Masters Of The Profane: Warlock Multiplayer

By Adam Smith on July 12th, 2012 at 10:00 pm.

When Warlock was announced I was so pleased at the prospect of turn-based spellbiffing that I didn’t notice that multiplayer was missing from the list of features. By the time someone pointed out to me that I’d be unable to challenge other budding masters of magic to spelling bees I’d already imagined raining fire on the armies of friends and enemies alike, so I just chose to accept multiplayer would be added closer to release. It wasn’t. But a multiplayer mode will be going into beta in the not too distant future and, being one of the foremost magicians in the land, I was invited to try it out. Four players, four and a half hours, stalemate. So why do I feel like I lost?

We’re playing on a tiny map so as to heighten conflict. If you’ve played Warlock, you’ll probably be aware that it’s not a game in which there’s much need to heighten conflict. If you haven’t killed somebody on the second turn, let’s say because you were building a pumpkin farm instead, you’re probably already behind in the great arms-waving race. Next thing you know someone’s waving his arms in just such a pattern and it’s causing werewolves in tophats to materialise and follow his every command.

One of my opponents is a producer at Paradox so, naturally, I expect him to be able to conjure all sorts of elemental horrors at a moment’s notice, probably using cheats handed to him by the development team. The other two mages are actually journalists: one is Paul Dean, who you may know as not-Quinns in Shut Up and Sit Down; the other is a lovely Scottish chap whose name I have lamentably forgotten.

It’s late evening and I’ve already cracked open a bottle of cheap lager. I’ll need something much stronger before the night is out but, unfortunately, I’ll just have to do with a lot more of the fizzy idiotjuice. The area immediately around my first city is acceptable – pumpkins to the west, a map boundary to the south, the ocean north and lava fields to the east. The lava is a good thing because most units moving through it will be slowed to a crawl, so not only is a sneak attack from that direction much more difficult, I can also explore in that direction without worrying too much about being overrun by neutrals or wandering monsters.

The thing that I find most interesting about the idea of Warlock multiplayer is how dangerous the world can be even before you fill it with mildly inebriated journalists. In single player, being hemmed in by wild things can pin back progress severely and I’ve had the odd embarassing campaign in which I haven’t even managed to find another great mage because wolves have eaten all my armies before that point arrives. Would that be my fate today?

It’s hard to make devious alliances when talking in a group conversation on Skype. I naturally assumed that we’d band together after Paradox’ man on the inside and so it was that as I founded my second city, having failed to take a neutral city across the lava to the east, the war began, somewhere in the fog.

“What have we hear?” The man from Paradox and the Scot had met.

“Did you just declare war on me?”

“Diplomacy isn’t fully integrated yet. I had to.” The bastard! How could we know that he wasn’t deceiving us? For all we knew alliances, treaties, open borders – it was all there, primed and ready. “I have to declare war on you all.”

There it was. Surely now we’d take him down together. I started constructing boats, preparing for an invasion of the continent to the north. Given the miniature world we were on, it had to be where the action was.

As we waited for each other to take turns, we talked. Mostly about the problems we were having.

“Oh shit, bears!” Someone would yell.

“This town refuses to die. I keep burning them but they just don’t die.” That was me. It was better than bears but that town really was giving me some grief. I decided to build settlers instead of conquering it and hope that its inhabitants would ignore me.

“A tree just punched my capital city.” Paul Dean complained. “It just punched it again.”

Scotland and Paradox had found each other though, this much was obvious despite the fog of war because occasionally one of them would swear as the other destroyed his hastily assembled armies.

“I am building minotaurs. I will have minotaurs soon” This was the word of Paradox. “The minotaurs will allow me to win this war.”

Around three hours later, there were indeed minotaurs, although I had to take the Scot’s word for it. He’d been waiting to see them for a long time and sounded mildly disappointed when a few spells and legions of horn fodder where able to stop them from crushing him.

“I have a serious tree problem.” Paul continued to comment in the background.

Meanwhile, I had a ship just off the enemy coast and found the site of the war between Paradox and Scotland. It raged. Each of them could have crushed my armies simply by looking in my direction so I decided I would try to attack their cities with all the magical military might I had while they were preoccupied with one another.

“I have declared war on you.” Came the voice of Paradox in my ear. “It is not personal, but diplomacy…”

“OK. I know. I get it.” So much for a stealthy strike. It was then that the unthinkable happened. Laughing, nay, chortling, Paradox had this to say for itself.

“What happened to the plan to gang up on Adam anyhow? That didn’t last long.”

Eh? The bloody cheek of it! I’d arrived about two minutes late into the Skype conversation before the game began and they’d clearly used every single one of those one hundred and twenty seconds to conspire against me. The only reason I hadn’t been smashed by their combined forces is because they’d run into each other first and decided I wasn’t worth the extra effort of crossing an ocean. Oh, they’d rue the day.

