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The RPS Verdict - Warlock: Master of the Arcane

Daily Mail diplomacy

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And lo did the two RPS Hivemind nodes who would always be picked first in any alphabetical order-based selection process gather to discuss Paradox/Ino-Co Plus’ turn-based, Master of Magic-esque strategy game Warlock: Master of the Arcane. Adam and Alec spaketh words at each other. Occasionally, they even listened to each other. To what end? Not a soul doth know. Here are those words.

Alec: WARLOCK: MASTER OF THE ARCANE is a turn-based strategy game about fantasy kingdoms at war that came out a little while back, but is one of those increasingly rare cases where more than one of us have played it. You’ve played tons of it, right?

Adam:Tons. If you could actually measure it as a weight or mass it would be like a spoonful of Mercury, or whichever that planet is. The one that the Flaming Lips sang about.

Alec: I think they sing about all of them, all the time, in quadraphonic sound.
Adam:They’ve probably written songs about Warlock as well, but those will be released on a rarities collection.

Alec: I’ve only played a campaign and a half, plus some mucking around with the beta version. I suspect I’d have played a lot more if it didn’t reset the graphics settings to 1024 and low detail every time I loaded it.

Adam:Did you try multiplayer?

Alec: no, not yet. I’m partly having this chat to try and decide if I should.

Adam:You should. We should. It works so well because even though there are four people ostensibly attempting to kill one another, usually the world is so violent toward them that they end up wounded and battered before they meet. Mighty armies march across the land and are reduced to ragged bands of weaklings before they even meet one another.

Alec: I get that from singleplayer too actually – my target is always interrupted by invading ratmen or demons from a magic portal. It’s very much a war of attrition, compared to the more chess-like Civ. This seems to be very much about building a road to your enemy on the dismembered bodies on your own fallen soldiers.

Adam:Absolutely. And caring about very little else in the meantime. If you’re not preparing for the war to end all wars by the third turn AT THE VERY LATEST, chances are you’re going to die. If you are preparing by the third turn, chances are you’re going to die a little bit later.

Alec: Heh. Yes, it takes some unlearning to not play it like Civ. This is conflict from the off – it’s just that it might be a cold war for a while rather than outright violence. I keep feeling like there’s something else I should be doing, but no, it’s all about bashing or getting ready to bash. Even the peaceful victory is dependent on having done loads of bashing so that your research isn’t interrupted.

Adam:Definitely – there’s no culture or technology. Spells don’t make the world a better place, they just make it burn in different colours.

Alec: It’s a very small game in its way, in terms of mechanics – but it manages to stretch that across large maps and get away with it

Adam:I think it’s better played on smaller maps. Mostly because I find I enjoy the shorter games more. Dense, packed with oddities and to the point. The longer a game goes on, the more chance there is I’ll just leave it. That never bothers me with Civ because in an unfinished game I still feel like I achieved something – there was an empire, a mark on the world – whereas in Warlock, more like a wargame, I like to have won or lost.

Alec: yeah, a couple of times it took so long to take down one enemy – because he had so many cities generating so many units – that the idea of doing it two or three more times was exhausting. It’s a relentless game, you don’t tend to get turns that you just wait out while your guys go for a wander or build a farm.

Adam:If they’re building a farm it better be a farm that grows food for a violent unicorn to eat. Because you’re going to need a violent unicorn at some point. Even though it’s easy to be critical of how narrow it is, Master of Magic wasn’t all that different. There was more variety, for sure, and there was tactical combat, but it was also a game about killing other wizards.

Alec: I like the choice you get whenever you get a rare resource tile ‘I could grow extra food for my people… Or I could build a shrine that allows me to give every one of my troops a magic amulet that sucks the lifeforce from their enemies.’

Adam:It’s a tough choice.

Alec: it’s no choice at all, is it?

Adam:Those people are hungry.

Alec: but they can’t fight. Screw ’em!

Adam:But those amulets are incredibly awesome. Of course it’s going to be the amulets! EVERY TIME. That’s the heart of it – if they can’t fight, they might as well be dead.

Alec: I think you’re right that the small maps are the way to go – it must make it a little more boardgame-like. You’re straight into the fight, and you can see your enemies. There’s a lot of foreplay in the larger maps – everyone’s pretending to be at peace but no-one means it, not for a second. It’s like “let’s just admit our feelings for each other”. And then beasts will war.

Adam:Yeah, the best moments are the balance between handling the world itself and the problems it throws at you, and keeping an eye on your real enemies, looking for their weaknesses. And erogenous zones.

Alec: I did manage to broker an alliance, and an agreement that they’d help me fight my enemy.

Adam:WHAT

Alec: but once that was done it just felt really awkward. Now what? ‘Er. Well, we could just keep building stuff for no reason. Or…’ In actual fact I did pursue the happy-clappy spell of unification victory, but it was a huge anti-climax. Partly because the result was just a graphic and more wiffle from that bloody Sean Connery impersonator, and partly because the game is so clearly supposed to end in blood.

Adam:When I first played multiplayer the diplomacy options hadn’t even been implemented. That’s how little they matter. You saw someone and the game automatically declared war on your behalf. I noticed no difference. Somebody had to point out to me that diplomacy was missing.

Alec: haha. It’s Daily Mail diplomacy. ‘If they’re not like us, attack!’

