-heavy tutorials.
Visually the landmasses are quite impressive. A wealth of colour is a pleasant surprise, especially in well-vegetated areas, and the deserts and ice worlds have great visuals no matter how hostile they may seem. Even those annoying giant turtles look impressive. A cringe-worthy old-English style voice-over provides narration and even asks if you really want to exit the game when you press the quit button.
VERDICT: Despite offering very little in new ideas or revolutionary gameplay, Warlock II is a decent game. There are only a few things that drag it down such as the minor technical hiccups and the confusing story, but the solid gameplay and decent visuals just about salvage the experience. If you liked the first game or need something to scratch that Civilisation itch then this will make you very happy indeed – just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the giant turtles.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.
Review code provided by publisher.