I’ll admit, this is one game announcement I didn’t see coming. The original Warlock was a fun civ-like game that mixed in high-fantasy and an element of exploration. It wasn’t perfect, but it had its own charms, but it never felt like a game Paradox would want to do a sequel for. Guess I was wrong about that. At this year’s Ignomir Games Fair in Russia, Paradox Interactive officially pulled of the veil on Warlock 2: The Exiled. Not wanting to be behind the times, we sat down with Producer and Paradox Veteran Jörgen Björklund to find out all we could.
Strategy Informer: So, to start things off, tell us what it was about the original Warlock game that made you want to do a sequel?
Jörgen Björklund: It’s a very nice little game, it has a lot of elements that we liked in Paradox games, and it’s hardcore, especially if you do it at the harder difficulty level. I feel it has incredibly well executed minute-to-minute gameplay, and we also got ok reviews... I think the metacritic of the first game is 73, or something? But we got a lot of positive feedback from the players. Very few of the people who bought the first game and who played with it had much to complain about. We like turn-based strategy warfare... it has a lot of potential, so we wanted to do a very ‘proper’ sequel. Take the first game, and make it better to get around some of the flaws the first game had.
Strategy Informer: Can you give a brief overview as to what improvements you’ve made over the first game? What are its selling points?
Jörgen Björklund: We’ve added the new game mode which we talked about during the announcement, which has more of a ‘campaign’ feel to it. A lot of players were asking for ‘single-player’ gameplay, and this is a bit of a twist on that. It’s called ‘Exiled’, and you have to fight your way through different smaller worlds, or shards. You start on a much smaller world than the original, and you have to work your way through a network of nodes back to the shards of Ardania where you fight a huge boss. We’ll also be working a lot on the AI, which was a complaint from the first game, and we’ve added more stuff – more spells, new races, more monsters, and more world types. We’ve looked at the interface, and tried to make that better too.
We got good feedback from experienced players in Warlock 1, but it was incredibly unforgiving to new players, so we hope we've fixed that.
Strategy Informer: One of the great features about the original game is the fact that you could take portals to other dimensions and explore, but because it had a significant empire-management element, you were kind of bound to the limits of your empire, and any meaningful foray into these other worlds needed a city to be plonked down, and of course these worlds were full of tough monsters that wanted to eat your face constantly... it was all a bit frustrating.
Jörgen Björklund: Oh yes, incredibly so, I remember I went back to Warlock 1 one time after a while. I think we’d been working on Warlock 2 since January? But I went back on to Warlock 1 to see if I could spot the difference, and I realised I was playing it in a slightly different way. I’d send out raiding parties, I keep a cadre of high-level units on patrol in other worlds to scout out new places to found cities in a way that I didn’t do in the first game where I just slowly expanded across the whole map with lots of settlers. I don’t do that anymore because, especially in the new game mode, the worlds are smaller, it’s more viable now to take high-level units and explore in a more meaningful way. I really like the exploring part of it.
Strategy Informer: Another unique point was the spell system, which was akin to technology research – how have you improved on that mechanic since the first game?
Jörgen Björklund: We now have a better way of researching spells. In the first game you have these five or six research ‘slots’, and when you researched something in one slot, it randomly generated a new spell for you, so it was very hard to plan your spell research. We now have three different research trees, so you can plan in a totally different way. We’re also working on a system... how you use the spells, that’s basically the same. You still have the casting time, the mana to keep track of, but we’re working on a system where you can tag on gems to spells that either makes them more dangerous, but slower to cast, or quicker to cast, more mana etc... so you can still play around with the spells after they’re researched. You can micro-manage your spell usage more than you could in the first game. It makes me use spells a lot more.
Strategy Informer: Do you still have the Unity spell that allows you to win the game? You mentioned the AI problems earlier, quite often I’d be faced with an AI faction going for the Unity spell, but they were too far away for me to do anything about it and none of the other AI’s seemed bothered either.
Jörgen Björklund: Yes, but you can turn it off as a win condition. Apart from the new game mode, you’ll still be able to play, it’s not a ‘legacy’ mode, but we’re just calling it the ‘Masters of the Arcane’ mode where you can play on one huge map, like in the first game. When you play that mode you can choose your winning conditions, so you can have the unity spell on or off.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘Exiled’ game mode? Reminds me a bit of what Eador: Masters of the Broken world did in their game. Did you draw inspiration from them or was this a coincidence?
Jörgen Björklund: It’s a coincidence – I mean we’ve looked at it a little bit over here, and I think we’re very different, as a game. Our broken worlds are basically an evolution of the extra worlds from Warlock 1, where you could go through portals to other worlds. This is to force exploration and to have a couple of distinct smaller worlds where you can explore and fight in another way.
The basic set-up is that, depending on what universe size you have, every great mage starts on a smaller level 1 world, with some low-level monsters, some resources, but you’re pretty safe in your world. There’s also a limit on how much you can do there, so you NEED to expand, and you need to expand into other worlds, where you will fight with the other Great Mages for the resources, and further and further on through the network of worlds, to the final world. So it’ll be harder in this game world to eliminate the other mages because they will be very heavily fortified in their starting worlds.
