This title was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, but is also available for PC.
From Tin Man Games comes a tabletop based RPG inspired by the book of the same name written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone that is reminiscent of the early era text adventure RPGs like The Hobbit, that is strangely enthralling even to the uninitiated to the genre.
The graphics in Warlock are not and were never intended to be at the forefront of the experience your character’s movement is played out on a rolling environment that pieces itself together as you explore. The graphics style is quite pleasing and despite the obvious unreality of it, is quite entertaining and doesn’t break the experience. You know it’s a game and you know there’s a tabletop environment playing out in front of you but you’re still sat enjoying your adventure which is obviously the main focus of the game. Personally watching my little figurine bobble along the ever changing paths of Firetop Mountain was very enjoyable and not something I was used to seeing, as this is my first foire into the world of tabletop inspired games!
The story is too complex to fit into a short paragraph but I’ll do my best: At the beginning of the game you have to choose between four characters to take into Firetop Mountain, with an additional 14 heroes unlockable with ‘souls’ that you gain from defeating enemies on your adventures. Each hero has their own objectives and motivations for venturing into the mountain, ranging from taking revenge on an Orc jailer, to looking for the eye of a cyclops, and even looking to fight a Minotaur to train for a contest. But each and every one of the heroes has a branch of their quest that ties into the over all ruler of the mountain, Zagor,The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, literally! He is the all powerful Warlock who rules his kingdom from deep within the mountain and he always factors into your story in some way. Meaning all heroes however differently their quests begin, all culminate with an interaction with Zagor in some form, this change in objective in each hero adds to the replayability, and because of this you can find new and interesting aspects to the game. Warlock puts its story in pole position, and boy does it show, the story is enthralling and even I as someone who wouldn’t call themselves much of a fan of the fantasy genre, really really enjoyed it, to the point where I found myself going back and playing it again after I had finished my work for the day! However this does sometimes leave you a little confused, with no objective markers you will sometimes find yourself forgetting where you’re going or not really knowing which way to go at a fork in the road.
The gameplay is what sets Warlock in a different standard to other RPGs, unlike most conventional RPGs of the current generation Warlock doesn’t see you control your character directly, instead letting you make decisions based on options that are given to you, as mentioned in the intro. I feel this takes almost direct inspiration from the original Hobbit text adventure game released in 1982 for the ZX Spectrum, the same year the initial book was published and two years before the first game for Warlock also released on the ZX Spectrum. You receive most of your context and story progression from a rolling series of text bubbles that resemble a scroll, this leaves a lot of your encounters outside of combat up to your imagination, which I believe adds to the game, as usually your perception of an encounter is dictated to you from the view of the develope. In this case, it is left to you to build the scene in your head, aided by the rolling backdrop that gives you a setting to work with.
Now, you might be thinking, “well if all you’re doing is reading, it can’t be that fun?” as most games nowadays value big budget visuals over good solid gameplay. This is a great change of pace, combat in Warlock is played out in a sort of turn based style of play, that sees all of the parties involved: player and enemies. However many there are play out their action simultaneously, either moving from one square to another or attacking/using an ability making combat a bit more entertaining than an original turn based style. More action at one time kind of thing , you know? If you die during your adventure, you have three resurrection stones you can use to revert back to your last checkpoint, but other than those checkpoints (in game benches where you can rest and regain health) there is no saving. To add to the difficulty, health only regenerates when resting at a bench, so running into a tough foe after not resting for a while and low on health can be quite dangerous, literally risking all of your playthrough for a chance at the glory behind the big bad wolf in front of you. This being said, it does make combat all the more rewarding the deeper into the mountain you get which is another major thumbs up for Warlock.
One element that detracts from Warlock is the lack of a distinctive effort in the sound department. The game has quite theme specific ambient music, the kind you’d expect from a fantasy game, but other than that there’s not much, no voices as all ‘dialogue’ is done through the rolling text and all the other sounds are just swords crashing or creatures growling. The game revels in leaving things to your imagination, which is acceptable to a point but would be more at home in a book, where you wouldn’t expect any of these things. But in a video game it becomes par for the course as part of the entertainment value, you don’t want your game to just become a glorified e-book do you? Then again, that could also be seen as a compliment of sorts that the game doesn’t stray too far from its source material, taking the original book and changing it into a video game version of itself, a more interactive version of the book, not just taking the book and taking away the one thing the authors strive to make you use, your imagination. I can certainly see why I think the game was developed without deep varying audio and voice over work. However, I believe it would have added even more to the experience If I could put a voice to a character I spent so long choosing.
The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain is a game I would not normally have picked up from a genre I don’t normally interact with. My honest opinion is that it is fantastic, the sheer depth of the story is something that doesn’t come around often these days and the gameplay is surprisingly fun and enthralling. I loved seeing my figurine bobble about the screen on the way to the next battle and there is a distinct challenge to the game that made me eager for more. Every time I lost a character, I wanted to rush back to that spot to defeat the foe that had so badly wronged me. It’s fun, it’s intriguing, it makes you want more! Even if like me you’ve never touched a table top fantasy game in your life, I would recommend Warlock, you never know, you might discover that this is the genre you’ve been looking for your whole life. Now, whilst I don’t think I’ll be taking up tabletop games myself right yet, I do know I would absolutely love to play another game, that has had as much care and attention to detail and the source material given to it as this has.