Sorcerer King plays very similar to classic role-playing/strategy game hybrids like Might & Magic Heroes. There are some key differences, but the basics are there. You have heroes that must be outfitted with gear and a small army in order to adventure through the world. Furthermore, there are city building and management aspects, like in Civilization, along with a small smattering of diplomacy options. But the feature that truly drives the game is the persistent death clock that measure the Sorcerer King's progress in wiping out all life in the world, including yours.
The story, as sparse as it is, loosely ties into Fallen Enchantress, and involves a powerful sorcerer who has (in all practical ways) conquered the land. What remains are the remnants of self ruling kingdoms that are technically under his influence. Players need to seek these lesser kings out and convince them to form an alliance against a greater threat. If you fail to do that, then at least make sure they don't stand in your way. Then, after amassing enough experience and an army, you must make your want to the King himself and kill him.
Starting with a single castle, players are encouraged to explore and expand their kingdom by clearing out dangerous monsters and setting up a series of outposts and castles. However, the big problem is, apart from my main castle, none of my secondary keeps managed to prosper. They're able to produce buildings and units, but never food to generate population growth. I never figured out why they couldn't grow, even after I made sure they were built atop fertile grounds and constructed food facilities.
As it turns out, having more than one castle is merely a nicety for gathering resources. It's far more important to get together one or two armies and use them to gain experience. Leveling up is a long uphill climb, since you don't have the resources to craft better armor. It's not uncommon to have your entire army wiped out in a single battle.
Combat is turn-based, and lets you move your units tactically around a field. It's not uncommon for opposing mages and archers to quickly gang up on your weaker soldiers, wiping them out before they have a chance to defend themselves. Even though there were some ridiculous moments, like a low level creature pecking at my heavily armored guard until it died while I helplessly watched, it's very exciting to defy the odds and defeat overwhelming forces.
Players can help turn the tide by casting a few key spells, but you first have research spells and level up your casting ability. Additionally, magic is the key resource of the land. You harvest it by building outposts and castles next to special crystals, and they power everything from casting combat spells, defenses, to purchasing new units. However, there is a finite number of them, and they can be destroyed. So, it's important to find them as soon as possible and try to defend them, even though sometimes defending them is impossible. The King's forces managed to destroy one of my crystals while it was defended by a fortified outpost.
Although the game encourages you to make alliances, it doesn't offer a lot of means to do so. You can exchange resources with factions that you encounter, but unless you're willing to trade a good amount of mana for friendship, none of it impacts how well you regard each other. The best way to win a faction over is to do a favor for them, but sometimes their quests are so vague that they're near impossible to complete.
Otherwise, the AI is pretty dense. Even if you do manage to forge an alliance, factions will generally wander around their own territories and leave you to do all the work. They don't actively seek out the King's forces on their own.
Then there's the death clock. While the timer does add a lot of undue stress, there are ways to circumvent it. You can research and cast an expensive spell to extend the timer. Or you can go around, do good deeds, and gather your might to cause the timer to reduce slightly. Forming alliances will do the most good. However, evil deeds like stealing magic artifacts, will speed up the clock. As well intentioned as the feature might be, it forces gameplay towards being a goody-goody. However, there are sometimes great neutral options, like offering to hire a bunch of bandits instead of delivering justice upon them.
Sorcerer King has a lot of great ideas, but they don't necessarily come together well. Level progression is slow, so losing experienced soldiers is extremely painful. Oftentimes, the game has you wandering the world, trying to complete a vague quest, and hoping that it will bring you closer to defeating the King. All the while, the King starts to get wise to your motives and begins a crackdown. After hours of going back and forth, I couldn't help but wonder if the world was worth the time it took to save it.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Sorcerer King is available digitally for $39.99.
- Expansive game
- Deep, tactical, combat
- Great collection of spells
- Nice sense of humor
- Very easy for soldiers to get wiped out
- Allies aren't very useful
- Death clock forces a specific play style
Steven Wong posted a new article, Sorcerer King Review: The Unending Quest to Save the World