Strategy Informer: How does a typical game setup work then in the Exiled mode? I’m having trouble visualising it.
Jörgen Björklund: Let’s see if I can make this make sense... you start a game as you did in Warlock 1. The average game-length in terms of time is pretty much the same, but instead of having one huge map, you will spawn a couple of - I have to draw this for myself – worlds in a semi-big universe, for example, you’ll want three computer opponents, and a middle universe. Each of the mages would have one world each, and every one of those would have a portal to a level 2 world each, and then in turn those worlds are connected to a couple of level 3 worlds, etc... One playthrough will be one playthrough, as in Warlock 1, just the set-up is different.
Strategy Informer: Do you foresee empire management getting a bit complicated? Managing large domains is hard enough when they’re not divided across several dimensions.
Jörgen Björklund: It’ll force you to move a bit of your empire as well. The base starting world won’t be able to provide enough resources for you to get the whole way. I mean, for optimising play, you’ll want to have one city dedicated to production, one world focused on mana, and then one or two cities that pump out high level units. You will need to have cities in at least two worlds, and depending on where you are, you may have to move a city, or build a new city, to have shorted supply lines for your units. I haven’t felt it was too much, but it’s harder than Warlock 1, where it was easy to just spam out settlers.
Strategy Informer: So you can just up and move cities? Just like that?
Jörgen Björklund: No, you’d have to either destroy them or convert them into what we’re calling ‘special cities’, which are smaller, slightly autonomous and you can’t build in them. We’ve added a city cap, so if you have more than ‘x’ cities, it will severely harm your empire. Special cities don’t count towards that cap, but they still contribute in some way. You probably don’t want to convert a huge city that’s been with you since the beginning, or a city you’re devoting to a specific purpose, but a city that you’ve just plonked down to shorten supply lines or to act as a fort or something, you could convert one of those.
Strategy Informer: How do you see the ‘boss battles’ working? Not really something you hear about in a strategy game.
Jörgen Björklund: Did you play the Armageddon DLC? In the final world, there are some really high-level monsters that are really hard to beat, so it’s similar to that.
Strategy Informer: What about multiplayer? You mention both competitive and co-operative. We can imagine how PvP is going to work, but are you doing anything special on the co-op front?
Jörgen Björklund: We’re still fiddling about a bit with that to see where we end up specifically, but after playing a lot In the office we realised that we mostly play co-op on really hard levels, as that’s the most fun that you get out of it. But since the game doesn’t tell you to play either co-op or pvp, you can pretty much play it the way you want. If you want to co-operate, you do that, and if you get tired of your allies, you stab them in the back. What we think is very interesting about this game is that it’s the same in single-player and in multiplayer, the differences are very small.
Strategy Informer: As you mentioned earlier, Warlock 1 had a bunch of DLC’s released for it, how did that program work out? Is it something you’d want to do for Warlock 2 as well?
Jörgen Björklund: Without saying too much, the DLC’s were well received, but they haven’t sold incredibly well. They added stuff that people enjoyed, and if Warlock 2 goes well, we’ll probably do something similar. We added a game-mode with Armageddon and stuff like that. It all depends on sales.
Strategy Informer: This is more of a personal quirky question – one of the selling points for Warlock 2 is supposed to be how you have a menagerie of weird and wonderful monsters that a player can employ. I don’t know about other players, but I prefer having a more consistent racial identity when I play as a faction, fielding giant rats or spiders or whatever when I’m, say, the Elves, messes with my sense of self. Why have set factions if you can mix and match like this?
Jörgen Björklund: The races are pretty homogeneous, but in Warlock 1, like if I was playing as a human and I took over a monster city, I could start producing monster units. And that you will be able to do in Warlock 2 as well, and personally I think that’s a selling point I sometimes get tired of playing just as one race. But, I guess it depends a bit on what kind of player you are. You can always self-impose a play style where you only field units of your race, but we will keep the fact that if you take over a city of a different race, you will be able to use it, but that city won’t give you as much benefits as a city of your own race.
Strategy Informer: So, just to wrap things up – anything else you want to talk about? What can fans expect to hear about over the coming months?
Jörgen Björklund: We will talk a lot more about the new races, we will go into what changes we’ve made to the AI, we will go into more depth about the new game mode and of course we will go into more depth about the improvements we’ve made. We’ve really tried to make it into a proper sequel. I mean after we made the announcement, I went onto our forums and checked what people had been saying, and everyone was like “I really liked Warlock 1, but this really needs to be fixed”, and we pretty much checked off every one of those boxes. So apparently we’re doing what people wanted.
There you have it, everything we could get about Warlock 2 so far. Thanks to Jorgen for taking the time to talk to us, and keep an eye out for future news and updates – we’ll try and get you some close impressions as soon as we can. Warlock 2: The Exiled is due out on PC early 2014.