Sorcerer King: Stardock’s Surprise New 4X Strategy

'Things are heating up around here,' says the fire demon. No one likes that guy.

Oh, those Stardock scamps! Skipping the post-announcement, pre-release build-up of people muttering how they hope new Stardock games are less buggy than Elemental’s initial release, they’ve jumped straight to release with their latest. Or Early Access release, anyway. Yesterday Stardock both announced and released Sorcerer King. It’s a 4X strategy, as you might expect and hope from Stardock, with the twist of pitting players against a Left 4 Dead-ish AI director. Rather than fighting similar AI civilisations doing similar things, it’s an asymmetric war against the mighty Sorcerer King.

Building cities, strengthening armies, grabbing items, completing quests, and rallying independent factions, you’re trying to grow strong enough to off the Sorcerer King before he can destroy the world. Though he’s more powerful, like any good villain he doesn’t outright crush you. Stardock say:

Sorcerer King is built around the concept of asymmetry. Your goals (kill the Sorcerer King) are wholly different than the Sorcerer King’s goals (destroy the shards and therefore the world). The rest of the game revolves around this central concept.

The Sorcerer King doesn’t play by the same rules – he operates on a completely different level than your scarce resources allow you to. A sophisticated “Game Master” AI controls his forces and other events in the world, managing pacing and generating threats to ensure an engaging game from start to finish.

Assuming it works well, that sounds quite exciting. This is still an early access release, though. And, dare I say, still a Stardock game. They say it’s “functional but incomplete,” and plan to add “polish, balance, and content” during Early Access before a launch in early 2015.

Sorcerer King is £25.49 on Steam Early Access right now, but will go up to £29.99 in a few weeks.

39 Comments

  1. LegendaryTeeth says:

    Colour me hopeful. Sounds quite interesting, if they pull it off.

  2. Gothnak says:

    is it co-op?

    That might be fun.

    Pity i got burnt so bad on Elemental…

    • Grygus says:

      Did you get burnt, in the end? You got two free games, and the last one (Legendary Heroes) was pretty good.

      • Shadow says:

        Maybe you were more impressed, but from where I’m standing, Legendary Heroes is profoundly generic and, on the whole, merely okay.

  3. Senethro says:

    An interesting idea. Given how the AIs of Civ5 and the rest can’t provide a competitive or sometimes even an interesting game maybe asymmetry is the way to go.

  4. mouton says:

    Finally, something similar to AI War. Asymmetric warfare ftw

    • rusty5pork says:

      But a turn-based, fantasy AI War. It’s like they made a game just for me!

  5. montorsi says:

    Any word on whether they’ve got someone to improve on their insipid fantasy lore?

    • pepperfez says:

      If you doubt the sparkling brilliance of Brad Wardell’s groundbreaking fantasy oeuvre, I think you’ll find that you’re the real racist.

    • Misnomer says:

      And here I was thinking this read like someone had just finished watching the Lord of the Rings movies and figured no one else had tried that plot.

  6. BTAxis says:

    Judging by the visuals, it’s built on the same engine as Fallen Enchantress, and that game got really, really slow after a while. If this game isn’t better on the performance front, I think that’s a reason for me not to go for it.

    • rusty5pork says:

      Really? I’ve never had performance troubles with Fallen Enchantress. I even got it to run fine on my toaster of a laptop.

  7. Jeremy says:

    That voice over alone might be enough to dissuade me from getting this game.

    • mouton says:

      Not as bad for me, but I am not very fond of fantasy being too sparkly-laughy.

    • Bassen_Hjertelos says:

      That voice over alone might be enough to encourage me to get this game.

      • JackMultiple says:

        Whoa, I think I recognize that voice! I think he used to be one of the video game reviewers from a CD-ROM-based “digizine” in the 90s boringly called “Interactive Entertainment” (IE). I really enjoy(ed) his over-the-top vocal antics, if it’s the same guy. I have all those CDs around this mess here somewhere…

        Hmmm… on 2nd listen, maybe not. But maybe he listened to the same reviewer of yore? An example of the reviewer I’m thinking about is here… link to youtube.com

    • FriendlyFire says:

      Sounds like one of the devs talking really.

      • Reapy says:

        Sounds like brad wardell.

        If it wasn’t coming from the mouth of wardell out of stardock this would pique my interest for the concept, like they just got done reading dark sun and were inspired by it or something. But since past is the past and I know what shop it is coming out of (though if paxton is still there there is some hope), it really is going to have to dig itself out of a hole.

  8. Yglorba says:

    So far, I haven’t been a big fan of Stardock’s MoM-ish games, but I do think that the focus on asymmetric play is definitely the right idea.

    Part of the oddity of the original Master of Magic was that the AI was terrible and this actually, I think, ended up improving the game by turning it into a weird hybrid of a roleplaying game and a fantasy kingdom management sim even on the highest difficulties, rather than the wargame we often end up with when people try to imitate it.

  9. DrManhatten says:

    So basically AI wars repacked in a Fantasy setting. Shows again Stardock has zero original ideas.

    • Emeraude says:

      Hey, I keep repeating it, but there *is* value in a perfectly executed unoriginal idea. Not saying that this is what we have here, but you know… sometimes we just want something good and predictable. Nothing bad about that as long as alternatives exist.

      • DrManhatten says:

        I would agree with you the only problem is the track record on Stardock’s execution isn’t that great and that’s puting it polity.
        .

