Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Warlock - Master of the Arcane

Once upon a time, when PC games still came on 3.5" floppy disks, Microprose released a 4X game called Master of Magic. It had a gameplay somewhat resembling Civilization, but instead of technology you researched spells, and your units where fantasy creatures. While Microprose's other 4X games like Civilization or Master of Orion had many sequels and remakes, fans have been waiting for a remake of Master of Magic for nearly two decades. This year Paradox Interactive released Warlock - Master of the Arcane, which I had on pre-order since I heard that it was a remake of Master of Magic.

Now remakes are always tricky, and there was a definitive risk that Paradox would take MoM and turn it into an overly complex mess. But at €19.99 full price on Steam (and subsequent promotions selling the game at €9.99) that risk was well worth taking. I paid full price, but got the DLCs as pre-order bonus, so I wasn't totally miffed at there being a half-price offer so soon.

Last weekend I finally got around to actually playing the game (too many games, too little time), and I am happy to report that Warlock - Master of the Arcane is all I hoped it would be. For once Paradox managed to make a game which doesn't require a week of study of the manual before you can even start playing. If you every played Civ5, you can play WMotA without a handbook or tutorial. Which is good, because there isn't a tutorial, except for some "advisor" screens.

Warlock - Master of the Arcane plays very much like a modern version of Civilization with spells and fantasy units instead of technology and historical units. This being Paradox, there are a *lot* of spells and different units. City management is somewhat simpler than in Civilization, because you don't have to deal with population happiness. What remains important is how you place your cities with respect to the resources on the map: Special resources allow your city to build special buildings; for example if you have a donkeys resource in the area controlled by your city, you can build Stubborn Knights cavalry there. Other resources allow you to build buildings with which you can give "perks" to all of your units, for a price. The spaces without resources can be used for buildings that produce gold, food, or mana, and you need to balance all these resources.

Already in your initial expansion phase you will meet neutral monsters threatening your cities and units. Later you will probably engage in warfare against the other great mages. The map is divided into hexes, and there is no unit stacking, so you need to move your units one by one. If you are attacked somewhere where you don't have enough troops, you can summon monsters to fight for you, but these require a mana upkeep. Regular troops also need upkeep, in the form of gold and/or food and/or mana, so you need to balance your army with your production.

Just like the the original Master of Magic, Warlock - Master of the Arcane has the concept of there being parallel worlds which you can access via portals. The parallel worlds have more powerful neutral monsters to guard them, adding another strategic layer to the game.

I haven't played long enough to fully evaluate how good the AI is, as that was a problem with the original Master of Magic, which had to be repeatedly updated with patches. Fortunately patching games has become easier since the early 90's. Right now I am having a lot of fun just exploring the game, discovering the various spells and units, and doing tactical hex-based combat. The game is as addictive as Civilization ("just one more turn!"), and the fantasy element is a definitive plus. Recommended!

A quick googling seems to indicate that it's steam-only? Is this the case? If yes, it's automatically a no-buy for me.....
I never played Master of Magic, but how would you say it compares to Heroes of Might and Magic 3?

That seems like the closest comparison I played (and loved) based on your description, but it may be nothing like it and I am totally off base here...
Okay, some main differences between a Heroes of Might & Magic and a Master of Magic / Warlock - Master of Arcane:

- In HoMM the cities are at fixed points, in Warlock you can build new cities in empty spots.

- In HoMM a city occupies just the spot it is on, the terrain around it doesn't matter. In Warlock your city controls its hex and at least the 6 hexes around it (and then growing). This controlled terrain has a huge influence on what the city produces.

- In HoMM your armies stack, that is you run around with a few big stacks of a hero and many troops in it. In Warlock each unit takes up one hex, and you can't stack them. As one hex only has 6 hexes around it, that limits with how many troops you can attack in one turn.

- In HoMM you get new spells by leveling up your hero and training him in wizard towers. In Warlock you gather a special research point resource with which you research new spells; there are no levels.

- HoMM maps are hand-crafted, Warlock maps are randomly generated.

Overall the style of the two games is somewhat different, as expanding an empire in Warlock hex by hex plays rather differently than with the few big army stacks HoMM usually has.
A quick googling seems to indicate that it's steam-only?

What do you call "Steam only"? You can buy Warlock elsewhere, but you need to register the game on Steam for it to work, at it uses Steamworks as its DRM. Once you registered the game on Steam, you *can* put Steam into offline mode and keep playing Warlock even without internet connection.
I use to love MoM and still play it occasionly, having bought it from GOG.

Just how close is it to the old MoM. What are the key differences.
What do you call "Steam only"?

You answered my question. My windows configuration leaves a lot to be desired and it's behind a very restrictive firewall. Anything which requires internet is a nuisance (you don't want to know how long it took me to get WoW/LotRO running, and with Akamai getting involved it's even more of a mess).
Thanks for the review and recommendation! I've been looking for an offline strategic game, and the latest Civs are way too complicated. I've been playing a lot of Diablo 3 lately but a change of pace would be nice.
Thanks for the review and recommendation! I've been looking for an offline strategic game, and the latest Civs are way too complicated. I've been playing a lot of Diablo 3 lately but a change of pace would be nice.
I think I have played WMotA more extensively than you have, so here are my thoughts.

-Unfortunately, you hit on the main problem, the AI is just not very good. This makes the game fairly easy, even on the highest difficulty levels.

-Sadly, this also detracts from the "other worlds" strategic element, since it is far easier to simply destroy the other mages than to clear out another world to take advantage of those special resources.

-I love that the system of buildings and resources requires you to build different types of cities. There is no one "optimal" city progression, each city will need to focus on food, gold or mana, based on the resources available.

-Other than the strategic resources, terrain type makes no difference to the buildings you put on it. A farm works just as well on lava fields as it does on fertile plains. This feels like a missed strategic element.

-Part of the reason the game is so easy (aside from the AI) is that neutral cities you take over mitigate the disadvantages for each race. For example, the undead have by far the best mana production, and monsters have the worst. But once you take over a neutral undead city you can use that for a mana farm (or even produce undead peasants to plant new undead cities). You can also use this to obtain all the race-unique upgrades for all your units. The AI, of course, is uable to take advantage of this.

Overall, there is a lot of potential in WMotA, and it would only take a patch or two to be a pretty great game.
I had a lot of fun the first few playthroughs, but Samus is right - the AI is in desperate need of some smartening up from a strategic point of view (I think the tactical AI is actually shockingly good.)

The other worlds are nearly always non-factors, which is disappointing, and where MoM did a great job with the variety of the races and spells, Warlock feels limited by comparison. There's also a real lack of identity I think, a direct consequence of Samus' point about how you can basically end up with cities of all races.

(I also found the spell research inscrutable, but that's just me.)

Like I said, I had a lot of fun the first couple of times, but until a patch either makes the enemies more challenging or adds some variety, I probably won't be playing again soon.
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