Pixel-art brawler fans have something new to toy around with in the form of Frozen District’s Warlocks, which hit Steam Early Access this morning. Complete with an almost fully-fleshed story, the game tasks you with leveling one or more characters by playing through a series of waves in map layouts of increasing difficulty. Once you feel ready to take on real humans, you can hop in on local or online multiplayer and start killing.
To start there are five Warlocks to choose from, with five more waiting to be unlocked by playing through the various story-driven levels. These levels, or “dimensions”, are broken up into roughly seven sections each with a big boss battle at the end. A pretty standard layout as far as progression is concerned, but where the game sets itself apart, even in this Early Access stage, is the variety of characters and map layouts.
Each of the 10 playable characters have different abilities, although there are a few clear archetypes. There are the big, slow, heavy-hitters, the quick slashing characters, and the ranged classes. There are cross-overs, such as a big slow ranged character, but it mostly sticks to these three principals. With that said, even playing within these archetypes, each character feels different to use. The ice-based Warlock, who I used the most in my playtime so far, fires ice missiles in three different angles at once, which gives a freeze debuff to enemies hit by them. Then, with another one of her attacks, she inflicts a heavy amount of damage to those characters affected by the debuff. There’s another similar character, The Guardian, who ‘marks’ his targets by slashing through them then another button press and you can inflict huge damage on the marked enemies.
Map layouts range from simplistic grasslands to fire-filled industrial complexes, and beyond. Warlocks constantly tests your skills by putting more acrobatic enemies in levels with more obstacles that you have to avoid. You’ll quickly find out that just hitting things is only half the battle in the game, the other half is avoiding the dangerous map.
Enemies are just as varied as the characters you can play as. They start as typical enemies about your size that smack you in face to damage you, but eventually evolve into several different types, such as enemies that spawn other enemies, ones that leap at you like dogs, some that chase you down and try and explode, and many other variations that keep the combat interesting and challenging. Not to mention the massive bosses that ramp up the difficulty considerably at the end of each dimension.
One big aspect of the singleplayer game is inventory. You can equip a piece of armor for your head, torso, legs, and one weapon or trinket for each hand. Items you pick up will have special buffs for specific characters, so managing your inventory will become a must if you want to keep several characters useful at once. At certain levels through the story mode, a vendor will pop up that you can buy and sell stuff from. The rest of the game feels solid already, but the items feel like one bit that still needs work. Only a few hours in and I’ve already hit the wall of having too much gold and nothing to spend it on. Items drop frequently from enemies and almost everything can be instantly sold, so you’ll be Scrooge McDuck’ing it in no time.
The button layout takes some getting used to, but it’s nothing too confusing. Using a wired Xbox 360 controller, the four face buttons are the various attacks of your Warlock, RT is jump, RB is to pickup items scattered around the map, and LB is to use health potions. The main hurdle at this points seems to be properly memorizing which attacks are linked to which face button, which can get hectic if you switch characters often.
Keyboard play is an option as well, but given all the rapid movement and jumping, I found using a controller to be significantly better.
Even if you are currently suffering pixel art fatigue, it’s hard to deny that the game looks great already. Animations are detailed and varied, with each character looking as different as they feel to play. There are several different enemy types, each with their own distinct look. The highly detailed levels do a good job of keeping the interactive elements in the foreground, so it’s never too confusing as to what can be jumped on and what can’t.
All in all, Warlocks is looking to be a fun, fast-paced, brawler with a purposefully silly and exaggerated story to tie together a bunch of waves of enemies. You can get in on Early Access now for $12.59 through Steam (until March 24 when the price goes back to its normal $13.99), and the full release – along with Wii U version – are scheduled to come later this year.
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***We were given a Steam Key for the purposes of this preview
Last Updated on November 27, 2018.