Sorcerer King: Preview

Oct 24, 2014

Sorcerer King (SK) is an upcoming 4X strategy game from Stardock Entertainment that is currently in early access on Steam. In this game the eponymous villain has already conquered the world and is about to achieve godhead by casting the spell of making. The player is a ruler of a small kingdom and represents the last chance to stop the Sorcerer King from obtaining ultimate victory and destroying all life in the world.  Sorcerer King presents a unique twist on the 4X genre and is a distillation of the previous Elemental games into a tightly focused strategy game.  If you’ve played any of the Elemental games then SK should feel familiar to you since it was made with the same engine, but the appearances are only skin deep. The interface has been overhauled and the artwork has been updated while still retaining the feel and aesthetics of the previous games.  Though a lot of tweaking remains to be done before the game is released next year, I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. Sorcerer King is shaping up to be a very fun game.

Stardock is developing the game around the idea of “asymmetrical” 4X strategy. The premise here is that the player is not one of several equal rivals striving for the same win conditions; rather the player is opposed to the evil Sorcerer King. The remaining kingdoms (called minor factions) are following their own agendas and can be swayed to either help you or your enemy depending on what you both do in the game. Conceptually, the Sorcerer King is treated as another player with his own set of tools and objectives which are always distinct and separate from the player’s.  The player has only one goal: defeating the Sorcerer King by first wiping out his lieutenants on the map and then confronting the evil tyrant himself in a climatic final battle. Obviously the strategy for a military victory is different than pursuing an economic victory or a building victory (i.e., what the Sorcerer King is attempting to do). Far from limiting the gameplay possibilities, this paring down of the traditional 4X win conditions to a single objective leaves enough room to let the gameplay come out front and center. As a result, SK feels like a much more refined experience than its older cousins in the Elemental series. Through this asymmetrical shift in the meta game, Stardock is aiming to eliminate the pacing issues that crop up in most 4X games, namely the boring end phases.

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While Sorcerer King has been developed with the Elemental engine and its lineage is clearly there, it would be a mistake to think of SK as merely an extension of say Legendary Heroes. SK is intended to be its own game and that feeling is definitely prominent as soon you begin to dive into it. The interface has been updated, city management has been streamlined, and the usual “gold currency” system has been replaced with a new Crafting mechanic. Keeping with the theme of a post-collapse world, SK is a much leaner game than its predecessors.  There is a larger sense of tension and urgency as the game begins. The key to victory is defending the magical shards spread out around the map, which your nemesis must destroy in order to complete his spell. In the interface there is a countdown bar aptly called the Doomsday Counter that ominously builds up as the Sorcerer King gets closer to casting the spell.  If he is successful in destroying the shards this counter builds up very quickly.  So rather than conduct a mad “land grab” for resources that is typical of other 4X games, your immediate problem is to build up forces to move to and defend the shards. As in the older Elemental games, you thankfully have a Champion character to do a lot of your fighting. Your champion is deliberately over powered, partly to counteract the fact that the Sorcerer King has nearly limitless resources and only grows more powerful as the game progresses. Sorcerer King is very much a game of resourceful survival rather than a “plan and conquer” strategy game.

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Unfortunately this Early Access version has a few limitations. There is no campaign mode available and only a few maps can be chosen. Only one sovereign can be selected (the mage) and the player cannot customize the spell book load out in the beginning of the game. In addition to the mage there are five others characters to choose from, which will greatly add to the replayability of the game and allow you to customize the experience to suit your own style.  Different sovereigns will begin to be available in the next major build release scheduled to happen in November. The diplomacy system is a major feature that has yet to be fully implemented. How a player chooses to interact with the minor factions will have a great impact on the game’s outcome. The allies will provide you with units and resources which will be crucial to your quest to defeat the Sorcerer King. Stardock has been upfront with the fact that the early access build does not have everything the final game will offer. That said, they have issued regular hot fixes and as we approach the release window I expect the Early Access version to be a fair reflection of the full release.

Sorcerer King is slated for release in Q1 of 2015. As mentioned earlier the game is available for early access via Steam, if you want to see for yourself how the game is shaping up.  The progress of the beta is set out here in the development road map, which lays out development milestones and dates to expect them to be accomplished by.  The developers stream a new build of the game every Wednesday at 3:00 pm eastern on the official Stardock Twitch channel at http://www.twitch.tv/stardock and archived streams are also available on the Stardock YouTube channel.

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