Then a kraken ate my boats.

Before the fog of war could re-envelop that distant continent, I summoned some imps on it and decided they would scout inland and find the capital city of one or the other of my enemies. I’d build a force, strike hard and fast, and they’d be so wrapped up in killing one another that they wouldn’t be able to react quickly enough to defend their most precious parts.

“Are those imps neutral…wait, are they yours?” It was Scotland.

“It’s an invasion.” I muttered. Did I refer to the Normandy landings? I think I bloody well did. Then I made the imps lob a puny firecracker at the capital of Scotland. It barely noticed. “You’re fighting a war on two fronts now, how are you…” He killed my imps with a volley of arrows.

“That’s not a war. You just kind of showed up and turned over a table.”

“We’re at war though.”

“We’re all at war. Diplomacy hasn’t been fully implemented.”

“This tree is still punching my cities.”

It had to end before we ended one another because there were more people in line to test out the beta, which will be undergoing public testing later this year. I managed to settle another island, which seemed like an impressive achievement after my losses in the Great Imp War, while the Paradox minotaurs, after their enormous build up, were handily dealt with by the brave Scottish defences. Despite his arboreal assailants, I recall Paul conquering a lesser Scottish city, maybe Inverness, in the very last turn we played. Perhaps that makes him the winner.

What’s clear to me, amidst all the confusion, is that multiplayer Warlock is surprisingly sociable. Despite the waiting for turns and the fact that I barely interacted with the other players, I was entertained by their stories, and the strength of the neutrals and monsters could make for some interesting tactics. Because they require so much attention and manpower to deal with, it’s much harder to concentrate entirely on human opponents.

Ours was a short game and unfinished, but I’m more convinced than before that the single-minded combat focus of Warlock is something of a natural fit for multiplayer. We’ll bring you the beta dates when we know them.

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33 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Faldrath says:

    “Then a kraken ate my boats.” almost got me fired. Thank you, Adam. Thank you so very much :(

    • Chiller says:

      +1

      Well, I didn’t almost get fired, seeing as I don’t have a job and was reading this alone on my laptop at midnight, but otherwise completely the same.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Krackens are wankers.

  2. Paullicino says:

    Those goddamn trees. I was also the guy with the bear problem. In fact, all of nature’s creatures despised me.

  3. Dys Does Dakka says:

    It’s a bit odd that W-MotA didn’t come with MP options right off the bat, really. It’s fast, focused and a bit on the shallow (or trimmed/optimised/streamlined, however one looks at it) side, feeling very much geared towards PvP rather than single player.

    Even “huge” maps seem fairly small, and SP just feels like sparring in preparation for playing against other humies rather than Building a Magic Empire to Stand the Test of Time™.

    It’s a tight and well done little game, for sure, and I do rather like it. It just lacks, I dunno, personality? A sense of involvement past the purely game-mechanical? Not sure how to word it.

    • DuddBudda says:

      huge maps with all the realms = lots of ground to explore

      I see W:MotA as Civ V recognising that hexes and single-unit-stacks make for a tactical military game

      and it succeeds at that

      I hope MP gets working soon, between Warlock and Endless Space this should be an excellent year for strategising

  4. MondSemmel says:

    How is a multiplayer game of three hours on a small map a “short” game?
    Granted, I’m used to Blizzard’s RTS games, and even the most epic of matches (say, 4, 8 or 12 player FFA in WC3 on a big map) hardly ever took longer than about an hour. Not to mention standard games, which rarely even went past 30 minutes.

    • Adam Smith says:

      On a large map, a bit like Civ (although not a LOT like Civ), a game could go on for days. And keep in mind that a lot of the time was taken up with talking, people figuring things out and general anxiety.

      • Dreforian says:

        how much of the social aspect is the game and how much just due to the fact that you had an easy method of communication and were in a special group? I know I say a lot more when I’m in a room with someone or type more when my hands aren’t occupied clicking my way to catastrophe. With complete strangers? with clunky voice chat only? (I’m looking at you ME3) Basically, if those “stories” weren’t communicated would the game really be that social?

        • Adam Smith says:

          I think a large part of it is the fact that the world is such an enemy in and of itself, so rather than keeping your development from other players, there’s a natural urge to share your plight. Because so much is reaction to dilemmas that aren’t caused by anyone else in the game but by the game itself, there’s more room for the kind of “oh shit” moments that I, for one, find amusing to share.

          Having someone type “Oh no bears” would probably be funnier than hearing them say it.

          “Wolves and bears. How is that even a thing?”

          • Dreforian says:

            Hah, reminds me of age of wonders, leaving cities empty while moving my main stack around. And then having some roaming unicorns come out of a forest to take capture it and having to run my main group back. Or screwing up morale balance and suddenly having a unit of troops defect and start stealing my backfield. Not as intense as Warlock sounds but I get the picture!