      • mouton says:

        Yeah, folks complain when some good ideas are never repeated again and folks complain when good ideas are repeated again.

        Yay internets, knowing what it wants since 1972

    • Boosterh says:

      Wait, so they take a little used, but admittedly pre-existing basic concept (Asymmetric warfare against a far more powerful empire), adapt it to a new setting (fantasy vs Sci-Fi), an entirely different style of gameplay (Heroes-ish turn based strategy vs RTS), adds other design elements that its predecessor didn’t have (The doom counter, heroes with RPG elements), and you say they have “zero originality”?

      Methinks your standards are a little high.

      I think this is a good example of the RIGHT way to adapt something (in theory, at least; I reserve judgement on their execution until I see a finished game in action): Take a pre-existing concept, and then, by adding new concepts, and tweaking existing ones, produce something that will be familiar enough to be appealing to fans of the first iteration, without being so similar that it seems like just a carbon copy.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Only insofar as it’s strategy and asymmetrical. It’s realtime not turnbased, first off – which is a huge difference in itself.
      AI war isn’t just a traditional strategy game with a more powerful opponent, though. There’s little traditional about it. You have extremely limited resources compared to your enemy, that much is the same, but the way you go about it is entirely different. In AI war you CAN’T grow too strong, from what we’re hearing of this, the idea IS to grow stronger. In AI war you’re trying to slip past your enemy’s defences, in this it seems you’ll be gradually overcoming them.
      Not to mention this is fantasy and contains a fairly large chunk of rpg, I suspect.
      They’re very different games. No more similar than any other two arbitrarily chosen strategy games. Leave them be.

      EDIT: Obviously I meant to say AI war is realtime, and this is turnbased. Ahem.

  10. Premium User Badge

    JiminyJickers says:

    Hmmm, looks interesting, I quite like the idea. I will have to check it out.

  11. Hypnotron says:

    ” are wholly different than the Sorcerer King’s goals (destroy the shards and therefore the world)…”

    Except it’s not really true. Your goal is to save the shards just as much as it is to destroy the King. Likewise the King’s goal is to destroy the shards and anyone who stands in his way.

    The only thing that is asymmetric is the size of the forces which should mean you would be waging more of a guerrilla war. And to an extent in the early game you are as your small band of terror… err… soldiers battle small enemy teams rather than armies.

    With this concept in mind, I would allow the player to specialize in ambushing and sneak attacks and to always have the initiative in combat when they initiate it.

    I wouldn’t allow the player to build any new official cities. Instead they would have to work with existing cities but in an underground capacity trying to increase their % support from the locals each turn. That would mean % of the King’s levied taxes and food would actually go to you instead of the King.

    Player gets huge spy advantage and ability to turn enemy units during battle since these enemy units often represent conquered friendly forces from the lost war. Even in defeat, the war is not lost.
    etc.

    Star Wars was the same way… rebel scum fighting guerrilla style (mostly) against legions of imperial forces.

    You can’t take the sky from me…

  12. gnodab says:

    Wait. It isn’t April again is it?

    Stardock announces and releases a game on Early Access.
    Stardock on Early Access.
    Stardock.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  13. Shadow says:

    The concept looks good and all on paper, and I hope it really pans out. But due to the company’s track record, it’ll be a while before I even consider giving them any money.

  14. Premium User Badge

    BlueTemplar says:

    Hmm, this looks a lot like Heroes of Might and Magic from a different angle… which is good considering what happened with HoMM6!

  15. scottossington says:

    link to kickstarter.com

    asymmetrical game mechanics seem to be a thing

  16. ravencheek says:

    “£25.49 on Steam Early Access right now, but will go up to £29.99 in a few weeks.”

    I’m sorry what? Early access goes up in price closer to release? Is it not ment to go the other way?

    Or is this like Early-Early Access? Pre-order early access?

    I really like Stardock but this marketing annoys me. This only strengthens my case why I will not play any early access games ever again.

    • Premium User Badge

      BlueTemplar says:

      Why would a video game get cheaper as it gets better?

    • Ojetor says:

      That’s how most Early Access games work. They are cheaper during EA to entice people to buy it earlier. It’s basically a preorder discount except you get to play the beta while you wait.

      In any case, after preordering Elemental I’m not going touching this with a ten foot pole until it’s released and reviewed.

      • Premium User Badge

        BlueTemplar says:

        The issue is that recently some companies have been kind of milking their biggest fans by using the “I have to play this game RIGHT NOW” urge by making the earlier versions of the game MORE expensive, so essentially making the customer pay more to beta-test their game.

        A good example is Planetary Annihilation : $90 for alpha access (though you could get the game at $20 if you didn’t care about playing it before release),
        link to kickstarter.com
        but only 28€ at release :
        link to isthereanydeal.com

        It does make some sense from the developer point of view : by making alpha/beta access overpriced, they’re guaranteed that only people that _really_ care about the game are going to participate, and tech support is not cheap, and more expensive for alpha and beta versions (AFAIK they’re legally obligated to offer tech support as long as they sell something for money?)

      • Voice of Majority says:

        Wasn’t the planetary annihilation pricing because they wanted to match certain Kickstarter supporter tiers? I think some other KS driven games did the same thing.

        • Premium User Badge

          BlueTemplar says:

          Those numbers are actually from Kickstarter. But you’re probably right about the Early Access (not Kickstarter) prices.