Adam:And I am a man who barely ever builds a military unit in civilisation. I’m the whipping boy of the world.

Alec: I’m the same in Civ. Like I say, I had to force myself to play this as a battle game. But it’s been fascinating to go back to Warlock now I have acclimatised. I do just attack on sight now.

Adam:Me too at first. When I realised that’s what it was I started to enjoy myself.

Alec: I fear for what kind of Civ player this will make me.

Adam:I can’t imagine playing Civ that way – do you reckon there’s anything in the idea that because Civ is real cultures and ‘real’ history, we are both less inclined to be warlike? Because we are liberal babymen.

Alec: there’s definitely an element of “I can’t attack Ghandi!” when I play. Because, y’know, he’s *Ghandi.* Also, yeah, watching the news and seeing the horror of the world, I don’t really want to be one of those guy. The difference is, someone like Assad or Gaddafi is so mad as to be oblivious to the inevitable truth that he will lose eventually, whereas in Civ you actually can win. You can be a total fuck like that and win. The UN won’t stop you.

Adam:I think there’s some truth to it – I’d like to have a doves and hawks roundtable about Civ. See if there’s any correlation. I don’t feel like I’ve won if I just steamroll through my neighbours. I feel like a dick. Maybe a victorious one, I don’t know, but definitely a dick.

Alec: yeah, it’s creating a tidy garden by setting fire to everything, but I want to carefully remove the weeds and tend the borders, then have something so lovely that my neighbours are jealous.

Adam:In Warlock it doesn’t matter – it’s a cartoon. A violent, silly cartoon with gentleman werewolves and knights on donkeys.

Alec: let’s talk about the silliness though. I’m not sure the humour works for me. The voices are *too* panto. The other Ardania [the Majesty fantasy setting Paradox uses for many of its other titles] games are a bit like that – there’s no bite to their fantasy satire.

Adam:The voices are terrible. I just switch them off. I actually don’t mind it – it doesn’t make me laugh but I’d rather generic fantasy humour than just generic fantasy. I’d rather have something different entirely, but between those uncooked potatoes and these uncooked potatoes…

Alec: I don’t really know why I’m fighting either.

Adam:Because there are wizards and you are also a wizard.

Alec: I suppose that’s basically the cause of most real wars too. ‘Those people aren’t me! Get’ em!’

Adam: One of the things that confuses me is that the world is clearly not the entire world – you can see the borders and across them. Like, the edge of the map has more world beyond it.

Alec: isn’t that the wrapping thing? I think it’s supposed to loop like a globe, but it won’t actually let you leave the top and pop out the bottom. So I think you actually see a chunk of the land on the other end of the map repeated.

Adam:That is how much attention I pay – I didn’t realise it was a non-wrapping wrap. I thought it was just sectioning off the play area from an untouchable otherland. Like the area of conflict was segregated from somewhere possibly more civilised.

Alec: I might be wrong. I just read it as a slightly fumbled take on what Civ does.

Adam:That sentence is how a lot of people seem to view the game. Which is a shame.

Alec: yes, true, it might be causing people to dismiss Warlock when they really shouldn’t. I think it did pull a few punches and try to be more civlike than it deserves to be, though. It could have embraced the all-out war a lot more. Bigger, more devastating units, larger armies and whatnot. It feels a bit caught between two stools.

Adam:Yeah, it needs more tiers of unit. It’s too easy to find the best stuff and just concentrate on that rather than being surprised by something even bigger and better. For all the warlike warlockery there’s not enough room for escalation.

Alec: it’s exactly the sort of game I wanted to play when I gave my nights over to it a couple of weeks back, but I don’t currently feel like I could extract much more from it. I can sort of see exactly what needs doing from turn 1. I suppose it’ll be well-suited to expansion, but I worry slightly based on Majesty 2’s rather underwhelming add-ons that they’ll just add more units rather than alter and expand the mechanics.

Adam:We should definitely try some multiplayer. It doesn’t make it a different game, since human players only have limited decisions to make just as AI does, but it’s more amusing when you can see the anguish of a person behind every move.

Alec: yeah, knowing that when you take a city from an opponent you’re causing them pain will add a sweet, poisonous thrill. That there’s no reaction from the AI when I seize one of their towns is a bit flat, I’d quite like an Orc dude to pop up and scream abuse at me.

And in the game.

Adam:But he’d have a terrible voice. “YOU HAVE SHTOLEN MY SHITTY.”

Alec: then he would inexplicably build 30 units of bats simultaneously.

Adam:Oh yeah, you had the problem of never-ending conveyor belts of armies coming at you. That’s happened to me I’m sure but never to the extent that I feel like I’m just wading through a cheat factory.

Alec: I did have a couple of paranoid “hey, it’s cheating!” moments. But I suspect it’d had just arranged its economy in dark ways I have yet to ascertain myself.

Alec: anyway, I like the game despite this griping. It needs a bit more meat on its bones but it’s a success, I’d say.

Adam:Yes. It wasn’t very good at communicating what it was trying to do and I suspect that’s partly because it’s trying to do several things rather than just one thing very well.

Alec: EMBRACE WAR. Lose the smiley face and just stab stab stab.

Adam:And don’t forget your fireballs.

Alec: pfft, real men use lightning bolts.

Warlock: Master Of The Arcane is out now.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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