Phil Owen tinkers with Warlock 2's editing tools and comes away expecting to use it extensively before starting a new campaign.
"QA on the game have been attempting to form a map into the image of the scene of the Battle of Five Armies from The Hobbit."
Officially, Warlock 2 will be out next week on Steam, but even today those who pre-order the game can play now in "instant access" as opposed to the controversial Early Access program.
But if you play Warlock 2 today, you're not getting the full experience. Sure, it feels like the full Warlock 2 experience, but it's not. Perhaps the most important part of Warlock 2 will be locked away until the game actually launches.
I'm speaking, of course, about the game's built-in editor tools.
Warlock 2’s default campaign is similar in concept to the original Warlock - Masters of the Arcane, but in reverse. Whereas before you began this hex-based strategy war game in Ardania and attempted to spread your civilization throughout the world, in Warlock 2 you begin in a small “shard” map far from Ardania and must travel across through other shards via portals that will eventually lead you back to the homeland. It's more than just a game about destroying your enemy factions as you dominate the land; you have a quest with a more concrete goal to deal with.
You can also play the campaign in multiplayer, March of the Eagles-style, where the other factions in your game - which have the same ultimate goal you do - can be controlled by players instead of the AI, and you can choose to cooperate or duke it out.
Accompanying that streamlined structure are systems that are more RPGized now. Lots of skill trees to explore as you expand your territory - you still have to set up cities as you go that serve as lifelines of sorts because you're probably not going to be able to just take some fighting units through portals all the way across the map.
Or is that really the case? Right now it may be, but once Warlock 2's editor tools become a part of the game you'll be able to shape your experience into how you want it to be. And, yes, that can involve your enemies not really posing a challenge if you want. It does enable you to "cheat" if you want to think of it that way, but whenever I use tools to edit a game's campaign it's always in service of building a narrative the way I'm envisioning it, especially in a sandbox of sorts like Warlock 2.
“This is something a lot of players asked for in the first game that we didn’t have the time or the ability to do since the info you need is locked inside the code,” producer Jörgen Björklund told me at GDC as he walked me through it. “In this basic view you can do a lot of stuff. You can create and edit quest built on the existing ones.
"Editing maps is not complicated, and folks who’ve spent much time in any game that allows you to modify terrain, like Sim City for example, will likely be able to figure this out reflexively."
“I can go in and change everything here. I can add alternatives. I can add targets to the quests. I can make it so a specific quest lets you win the level, which is really handy if I make custom maps and put them into scenarios. I can modify the existing quests in the game to show up more more often if I think they’re fun. I can go in and modify the existing mages…”
And that’s where it all began to get really real. Changing scenarios and maps and quests are all super cool things to be able to do as you craft your own experiences within Warlock 2, but the ability to fully customize mages - these are the role you play as overlord of the faction - is on an entirely different level of potential awesomeness.
“If I think this guy is cool but could use other starting spells or just control a different race, that’s totally possible,” Björklund continued down the list of things you can mess with as my ears perked up slightly more with each item. “If I like the settings here but don’t like the picture I can take that and put a photo of myself.”
If you can and want to deal with XNL files you can go all the way to the metaphorical ground floor and make an all-new race of minions if you’d like, and with Warlock 2 featuring full integration with Steamworks there’s little doubt that you’ll be able to find plenty of those that you can easily stick in there should you prefer to leave creation duties to somebody else.
There’s also a map editor inside, which begins with a randomly generated map of the scale you dictate, just as the game does when you start a campaign, except here you can shape the shards as you see fit. Björklund mentioned that a woman doing quality assurance on the game has been attempting to form a map into the image of the scene of the Battle of Five Armies from The Hobbit. Editing maps is not complicated, and folks who’ve spent much time in any game that allows you to modify terrain, like Sim City for example, will likely be able to figure this out reflexively.
The capper on this demonstration involved Björklund increasing the power of a fireball spell by 100. Okay.
My general policy is to assume that everything I see before release will be crappier than it looks in the final version. But even if the editor turns out to be less flexible or useful when it’s complete and in the game - the reason the editor wasn’t included in the pre-release code given to those who pre-ordered is that it wasn’t actually finished at that point - I have a difficult time imagining that I wouldn’t use it extensively before starting any new campaign. The potential to tailor the game to my headcanon version of what’s happening will always be too good to pass up.