The Warlords series became popular as turn-based strategy games but jumped on the RTS bandwagon in 2000 when developer SSG released Warlords Battlecry, which introduced a novel idea to the genre: heroes. The hero's statistics could be raised to level up his capabilities, adding role-playing elements to the somewhat stagnant and over-crowded genre. Despite multiple problems and questionable sales, enough of a positive response warranted a sequel. Capitalizing on the traits that separated Warlords Battlecry from the rest of the pack, the sequel, Warlords Battlecry II, marks a solid improvement over the original and definitely sets the series apart in a saturated market.
The plot-driven campaign of Warlords Battlecry has been tossed out the window in favor of a new, dynamic model. The overall quest is to simply conquer the continent, which is divided into various territories. Forty-seven of the 67 areas on the map must be under your control in order to claim victory in the land of Etheria, and the approach almost makes the campaign structure feel like it was pulled from a turn-based strategy title, maybe as a throwback to Warlords' roots. It's also a fresh change of pace from the standard real-time strategy fare.
The hero aspect of Warlords Battlecry II is its biggest selling point, especially since it's why the game stands out from the RTS crowd. The idea is simple and is sure to appear in other games in the future. You command a hero that is always present during missions who levels up and gains stronger statistics and items as you progress. He can even be ported to multiplayer games assuming the option is enabled at set up, allowing you to show off your hard work in producing such a killing machine. Leveling the hero is almost motivation enough to play the game, as making him more powerful has a certain draw and appeal all its own.
Aside from the restructured campaign, gameplay is still largely the same as in the original. A dozen races are available with a few new entries such as the Dark Dwarves and the Fey. Each race also has a super unit at the top of their tech tree, though they take so long to research and build they're far from being unstoppable or unbalanced. In fact, Warlords Battlecry II is just as balanced as the original, and while there aren't drastic differences in gameplay between the races, unlike StarCraft for example, they're varied enough that balancing all 12 must have been an incredible challenge for the developers, play testers and quality assurance team.
Despite the minor gripes, including lackluster graphics and sound, Warlords Battlecry II manages to be an engaging RTS experience. Having a hero to build up throughout the game provides an interesting motivation to play, and the newly structured campaign adds a tactical twist. Unless graphics are a deciding factor in what you buy, the title is worth checking out.
Graphics: Graphics are far from bad but not above average, with a two-dimensional look that is done reasonably well. It simply doesn't excel over similar games.
Sound: Sound effects are above the standard fare but not by much. The musical score is good by comparison, though, and enhances the game.
Enjoyment: The hero unit and the tactical campaign combine to form an engrossing game that succeeds in making you lose track of time. The multiplayer element adds to the fun.
Replay Value: While the 12 races share a lot of similarities, each has unique quirks that make each worth a look. Multiplayer support over Ubi Soft's online servers will keep players busy beyond the campaign.
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Warlords 4: Heroes of Etheria, Warlords: Battlecry III, Warlords 3: Darklords Rising, Warlords 3: Reign of Heroes, Warlords II Deluxe, Warlords 2, Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, Warlords
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