Have You Played... Warlords III - Darklords Rising
Elegant, epic fantasy warfare
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
The Warlords series doesn't pop into my mind as often as it should. The third entry is one of my favourite turn-based strategy games, a perfect example of a game that is easy to pick up and play but has intricacies that only the dedicated will discover. Across a sprawling campaign, heroes and armies clash on maps that are little more than city-nodes connected by pathways, but manage to communicate all the grandeur of a fantasy epic.
Sadly, the original Warlords series isn't available at any digital stores. the realtime spinoff series, Battlecry, is available on GoG but the turn-based originals are nowhere to be seen. There have been attempts to remake the games, most notably in the long-running FreeLords project, but I'd pay handsomely for a copy of Darklords Rising, having lost my copy many years ago.
The game's simplicity is the key to its appeal. Rather than pages of finicky stats, Warlords gives you cities, which produce armies, and heroes who can lead them and (in the third game, at least) cast spells. Build armies, drawn from a huge pool of fantasy creatures, and set about painting the map with your faction's colour. At any given moment, the state of a given scenario can be seen clearly, as opposing forces carve up swathes of territory, seeking to cut off points of attack and to bolster their defences. When a three-way war breaks out, watching the AI redrawing battle fronts is fascinating, waiting for a moment of weakness, and dreading the moment when your own cities become the focus of attention again.
Everything from the plain graphics to the non-interactive battles could be a problem in search of a solution, but Warlords III's sophistication is in its simplicity and the ease with which it portrays its enormous, involving fantasy wars.