The Silly Siege
Warlords as a premise back in the 80s, was the original, nonsensical tower defense game. Only in this case, instead of defending your towers from the hordes, it was defending your single castle interior from fireballs hurled by up to three other opponents. Mind you, this was back in the time when concepts like “castle” and “fireball” were represented by one big green block and one tiny red block. So it should come as no surprise that over the years, this old Atari classic has gotten facelifts and this latest attempt to do so—by no less than Atari itself—brings the action back with a few unnecessary twists that muddy the experience.
Burning Down The House
Warlords starts things off on shaky ground by being a downloadable title with performance issues. For a fast paced arcade game that owes much of its gameplay to the precision of “brick breaking” games like Breakout and Arkanoid the frame rate stutters noticeably when too much is happening on screen. That, unfortunately is inevitable during a four player session, so the game’s primary mode of play is also the most unreliable from a technical standpoint. The graphics are cartoony, medieval and carry something of an Overlord vibe to them. The sound is similar, with a bouncy, energetic, period feel to it, attempting to create a lighthearted atmosphere. Of the two, the sound is better simply for being inoffensive and functional.
There are two modes to the game, a campaign mode and the multiplayer. As you might expect, the campaign is essentially a glorified tutorial and can be beaten in a couple of hours or less. It teaches the basics of the original Warlords game and all the new additions that try to add an extra layer of strategy. The multiplayer mode supports up to four players both locally and online, though during my review period, I could never get the online mode to work, and saw a grand total of only seven names listed in the leaderboards. This either means there are serious technical issues with the online infrastructure, or no one is playing the game much. Neither bodes well.
The original game was based on the simple concept of a fireball bouncing around the screen between four castles. You controlled a “shield” via a paddle control that rotated around the front perimeter of the castle and deflected any incoming fireballs. Up to four players could play simultaneously, trying to defend their castle while at the same time chipping away at the walls of the opponents until finally a fireball could penetrate the interior and take out the competitor.
This simple premise has been needlessly complicated in the 2012 version. There are now “snoots,” infinitely respawning minions that go where directed, which can repair your wall, attack the walls of opponents, or claim “control points” scattered on the map with varying effects from repairing your walls to reversing the controls of your enemies. In addition, a “black knight” randomly spawns that will attack the nearest castle in the direction from which a charged fireball hit it. A few of these new elements would have added a little depth to an otherwise simple, competitive twitch game. All of them combined create more complication than can be handled in a short, multiplayer session, which means matches can either drag out to unbearably long stretches, or be quickly cut short by random luck.
While I appreciate that Griptonite didn’t want to simply give Warlords an HD coat of paint and send it out into the world, their zeal to add complexity to a simple game did more harm than good. A fast paced, frenetic game has been bogged down by overly complex mechanics that don’t sit well in an experience designed to last only a few minutes at a time. Many of these mechanics would be better served in a full sized RTS or tower defense game, not a casual arcade experience as Warlords is clearly intended to be. For $10, especially in the shadow of games like Limbo and Journey, Warlords is not a great buy, although people aching for some nostalgia might take some comfort from the name, and Atari logo that appears on boot up screen.