During a few afternoons of my New Years’ break I played a nearly complete game of Warlock – Master of the Arcane.  Here are some early thoughts.

  • This game has a much more interesting wargame component than any 4x in recent memory.  It’s sorta like Civ 5, in that only one unit may occupy any hex, but the spaces are much tighter, and the units much more numerous.  This makes their proper use and deployment of great importance.
  • The military component is much more balanced against expansion.  In Civ 5 it’s a huge investment to make a military unit, and if you can you’ll skimp on them in the early game to focus on improvements.  Here, it’s critical to get cranking on them ASAP, and the early game military jostling is quite challenging and fun.  If you don’t make the investment in units right away, you’re going to get bullied by the nasty AI’s right away.
  • The game’s unit mix is not so good.  “Default” units, the units that everyone will be able to build in their cities regardless of special resources, are just not that good, and without a solid core of “special resource units” I have a lot of trouble imagining a path to victory.  I had a Halberd Hall near my starting city, and basically owned my enemies with Halberdiers.  Sure, I backed them up with all kinds of stuff, but my war efforts would have fallen apart without that steady supply of very tough, well-armored, and decently powerful Halberdiers.  They soaked damage for my weaker units, in a way that the default Warriors or Spearman just couldn’t do.
  • The AI really doesn’t understand the military aspect of the game.  Given how important this is to the game, it’s sad.  From what I’ve seen, the AI does not realize the importance of getting and building special resource units, and it does not know how to assess strength in the field at all.  In the early game, when most players are just spamming the base units, the AI is not bad – but it simply doesn’t have any clue about what to do other than spamming basic units, and spamming basic units just doesn’t cut it in the later game.
  • I never felt like I was making difficult choices when I was building cities.  This was in part because, for most of the game, I was painfully ahead of everyone else.  However, it always seemed like the general message was “need more of everything,” and there weren’t many huge obstacles to getting “more of everything.”
  • The game runs like a dream.  I’d be playing a lot more Civ 5 if it ran this spiffy and quick.  It’s almost as good as my platonic ideal of 4x performance experience, playing MOO2 6 years after its original release on a modern machine, when everything processed instantly.
  • The monster are tough and fun.  I enjoyed the pressure they put on my core areas, and I had a lot of fun clearing out one of the alternate planes.
  • There’s no real reason to ever bother with clearing out the alternate planes, other than looking for something to do.
  • This game would be much better served by more focused and hand-crafted situations, where the existing game mechanics would create challenge for the player, rather than the open-ended 4x expand and terminate scenario.  More like the Majesty games, actually.
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