When it comes to developing PC strategy games, there aren’t a lot of developers with a stronger pedigree than Stardock. Having enjoyed a high level of success with the Galactic Civilizations series and Sins of a Solar Empire, the developer recently announced The Sorcerer King, a fantasy 4X game. The game is available at a barebones level on Steam Early Access, and if you wish, you can check it out and see what it has to offer.
If you are a long time veteran of strategy series like Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic, or Age of Wonders, then you will immediately recognize many elements of those games in this ambitious-looking title. Sorcerer King, like its other 4X brethren, starts you off small and weak with most of the map unexplored. You slowly build and expand until you accumulate enough power to crush your enemies. In this game, there is just one enemy – just one other “player” – and that is the Sorcerer King, an evil overlord who has already conquered the world. It is your job to help rebuild the shattered remnants of his former opponents and thwart his plans for ascending to godhood.
Sorcerer King bills itself as an “asymmetrical” 4X game, with the twist being that the Sorcerer King has already won and it is your job to overthrow him. It is his goal to destroy the world’s remaining magical shards, but not necessarily to exterminate you. Stardock has made the “asymmetric” nature the cornerstone of its marketing for the game, but the game seems to have a lot more going for it beyond that. It promises to be a very complex and deep title with fantasy elements like magic, tactical combat, city management, resource management, and light RPG elements like inventories, upgrade trees, and item crafting. The game also promises a lot of satirical, self-aware humor. If the early access build is any indication, the game is going to deliver in that area too, as I found myself chucking a few times at the game's witticisms.
When it comes to military, Sorcerer King appears to opt for relatively small armies of expensive units. Only five units can be stacked into a single tile. As a nice little touch, when your units stack, they still all show up on the world map as a cluster (as opposed to other 4X games, where only the most powerful unit usually shows up on the world map). Your units, whether they be heroes or lowly soldiers, gain experience and levels in combat, and with those levels they gain new abilities. Your hero units have RPG style upgrade trees. With loot that you collect in the world, you can also craft items for your soldiers to wear. Every unit can wear armor and use special weapons. This feature promises to make your armies complex beasts.
With city building, Sorcerer King has a lot in common with Civilization, but its combat is much more tactical. Combat takes place on a square-based grid, where units take turns beating on each other, flinging spells at enemies or casting buffs and debuffs. As with the Age of Wonders series, you start off with a small arsenal of spells, but you gain more of them through research. You can unlock access to more spells with various city improvements. One of the nice features that the game has is that it shows the action queue on the left hand side of the screen so that you can see who gets to attack and it what order.
If complexity is your thing, then Sorcerer King is a game that you are going to want to keep an eye on. It appears to have a level of complexity greater than the games that have inspired it. Mana is one of your precious resources and there are a dizzying number of options for using it. There are combat spells, buffs for units, and buffs for cities. There are a bunch of improvements that you can build in every city, including from food-related improvements that increase your population growth, military improvements that unlock new units, and many other strategic improvements. Unlike most games, soldiers are not built or maintained using money, but rather a peculiar resource called “logistics”. Like mana or food, you can build improvements that increase your accumulation of logistics. The city building closely resembles that of Civilization, but the fantasy setting, the research options, and the tactical combat give you the feel that you are playing a completely different game.
Sorcerer King appears to still have a long way to go with its development. Only one character class is unlocked, only one map is available, and the game still needs a lot of important features, like a tutorial. With a game this complex and ambitious, a lot of testing, balancing, and refinement will probably be needed before it is ready for a final release. I don’t expect to see Sorcerer King on virtual shelves any time soon. What the game does show off in this early build is a ton of potential for an epic strategy experience. The devil, as always, will be in the details.