The first Project Warlock was a game I was quite fond of in spite of the fact that I could hardly play it. I play a lot of first-person shooters, and the muzzle flashes in them rarely give me trouble. That game, however, absolutely blinded me every chance it got. I was worried Project Warlock II would be the same. Thankfully, it improved on that aspect. And while there are definitely parts I like more about the sequel so far than its predecessor, it still has things that ruffle my feathers. But the question stands: is Project Warlock II worth it in Early Access?
When you start a new game in Project Warlock II, you have two difficulties: Go Easy on Me and Come Get Some. “Ah, easy and normal, huh?” you might think. Wrong! Normal and hard. I picked the latter and didn’t realize I was even playing on hard until well past the point where I was willing to start over. Naturally, you can’t change the difficulty without starting a new game. Project Warlock II has multiple characters, but only one of these, Palmer, is available at the start. Different characters have unique aspects to them, but I haven’t unlocked any others yet. Palmer can use magic to temporarily allow him to dual wield a second gun.
For Palmer at least, Project Warlock II is far less warlocky than its predecessor. Whereas that game started you with a mana pool and gave you neat spells and the like as you played, all I’ve found in this one so far are guns. Well, Palmer starts with a claymore before getting a rifle, shotgun, cannon, etc. The difficulty options function more like normal games, and the pointless lives system of the first game is gone. Even better is that you can save at any time. I absolutely needed this on hard, as the game is very fond of old-school FPS tricks.
Surprise! You’re dead!
Enemies show up behind you without warning and ruin your day. Or maybe a shotgun-toting skeleton drops down next to you and unload rounds before you can react. Project Warlock II is much more enemy-heavy than I expected. The first level alone saw me killing over 500 enemies. They come in large hordes. It’s not quite at Serious Sam levels, but things can get really dicey very fast. Levels here drop the boxy Wolfenstein 3D aspect the original leaned so heavily on and give way to larger, more visually interesting levels. The map is too close for my liking, though, unless there’s a way to zoom out. Otherwise, I found it mostly worthless.
These levels are pretty huge and are packed with secrets. After the first one, I was extremely impressed by Project Warlock II. Then I got to the second level, which dropped me in an extremely dark cave where I could barely see the enemies in front of me. I had to turn the brightness up to be able to fight them. The second level is much darker than the first, which is awkward when a huge amount of enemies are taking potshots at you from the darkness. But we can’t have nice things.
The weapons still have very predominant muzzle flashes, but they aren’t as eyeball-searing as last time. You can upgrade all of the weapons too, but once you choose a path, it looks like you’re stuck with it. This is a problem for the rifle, as you can either upgrade it into the blinding heavy rifle or the useless, inaccurate laser rifle. This latter path gets a scope that lets you shoot out powerful railgun shots, but these too are astoundingly inaccurate. I’d fire a shot off, positive I was on the money, only for the attack to do nothing.
Wandering is key
The levels are very much the classic “wander around and find keys” type. They aren’t as well-designed and satisfying to navigate as the levels in, say, Prodeus or Dread Templar, though. I got turned around a fair amount in the second level, mostly because of how dark it was. I’m not sure why this series seems to want to make it hard for people to see what they’re doing, but I suppose this game is solidifying that trait as a trademark.
The second level shows off the expanded level design quite a bit, where you come upon a village that’s on fire and swarming with enemies and villagers running for cover. It’s quite difficult to tell between villagers and monsters when they’re grouped in close proximity, so this part’s a bit messy. Project Warlock II does look better than the first game, but the visuals seem more cluttered and unwieldy than the simple, focused look of that title. The second level has a good amount of foliage and other sprite-based level geometry that often obscure enemy positions. Honestly, the level design and enemy positioning could use some serious work.
The shooting either feels awesome or iffy, depending on what weapon you’re using. The automatic shotgun is a hoot, as it lets you blast everything to pieces with ease. The aforementioned laser rifle feels like a water gun, and I can’t stand it. I do wish I could switch to the heavy rifle, but then I wouldn’t be able to see what I was shooting at because of the muzzle flashing, so I suppose that’s the trade-off. You know, a little consideration for people with eye problems would go a long way.
Overall, I’m both very pleased and impressed with Project Warlock II but also kind of worried about some of the choices being made. I’d say, “maybe these things will improve as the game nears completion,” but who am I kidding? That never happens! Unless a ton of people complain, games simply get new episodes without the consideration that they could have been better. As for whether it’s worth it, there’s a good FPS here. Yes, there are better retro-FPS games in Early Access right now, but none of them let you demolish armies of sprites like this. It’s worth a look, but keep in mind that you won’t always be able to see what you’re doing.