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        One thing I wonder about: How would the social “aspect” stand up in a longer game on a larger map?

        If a game goes on for several days (and I’ve had games on larger maps last nearly a week – against the AI which doesn’t take long to take it’s turn), the players aren’t going to be sat chatting on skype.

        Also – does it have some kind of pbem mechanism, or do you all have to log in at the same time? (which could also be a problem with a game lasting several days).

  5. spelvin spugg says:

    Was just thinking “I wish it was on the Steam sale, I’d buy it. Maybe I will have to wait a few days.”

    Imagine that, $12 is right around my price for an un-”previewed” game. If it’s good I’ll happily pay full price for a multiplayer expansion, I have been hankering for this sort of thing.

    • trjp says:

      Warlock just entered the Steam Sale as a 66% off Flash Deal – 5 hours or so only.

      That’s just over a £5 in UK money – you can convert into your local monopoly money from that :)

    • Metonymy says:

      Memory’s a little fuzzy here, but:
      No penalty for endless city construction
      Cities actually become a liability if they get too big
      Magic and technology and buildings are simplistic
      An offensive war is your only option

      It didn’t have a coherent vision or polish. Not worth a second look unless they redo a lot of things.

    • J.Munthe says:

      I am the paradoxian with underwhelming minotaurs. I just wanted to point out that the multiplayer will be patched in for free, together with tons of other stuff and improvements.

      I also wanted to thank for the good game, and claim without any real reasons that I was the winner.

      GG!

      • ArcaneSaint says:

        Quick question: will it have LAN-support, or do you require a connection to some far-away server if you want to play a game against the person sitting right next to you?

        • J.Munthe says:

          It will be using Steam for multiplayer, and will not have LAN support.

          Cheers!

  6. SkittleDiddler says:

    Instead of the promised multiplayer component, I wish Warlock’s devs would get to work on fixing the retarded diplomacy and AI systems. Don’t get me wrong, MP will be a welcome addition to Warlock, but it’s lacking so much more in basic gameplay mechanics that concentrating on MP at this point seems a little…pointless.

    I love playing the game, but it’s filled with so many moments of programmed WTFness that I usually end up quitting due to pure frustration. I’m pretty sure I’ve only finished four matches out of the dozens I’ve ever started.

    • Premium User Badge

      JoeyJungle says:

      I haven’t played much (barely loaded it up in fact), but listening to Three Moves Ahead from a few weeks ago, they were talking about how the AI for this game was steadily improving in every update, and is better than the AI in most Paradox games at ship date.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Meh, I haven’t seen much improvement. AI wizards still mob up together and play bully tactics, they still hoard units off of the map for use at the last possible minute, and they still can’t figure out how to properly besiege cities. Overall, the AI needs a lot more fixin’.

        Lack of proper diplomacy is what really gets me though. It completely sours the game sometimes.

  7. Kinth says:

    So is this actually made in the Civ 5 engine? Because if not the UI and look of it is a carbon copy of Civ 5.

    • MaXimillion says:

      It’s not the Civ V engine, which is a good thing, since that engine is just terrible. Unfortunately, Warlock’s isn’t much better.

  8. Highstorm says:

    According to this thread: (Forgive, I know not the proper formatting to embed it in text)

    http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?619419-Patch-Notes-1.2&s=eef60f0a33f1f5a098a4c755ec91fd3e

    It should be landing some time this week alongside a host of other fixes/updates.

  9. Premium User Badge

    JoeyJungle says:

    Oh yeah, this game is 66% off for the next couple hours on steam as one of their flash deals for anyone interested. I really just want more stories from Adam about this game, the initial wot i think was a stunner as well

  10. Premium User Badge

    jrodman says:

    I found the documentation for this game really underwhelming. It seemed like the only way to learn how things actually work was trial by fire or third party information/forums. Has there been any improvement along that front?

    • Premium User Badge

      LTK says:

      On the official front, you can find graphs of building trees on the forums, but that’s about all the help you’re gonna get. Aside from that, I think the wiki at warlockmota.wikia.com has gotten around to gathering all the relevant information by now, but there’s still not terribly much to go on.

  11. Premium User Badge

    piratmonkey says:

    I was torn between this ($12) and SoSE: Trinity ($10) but it wasn’t listed as a flash deal (for me anyway) so a search revealed it was $6, so how could I say no?

  12. Eagle32 says:

    Good thing this article came up when it did. I skipped buying this earlier because it didn’t have multiplayer. This article told me it was getting it 30min before the flash sale ended. Got it just in time.

  13. Seboss says:

    You made it sound as fun as I hope MP would be. I look forward to casting thunderbolts at pals.