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Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Griptonite Games
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2014

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


XBLA Review - 'Warlords'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 18, 2014 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Warlords is a one- to four-player, arcade action game in which players defend castles from mischievous minions and ferocious fireballs spun from the mouth of a maniacal dragon. In this whimsical reinvention of the beloved classic, players face the ultimate battle of speed, strategy and survival.

While Warlords is a multi-platform release, its history on the Xbox 360 is more interesting. It was a known commodity in 2011, a reboot of a classic Atari game in the same vein as the other reboots like Yars' Revenge and Star Raiders. By the latter half of 2012, it was also announced for the PS3, and it actually launched on that platform first, with the X360 version set for a short time later. Despite announcements and official release dates, the X360 proposed release date came and went. There were Avatar clothes and preview movies in the marketplace, but neither a trial version nor the main game ever appeared. Soon, the game was simply forgotten, with most believing it was delisted due to Atari's financial troubles. Suddenly, the game pops up on the marketplace, unchanged from the original design and with a lower price point. PS3 gamers have had this one for a while and may have even forgotten about it, but X360-only gamers may wonder whether this remake is still worth checking out.

The reboot keeps the core game intact. For those who aren't familiar with the title, Warlords is akin to Breakout or Arkanoid but with a more focused objective. You and up to three other players are placed in a square arena; your castle occupies one corner of the arena and is surrounded by a thick set of walls. When the game begins, a dragon unleashes a fireball at one of the castles. Using the floating mobile shield in front of the castle, players deflect the fireball, hoping that it will hit other castles and start to break down those walls. Players can move the shield to deflect the fireball or capture the flame and release it as a charged shot, but they take damage to their own walls for the amount of time the ball is in their possession. As the game continues, dragons drop more fireballs at a time (a maximum of five), so players can continue to whittle away at opposing walls. The classic formula is still fun today thanks to the chaotic gameplay that ensues when multiple fireballs are at play.

This version adds a few more elements to the game. The first comes in the forms of your personal minions, the Snoot. While their life expectancy is similar to that of a minion in your typical MOBA, the Snoot can perform much more useful activities, depending on your placement of their flag bearer. Place him near the path of another line of Snoots, and they go into battle and eliminate each other. Place the flag bearer near a castle wall, and they'll repair it if it's your wall — and destroy it if it's not. Place the flag bearer on a power-up icon, and the Snoot make their way there, sacrificing themselves to gain control of powers. Power-ups include expanded shields, iron walls, slower enemy shield movement, and reversed controls for enemies. Their presence adds some extra strategy to the game.

The second major change comes in the form of the Black Knight. A giant with no allegiances, the knight comes to the field periodically and randomly attacks castles as long as he is on the field. While the knight is invincible, he can be banished if all of the players recapture all of the power-up spots on the map, though the knight's Snoots make things more difficult unless one player captures a White Knight disk, rendering their Snoots immune to attack.

With the new elements, Warlords becomes even more chaotic since there are more elements to worry about if you want to maximize your chances of winning. Concentrating on Snoot placement means letting a volley of fireballs pelt your castle. Focusing on shield movement means longer matches since your opponents will obtain the power-ups you're neglecting. Luckily, the developers thought about this and assigned quick actions to the d-pad to have the Snoot perform actions without you needing to manipulate your right analog stick. You lose precision when it comes to having the Snoot target specific power-ups or wall pieces, but in the heat of battle, those shortcuts become lifesavers. Also, you don't necessarily have to play with the Snoot activated, so those who prefer playing the game the classic way also have that option.

The game is equipped with a few modes in addition to the basic tutorial. Campaign is the main single-player mode, and in a way, it also acts as a tutorial. There is a loose story about you forging a path to becoming a great warlord, but the text is placed so far out of the way on-screen that you'll be forgiven for thinking that no story exists. Throughout the campaign, you'll be set up with a variety of match modes, including one-on-one, two-on-two, and free-for-all in both modern and classic types.

The mode isn't that bad considering how competent the AI is on both sides, but the length of the campaign is disappointing. There are only eight matches, and depending on your skill and/or level of luck, you'll blaze through them. During the review period, the longest match recorded was seven minutes long for a free-for-all bout with the Snoots active, so the campaign was completed in less than an hour. There's no variable difficulty level available for the campaign, and with no unlockables tied to the mode except for one 10-point Achievement, you'll have no reason to revisit this mode.

Campaign mode also uncovers a few questionable gameplay choices made by the developers. The default camera is placed behind your own castle, and while it makes the game look cool, it's detrimental since you don't have a great view of your shield or the battlefield. Going to the traditional top-down perspective fixes this but introduces the issue of the dragon temporarily blocking the view of the field. With the game as frantic as it is, it's not good for the view to be blocked for even a little while.

Another issue concerns a change in the game's basic behavior in a four-player match when one castle is eliminated. If this is done when there are multiple fireballs in play, the game keeps the damage on all of the other castles but reduces the fireball count to one. It gets back to the original number rather quickly, but the brief respite in the chaos might irk some veterans who are used to the all-or-nothing approach to multiple fireballs in the original game. Finally, team matches with Snoots fail to designate which player is controlling which Snoot flag bearer. The problem is alleviated thanks to the quick commands on the d-pad, but a lack of labeling hurts those who exclusively use the right analog stick for Snoot movement and commands.

Local multiplayer is where the heart of the game is, and it can be played with up to four total players in any human/bot configuration. Much like Campaign mode, there's the option to play one-on-one, two-on-two, and free-for-all, but only with modern rules. You can also change the settings, like AI difficulty, number of fireballs, and choice or arenas, though the differences are only in the color, not the level layout. It worked well in the original arcade incarnation, and it still works for those wanting to get into a party game vibe. The game also features online multiplayer, but no matches could be found during the review period, leading one to believe that the online community doesn't exist. This is supported by the fact that developer accounts still hold the top spots in just about every leaderboard.

From a presentation perspective, Warlords is functional. Graphically, the game looks fine. The environments look decently textured, and the characters are nicely rendered when viewed up close. Animations are nice, and more importantly, the game holds up in the frame rate department no matter what's happening on-screen. There isn't anything exciting that wows you, but nothing looks ugly, either. Sound-wise, there isn't much to complain about. With the exception of the tutorial, where you hear the voices of the Snoots, the only other voice work in the game is the Black Knight, and his quips are well acted. The effects sound rather nice, and so does the music, though the latter is rather hidden due to the deluge of effects. Like the graphics, there's nothing really special in the audio department.

The new incarnation of Warlords isn't great, but it isn't bad, either, under certain conditions. The base game mechanics are still timeless, and the additions are welcome, even if they make things more chaotic. The criminally short campaign and rather simple AI opposition means solo players only have Achievement grinding if they hope to get any mileage from the title. The missing online community means local play is the only way to go, and the presentation is fine, though it lacks pizzazz. If you can constantly get some friends together for local gameplay, then Warlords is a solid purchase even when compared to the slightly cheaper release of the older game.

Score: 7.0/10

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