I’ve easily sunk 30-ish hours into the first Project Warlock, spread over 6-7 runs of varying difficulty, across both the PC and Xbox versions. It has some rough edges – some inconsistent level quality and underwhelming spells – but the shooting is both mechanically and visually satisfying, the soundtrack varied and amazing, and you moved from level to level so fast you quickly forgot about the duds. Four years on, the Early Access release of Project Warlock II retains the satisfying shooting, visual style, and quality soundtrack, but aims to expand its scope with fewer but larger levels, and multiple protagonists – each with unique weapons, spells, and upgrades.
This Early Access build only covers the first chapter of three – a healthy chunk of the game but you only play as “Palmer”, one of three disciples of the first game’s Warlock. They’re on a quest to confront their old master for reasons that’ll be obvious to those that have completed the prior game, but don’t expect expanded narrative elements beyond more detailed interlude screens. As Palmer plays most like the Warlock of the first game, this build is a great demonstration of the larger levels, more nimble enemies, and insane pace – along with new magical abilities and weapon upgrades. However, we still no little about the other protagonists and whether their chapters will offer a drastically different gameplay experience.
The good news is the gunplay remains immensely entertaining, with meaty impacts and abundant gore. Every weapon has a purpose and they look, sound, and feel powerful even without upgrades – more than capable of tearing through enemies in the right situation. The sword cleaves through most cannon fodder (albeit limited by a recharging stamina bar), the double-barrel shotgun gibs anything in your face, and even the low-damage assault rifle has excellent accuracy for landing headshots on advancing foes. As a result, the challenge – at least in the first chapter – comes from the ferocity and size of the hordes you’ll face, sometimes upwards of 500 enemies per level.
That said, even on the highest difficulty currently available – “Come Get Some” – it’s still manageable as Palmer is all about crowd control. His magical abilities include summoning a second weapon for a brief period dual-wielding, an AoE freezing spell leaving enemies vulnerable to shattering, and a DoT ignite spell. That said, your arsenal of guns and spells won’t keep you alive if you’re standing still and the player is far more agile in Project Warlock II. You can bunny-hop around manically, jump over advancing hordes to avoid being surrounded, and backpedal to chokepoints – all while hoovering up health and armour drops to stay alive. There’s even a combo-based score multiplier that rewards successive, varied kills. If the first game was a homage to DOOM and Hexen, Project Warlock II feels a little closer to Quake and other modern retro-FPS inspired by the early 3D era (think DUSK and Amid Evil).
The massive levels – which still revolve around finding coloured keys for coloured doors – provide room for greater visual diversity, bigger hordes of enemies, acrobatic combat, destructible walls and floors hiding dozens of secrets, and several dedicated platforming sections. In fact, while I would recommend locking the Y-axis if you were playing the first Project Warlock with a gamepad, that’s not a choice anymore. Now, that increased verticality and complexity doesn’t mean you’ll be dealing with targets above or below you all the time, rather you’ll need to make use of that space to find keys, secrets, and avoid masses of enemies with an expanded move-set. Most foes are now extremely nimble, capable of jumping between platforms and dodging your projectile weapons, while there’s a greater number of enemies that simply rush you – including low-profile, hopping variants that continue to be the bane of this genre.
Visually, I swear my eyes teared up several times during intense moments of carnage as they took in a kaleidoscope of vibrant and contrasting colours, while my brain tried to pick out threats amid sprays of gore. It’s simultaneously incredible – the sprites even have multiple sides now – but it also makes busier firefights less about prioritising targets and more about keeping your finger on the trigger while aiming in the general direction of approaching enemies. It’s easy to lose focus in the chaos and, more so than in the prior game, fleeing from an ambush back to a chokepoint feels essential to surviving many ambushes. Decent spatial audio and distinct enemy calls do, at least, help you track targets. The soundtrack is amazing though all my favourites – including the main theme – were reworked classics from the first game. For those with older PCs, the visuals are reasonably customisable, the game still looks great on lower settings, and I could easily hit 1080/60 on a 5-year-old budget gaming laptop with a 4GB GTX 1050Ti.
Based on this Early Access build, Project Warlock II is just as entertaining as its predecessor but the level structure and flow are different, not necessarily better. Project Warlock was all about a constant sense of forward momentum thanks to a succession of short levels, rapidly changing enemy variants, and fresh environments. Project Warlock II is still a fast-paced shooter but it wants you to spend time in its larger, sometimes labyrinthine levels (up to an hour according to the dev). It’s a double-edged sword as while they’re more varied and technically impressive, searching for a missed key, upgrade terminal, or secret-hunting all drag down the pace and these moments stand in stark contrast to the relentless combat – something that also bugged me about the otherwise excellent DOOM (2016) and DOOM Eternal.
An early access code for Project Warlock II was provided to gameblur by the publisher.