Based around one concept, Warlords is a game that simply aims to deliver a fun multiplayer strategy experience. Throw in a bit of chaos into the mix and some friends, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty fun multiplayer experience to kill a few hours. Unfortunately, recipes require a good balance of all ingredients so no one element overpowers the others, and that’s where Warlords fails, adding a bit too much chaos, which in turn limits the appeal and engagement a game like this should have.
The game involves the player controlling a shield that moves along the outer wall of a castle. With this shield the player deflects fireballs and hopefully simultaneously hits the opposing castle(s) while protecting their own. As the game progresses, more elements come into to play though. More fireballs bounce around the field, players gain control of small minions which they guide to heal their own walls, attack the walls of the opponents, and get powerups that add new mechanics to think about. All the elements are set up for a fun game to play with some friends on a night in.
The moment play begins, though, is when the problems in these design choices become apparent. Theoretically as the mechanics are slowly introduced more strategic elements come into play as players need to consider whether they should go for certain powerups, begin healing themselves, or begin attacking the opponents castle walls with their minions, all the while defending themselves from the bouncing fireballs, or possibly even try to guide their path with a quick flick of the shield. If it’s not apparent by now, this all starts to sound quite chaotic, and this is without considering the introduction of a knight later on who will independently attack castle walls.
Chaos, if used effectively, can be a very fun time for players. Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. comes to mind as an example of a game that uses it perfectly. Warlords is not such a game, though. The gameplay is far too chaotic, removing any element of skill. The game quickly ceases to be one that can be strategic, and turns into one that merely involves defending castle walls in vain, hoping that luck is on your side and you’ll survive enough to be victorious. To make things worse, all this chaos takes place in a small, tight arena. With up to five fireballs bouncing around, minions running back and forth, and even a possible knight and his own minions showing up in the fray, all in this small arena, it would be an understatement to say that things would be a bit difficult for players to make out what’s happening on the screen.
This creates a massive problem for Warlords, as it is a game whose main draw is its gameplay. If any semblance of strategy is removed, not only because of the chaotic nature of the gameplay, but also because players can’t actually understand what’s happening, what is there for them to engage with? This essentially makes the whole of the game very unappealing.
Some appeal could be gained from its other elements, but none stand out enough to really garner any attention. The one who has the best shot at attracting some interest from players are the visuals, which are comically stylized, maybe even grotesque. The visuals are somewhat reminiscent of Jhonen Vasquez’ cartoonish style, though it’s not as charming or as humorous. Unfortunately these are lost in the jumble of the chaos, so it’s hard to even appreciate them on any level.
Even less can be said about the music and narrative in the game. Music is generic and unmemorable, and much like the visuals will be lost in the chaos of everything. Worse even, unlike the visuals, it lacks any unique element to standout in any form, if just a little. The narrative on the other hand is barely even there, made up mostly of some scrolling text in the level select menu. It somewhat serves as a framing device for the campaign, but begs the question why it’s even there. Same goes for the humor that this story and some animated cutscenes hint at, making it all feel haphazard and thrown in at the last minute.
There are online leaderboards and online/local multiplayer, which is a positive, though almost pointless, as Warlords should be best experienced in a local multiplayer setting. The local company of friends helps to improve the fun factor of many a multiplayer game by leaps and bounds, and it is certainly necessary here. The online element does add some extra playtime to the few players this appeals to, but that audience will be a small one, so online play will likely be unheard of.
Chaos can be fun it’s been used effectively in many games, but the use of it in Warlords overshadows all elements, essentially eliminating all the appeal that could be found. It still has the power to be fun, of course, if it’s played with friends and if matches are set to not use all the mechanics available, but this won’t fix the major problem here. If Warlords is played as it is ultimately meant to be played, it simply isn’t any fun. For a game which is focused primarily in being competitive and fun this is nothing short of a massive oversight.