Before I get into this preview I should make clear that I have only played a very early version of the game, possibly pre-alpha. It was still very rough around the edges, there was placeholder text and missing images all over the shop, and it was crashing to the desktop every couple of minutes. It wasn’t a pretty sight. As such, I'll only put the official screenshots on here, I won't be recording any gameplay. To me, that'd be like pulling it's trousers down in public, it's just not fair to the developer (Ino-Co Plus, seeing as you're asking). The only people that'll actually see the game in this state are other reviewers and the developers themselves, so what I've seen is in no way representative of the final product.
That being said the little I played of Warlock – Master of the Arcane was very promising indeed. At a first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a mod of Civilization V. It took several minutes of searching and trawling through a number of websites before I’d believe that it wasn’t.
It’s no bad thing to be taking some cues from Civilization V, and it makes it tremendously easy to play for anyone familiar with any of the Civilization titles – the basic premises of founding a city, hexagonal movement and research trees all carry over to Warlock. What sets Warlock apart from Civilization are the elements it adds, and the elements it does away with. Obviously the main idea that Warlock brings to the table is the fantasy setting, and magic. This lessens the emphasis on research trees and progressing in terms of technological advances, as seen in Civilization, and instead places the focus more on directly engaging your enemies. It’s a good thing too, as the AI is incredibly aggressive in this build, even when set to lower difficulties. A special mention has to be given to the fact that units auto-retreat if they take a lot of damage – a small feature that saved my arse on a number of occasions!
Instead of researching technologies, you’re researching spells that can be cast any time, and on any hex tile. Spells have a range of effects, be it weapon buffs, healing, elemental damage, or the hilariously named “death damage” – which is surely a remnant of poor translation, but I hope they keep it in the final version, it’s just a brilliant notion. City expansion is extremely accelerated – no accruing culture and choosing political structures here! There are objectives given periodically, which actually help to focus the gameplay, whereas in Civilization you’re left to pursue your own idea of what you what your civilization to be like – be it a technologically advanced one, or a civilization well versed in the art of war. In Warlock these objectives are small and easy to complete, with palpable rewards, for example I had an objective to found another city in addition to the city I was given to start with, with a 240 gold reward. These are simple objectives (though I imagine they will progressively get much more complex in the final version – in this build I got that same objective over and over again) but it makes playing the game more directly rewarding, rather than waiting for all of your efforts and decisions to be rewarded or punished in the final throws of the game.
(Sorry to do this, it's an easy way of seeing if people like my reviews!)