Although I once showed some promise in the game of chess, such promise did not in any way translate into the arena of real time or turn based strategy games. (Nor did my blackjack wizardry translate into success in virtual solitaire.) The exact reasons for this are unclear; however, these are some of the contributing factors: the ever present availability of cheesteak jimmy’s meant that the immediately satisfying power of creation was merely a cheat code away; and the significantly more complex and intoxicating ability to create elaborate, extravagant floral arrangements of pretty flowers in Caesar III meant that little thought was given to winning within the natural confines of either game—if the cultural bores of citizens in Caesar III couldn’t appreciate my floral artistry, then all the better that they starve to death or be buried in their taxes! Whereas, in chess, the ultimate goal is utterly binary; in spite of its beauty.
Which is why, breaking a successfully self-applied mantra, I selected the median difficulty instead of the hardest. In spite of my reservations (and well over one hundred turns later), my kingdom is yet to be defeated—yet I am very little closer to fulfilling the campaign’s conditions for ultimate victory.
Conditions which may be customised so as to dictate the style of the campaign and play. After one composes the campaign in the image one desires, then one is transported to the location of their first fantastical city—sometimes founded in utterly idiotic places due to the randomly generated environments: mine was founded on an active volcano; hemmed in on one side of the entire map by a Chinese Wall of impassable mountains (rendering an enemy spawn point thus unconquerable). It took me several turns to realise that placing my Marians in rivers of lava burned them very slowly to death; and suddenly the striking scenery upon which my city had been founded took on a far more ludicrous and insidious visage. Luckily it is possible to refashion the landscape into more practically useful soils through the use of spells (which must be researched from spell to spell along the branches of a gargantuan Yggdrasil that pales in comparison to the genealogical trees upon which the buildings grow) so that one must not only consider the environment in terms of military advantage (a forest might provide higher defence; a swamp might slow down the movement of one’s advanced guard), but also economic and agricultural benefits, too: canny settlers search for the most fertile farmlands; or the most resource rich tax and mine havens; or any mana blessed magical pumpkin patches.
As one begins to fashion their first founded city into a kingdom, one also begins to explore. Not only might one discover verdant planes ripe for another city to place on the kingdom’s tax ledger, but other cities may also be invaded and overtaken. Counter intuitively, a larger population does not, in fact, result in a glut of riches for the kingdom: every citizen of the city (and some institutions) are devout communists: sucking the glorious, generous motherland’s teat for all it is worth. Whilst amassing a powerful army, one must also make sure that one is producing enough foodstuffs, mana and money to keep said army well fed, paid; and satisfied with—intoxicated on?—their mana rations. One must also consider a long term plan as to the contents of one’s kingdom; lest one find oneself with an embarrassment of barracks and a dearth of fertile earth to nourish the soldiers-to-be with. A poorly planned city can lead to irreparable damage to one’s entire kingdom; unless one has the courage to demolish it and start again—which causes the citizens considerable displeasure: not only does the military have to be consistently cajoled with a steady supply of agricultural and economic riches, but so too do the titchy citizens whose tiny bite is as bad as their mighty bark.
Whilst the motherland’s teat is sucked dry, the local wildlife wander the wilderness; and the other great mages stalk the lands in search of the same cities to invade and overtake: and the same fertile lands to found their cities upon; and they seditiously scheme as well: demanding unfair monetary, magical or agricultural parley; and all as part of their so-called alliance! Unfortunately, here the conservative AI comes to the fore. In actuality, the AI is often utterly benign: wandering aimlessly around the world with little discernible purpose: sometimes an AI ally might send out a whole platoon of troops through a teleportational portal (a convenient way to break up areas for the purpose of improved performance, and also provide a clear distinction between climates) only to slay a few middling wildebeests, and then return through the same portal; whereupon they take up their static positions of absolutely no apparent strategic advantage. The more immaterial enemies who wander about the world do not, in fact, wander about the world: they, too, stand statically as they wait for the player to discover them; perhaps guarding their spawn points (which may be looted for resources) with little thought given to gaining any environmental advantage in their positioning. These benign, static enemies do become more proactive on the higher difficulties; but in practice this mostly boils down to the odd straggler wandering into a city’s limits in a limp attempt to destroy the city all by itself. But the defences one has likely erected thus render these naive, native stragglers utterly inert. Even the more powerful enemies summoned by quests who often attack one’s cities rarely pose any genuine threat—even if all of one’s armies are off wandering worlds away on an important, and entirely unrelated, quest.
This can lead to serious lulls when one is concentrating on building one’s armies or resources or cities, and there are no other quests to keep one otherwise occupied; which, altogether, can lead to entire sessions disintegrating into turn skipping repetitions. However, the quests do manage to enrich the flow of exploration and combat: often after one has reached a certain point in relation to the campaign’s various long-term objectives, and the next objective is far out of sight—then (if one accepts the quest: spawning dragons may simply be rejected if one’s army is otherwise occupied) the undead might be summoned by some unknown force into a particularly awkward position; or a Monty Pythonesque bridgekeeper might start asking a few awkward questions (the wrong answers proving dire).
But these lulls are easily forgiven when one considers the great breadth of one’s responsibilities—responsibilities which have far reaching repercussions. One might even be able to create a more intense—but still cerebral—experience through the editing tools which allow one to not only create full campaigns complete with side quests, but also the worlds in which these campaigns take place. The complementary online multiplayer plays out in much the same manner as the singleplayer campaign; and is just as customisable (to the point where a campaign can become a skirmish). However—due to the players being separated for so long over the course of the campaign or skirmish—the multiplayer can sometimes feel just as lonely an experience as the singleplayer campaign—unless one’s opponent is particularly talkative.
The relaxed attitude with which one can approach Warlock 2 successfully sets it apart from many of its contemporaries: Warlock 2 is instantly engaging and accessible enough that one might enjoy the campaign without the great level of commitment required of the genre elsewhere. Yet, if one wishes to raise the difficulty level and delve deeper—finding a great long term plan and strategy that suits one’s natural cognition in the process—there is enough depth to keep one engaged over the preposterously humungous campaigns that the bravest great mages may create via the editor or the customisable singleplayer campaign.