Once upon a time, there was a game that arrived on Kickstarter, and with added promise of a Wii U version to bolster its cause, it successfully funded itself – much to the happiness of its backers. Three years later, said game finally emerged from development, by which time it had assumed a slightly different name and seemingly dropped the Wii U port altogether. That game was Warlocks (or Warlocks vs Shadows as it’s known on Steam and PS4), and while it unsurprisingly shunned Nintendo hardware in 2017, its sequel has no such qualms as it brings its spell-flinging sorcerers and pixel art exploration to Switch.
Building on the foundations of the original, Warlocks 2: God Slayers is effectively a side-scrolling platformer that combines the scrappy combat of a 2D brawler, the levelling benefits and questlines of an RPG and the looks of just about every other pixel art Metroidvania game you’ve played over the last few years. It’s certainly far better looking than its predecessor – improved lighting and more distinguishable character designs making a big difference – but it’s a visual choice you’ve seen replicated plenty of times elsewhere on Switch. Considering it’s going up against the likes of Dead Cells (which also nailed that overused visual aesthetic) and beloved side-scrolling titles such as Hollow Knight, this Polish-made indie has an uphill battle ahead of it.
Thankfully, each character in its five-strong roster plays substantially different from one another, and you’ll control each with the left stick while aiming with the right one. It gives battle encounters more of a twin-stick shooter feel, and with most characters possessing some form of basic ranged attack (such as Shax’s purple fireballs or Alex’s flaming bird projectiles), you’ll need to learn to adapt to an aiming model that’s extremely sensitive. There’s a lot of variety between enemy types and how they behave, with some unwilling to leave a sacred site or defensive point while others will pursue you relentlessly. Even in co-op, the different styles of foe will force you to adapt your tactics on the fly or risk being slain for your troubles.
However, the selling point that really helps set it apart from those traditionally solo experiences is the support for co-op play. Up to four players can team up and play through the entire campaign from start to finish, although this is only in local co-op as support for online play hasn’t been ported over with this version. Warlocks 2 really gels as a local co-op experience as you leap around the screen throwing purple fireballs or swinging a giant axe as an inebriated goatman. Single-player is fun in its own right, but the difference between classes can often make traversing its open-ended, Metroidvania-style levels more of a chore with enemy spawn points that are heavily guarded and clearly designed for multiple players to attack at once. Everything is beatable solo, but it’s just a lot more manageable and far more enjoyable with a balanced group in tow.
Developer Frozen District has really upped the RPG side of its systems since the first game, with a new class system playing into the co-op friendly nature of its combat. The classic iterations are here; Cormag is a goat riding a dwarf (obviously) who’s a little slower to move, but built to withstand more damage. Kheera is a little weaker, but the high spread of her knife attack makes her ideal for crowd control. You can unlock new skills as you go (such as the ability to enter the spirit world and dash in an incorporeal state or call down balls of fire from above), but you’ll have to grind away for a while to get them.
As you might expect, these qualities are far harder to appreciate solo, unless you’re enjoying multiple playthroughs (a decent run takes around eight hours or so to complete the main questline), but when you’re playing as a group those combinations of powers transform Warlocks 2 into a much more enjoyable experience – especially when taking on the nicely designed mid- and end-of-world bosses. While there aren’t as many heroes to choose from as the first game, Warlocks 2 does feature an evolution system that effectively ups their stats and aesthetic when you hit certain level milestones. So yes, it’s basically a ripoff of Pokémon, but it adds a cute little twist that rewards those willing to grind away for XP when completing side-quests.
While the areas you’ll explore are hand-designed – including the main quest-line, complete with a smattering of Pratchett-aping humour – Warlocks 2 folds in a neat bit of replay value by making all of its side-quests procedurally generated. Not only does this give you more reasons to revisit locations you haven’t visited in a while, but it adds in randomised loot to add to your loadout. That random aspect means you aren’t always guaranteed to get a decent haul, but it certainly adds another layer to those hoping to squeeze their money’s worth out of their purchase.
There’s no denying Warlocks 2: God Slayers has really improved upon the original game that completely bypassed a Nintendo platform release. The larger levels, more refined character traits and continued support for co-op play does help it stand out among its Metroidvania-esque, pixel art-styled brethren. However, the lack of support for online play (something present on PC and other version of the game) takes the shine off this package, especially for a game that’s substantially more fun to play with others.