Like the bastard born child of Civilization V and Fire Emblem, Warlock 2: The Exiled is a rough around the edges mash-up of city-management sim and RPG adventure. It's an interesting combination that often makes for compelling gaming but is equally held back by the very same elements that make it unique.
Warlock 2 is a hex-based strategy game. Initially you're required to set up a city, choosing which buildings to work on in order to increase output of the four main resources, or unlock more advanced units, all while balancing the upkeep of your army and city. At the same time, you also research different magic, which will help you make more rapid progress through the game. Magic varies from offensive combat spells like fireball, to those that increase the production of resources or the effectiveness of your units.
On the surface, Warlock 2 appears very similar to Sid Meier’s Civilization V, from icons bordering on copyright infringement to the control scheme and mechanics (magic research is Warlock's equivalent to Civ’s technologies). But this comparison (which Warlock 2 does nothing but invite) is in fact damaging; while it will no doubt draw gamers in, the city management aspect of the game is disappointingly shallow when compared to Sid Meier’s intricate work of micro-management genius. When managing cities in Warlock, your circumstances will often dictate what you need to buy, and even when you do have choice, that choice and the levels of customisation available are limited.
You would think then, that Warlock might offer a more accessible strategy game for those new to the genre but unfortunately that isn’t the case either, for despite its simplicity, the mechanics are lost behind unnecessary obfuscation. Even with the limited tutorial and tool-tips turned on I found myself often at a loss as to how to effectively manage my city and its resources, or even what the function of some of those resources actually was. It was only through guesswork and careful, painful probing that I could figure out the mechanics of the city-builder element. Even then my campaign progress was often brought to its knees by upkeep costs that I found difficult to balance.
What Warlock 2 does well, however, and where it sets itself apart from other city-builders, is in the RPG adventure aspect of its campaign. Instead of trying to dominate the map through expansion or war, as most city-builders would have you do, you’re tasked instead to take down The United One. In order to reach him, you must access and activate warp gates that will take you to other themed worlds: Death, Desert, Ice, etc which come with their own unique races and enemies. Along your way, you will be faced with a number of quests that vary from taking out a tough enemy to researching and performing a certain spell in order to impress an opponent magician. Many quests will provide multiple options for their resolution, coming at different costs. These quests make things interesting, adding structure and purpose to a genre that often lacks it on the small-scale and keeping you constantly guessing. In addition, while you can field an army you’ll quickly realise that the upkeep of a large army is impractical, leading you to stick to a small number of tough veteran units and upgrading them with XP-based perks and artifacts that you can collect on the field. Investing in them in this way will mean you will be desperate to keep them alive, thus making the combat far more involving. The variety of damage types and the different resistances or immunities, along with a variety of unlockable perks, makes combat varied and interesting, though the limited AI leaves a lot to be desired.
The two elements of the game, city-builder and RPG, are interesting but often the city-building side seems unnecessary and superfluous to the game. The management of resources becomes tiresome and will often cause your progress to grind to a halt, forcing you to stop your crusade in order to attend matters at home and deal with mana or gold that has sunk into the red.
Warlock 2 is an interesting game. Fulfilling quests and establishing a foothold in new worlds is satisfying but the city-building side of the title is disappointingly limited and holds you back more often than it makes things interesting. However, if you want a strategy with a greater sense of progress and purpose, or just an interesting alternative to Sid Meier’s output, it’s well worth a look.