Warlocks 2: God Slayers is a new pixel art brawler RPG from Frozen District. The previous game in the series, Warlocks vs Shadows, was never ported to a Nintendo console, appearing instead on PS$, Xbox and PC. The sequel arrives on Switch first, with a Steam release due in July and PS4 and Xbox releases to be confirmed. The game combines aspects of brawlers, RPGs and metroidvanias, and is entering a crowded market, filled with popular titles like Guacamelee, Dead Cells and Hollow Knight. Does it do enough to stand out from the crowd?
In the first game you took control of one of the Order of Warlocks, and were tasked with defending the world against invading Shadow Monsters. Warlocks 2 follows on from this story. The Order’s slaying of the Shadow Monsters has angered the Gods, and you now face their much greater threat. The publicity for the game emphasises how funny it is, and it definitely brings out a smile in places, but I don’t think it’s as funny as the developers think it is. It’s aiming for a Guacamelee level of humour, but doesn’t consistently get there. The game has a pixel art style and looks good for it, with an impressive array of character, enemy and backdrop designs. The music is also impressive, with a varied soundtrack that adds to the overall polish.
One slightly unusual choice for a game of this genre was to use a twin-stick control scheme, with the right stick being used to aim attacks that are activated with the shoulder buttons. Whilst this takes a little getting used to, it does add a bit more flexibility to the game, instead of the usual side-scrolling limitation of only attacking left or right, up or down. It also makes things a bit easier, since you can stand on a platform and snipe down at melee enemies without fear. Watch out for ranged enemies though, since they can also fire in 360 degrees, and are surprisingly accurate. You can also press Y to lock onto a target for auto-aiming, but it’s so inaccurate and unreliable that I didn’t use it a huge amount. All attacks have a cooldown, which can be insanely frustrating at level one with just a single spell at your disposal. Whilst the cooldown might only be 0.4 seconds, that wait seems like an age when you’re facing multiple enemies.
Players start the campaign by selecting from one of five characters, who do play and progress quite differently to one another. The classes tend to fit into established RPG tropes, for example Cormag the human-riding goat (not a typo…) is a tank, slow and resistant to damage. Shax the spirit lord is a ranged DPS wizard, using magic to attack from a distance, but can’t take a lot of damage. Characters will earn experience and level-up, with three skill points available per level. As with all RPGs, you’ll find equipment that can boost your stats, or add effects such as gaining health when you do damage. Items vary wildly in how strong they are, and you may end up finding something that boosts your damage so high that all challenge is removed.
The main campaign is around eight hours long across three distinct looking worlds, and features procedurally generated side quests. Between the random side quests and the different character classes, you can quite happily replay the campaign without getting too bored. Enemy types are also widely varied, both in their appearance, attacks and behaviour. The last point in particular really makes a difference, with some enemies unwilling to leave a particular spot and others that will keep pursuing you. The gods themselves are a little disappointing and actually less challenging than large groups of basic enemies; battles with them tend to be more about stamina than skill, and you’ll spend a long time whittling down their health while avoiding their attacks.
The 4 player co-op adds something that other games of this type don’t necessarily have, though it’s disappointing that on Switch this can only be done locally and not online (the Steam and, presumably, console versions will have online co-op). Another downside is that each player needs a pair of Joy-Cons, meaning you’ll need eight in total. Fine if you have a friend with a Switch, but individual Switch owners are unlikely to have enough. Co-op is definitely the best way to experience the game, since the different characters do complement each other in simple ways. There is seemingly no scaling difficulty for multiple players, so attacking enemy spawn points is very challenging when playing alone, even on the normal difficulty.
Turning up the difficulty also creates a disparity between the characters, as enemies with ranged attacks tend to cause much bigger problems, particularly in large groups where it’s impossible to avoid all of their projectiles. If you’re a melee character you’re really going to struggle to get close enough before your health is completely wiped out. You’ll fare better with a ranged character of your own, but fights will generally devolve into a jumping and sniping match. Whilst I understand some people may want to play on hard, in this game it’s just simply not fun and I wouldn’t recommend playing on the higher difficulties solo.
Warlocks 2: God Slayers is a neat little game, good-looking, amusing in places, and with a surprising amount of variation. I’m not sure I’d play it solo again, but it’s definitely one I’ll play with friends, especially if we can scrape together some additional Joy-Cons. Sadly it loses marks for the lack of online play and the frustrations of playing solo, particularly on harder difficulties.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*