Warlords is an interesting hybrid of a game. Part of it is similar to arcade classics like Pong and Breakout, while the other part is essentially a simplified real-time strategy game, with both parts occurring simultaneously during play. While the combination is an interesting idea, and will provide some fun for players while the novelty is still fresh, the final result ends up being a game that is a bit too chaotic for its own good.
The game is actually a remake of a 1980 arcade title from Atari. Another remake was released on Xbox LIVE in 2008, but while that went for a neon-tinged futuristic aesthetic, this version gives everything a cartoony coat of paint in a colorful medieval setting. The cast of armored characters has exaggerated and stylized proportions and designs that work well, even though they’re not the focus during actual gameplay.
Warlords involves anywhere from 2 to 4 players located in different castles on a battlefield. The left analog stick controls a large magical shield that can be moved left and right to protect a certain area on the front of each player’s castle.
At the start of each match, a fireball is spawned in the empty center of the arena and is then shot at a player. The shields are used here to deflect the fireball and send it careening towards another player’s castle. Players who aren’t fast enough will end up getting their castles damaged. Too much damage will lead to a player’s castle being destroyed and them being removed from the game, with the last man standing being declared the victor.
The right analog stick, on the other hand, is used to control each commanders’ color-coded troops, known as Snoots. These small, helmet-wearing drones are capable of several different actions depending on where the player guides them. Players take direct control of a flag-waving leader Snoot, with constantly spawning additional drones following them wherever they walk. You can choose to lead your Snoots to an enemy’s wall and have them attack it directly for extra damage, bring them back to your wall and repair your own damage, or have them stand on randomly spawning pads in the arena that, when fully charged up, grant whoever stands on them a special powerup. These include slowing down your enemies’ shield movement, reversing their controls, or getting iron walls on your castle for extra defenses.
If the combination of Snoot commanding and fireball deflecting sounds like a lot to take in, that is unfortunately the truth. From what I could gather, the original Warlords contained only the shield mechanic for gameplay, while the Snoots are a new addition for this remake. This was probably to help add more depth to what is, at its core, a very simple premise. However, while it sort of succeeds in that aspect, having so many units on screen at once in conjunction with the projectiles can create a confusing mess, especially with three or four players instead of just two.
Though a single-player campaign mode is included, there’s no real plot to speak of, and it serves more as a way for players to practice for real multiplayer than anything else. Both local and online modes with mixes of AI and human players are available, with four different Warlord characters to choose from, in addition to Avatars for the Xbox 360 version. Unfortunately, we never got a real chance to try the online modes, as the Xbox version was mysteriously removed from the Marketplace a few days after its initial launch, leaving the matchmaking empty. The game is still available for PS3 players, however.
Warlords feels like a game with good, even clever intentions, that never quite came together. Maybe if the RTS elements had been toned down, removed, or retooled, the game would be more enjoyable. From a presentation standpoint, the playful graphics are charming, and the multiplayer can even be somewhat enjoyable with two people. The final product, however, is just too frenzied to fully recommend.
This review is based on a copy of the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of the game, which we were provided with.