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Warlords (series)

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Warlords is a computer game series created by Steve Fawkner, in which role-playing elements are combined with strategy in a fantasy setting. The series has been split into two different games lines, the traditional turn-based strategy Warlords series (currently in its fourth edition), and a newer real-time based strategy Warlords Battlecry series (currently in its third edition).

The games are set in the fantasy world of Etheria, and tend to be based around the traditional premise of good versus evil, with neutrality in between. Heroes on the side of good are the Sirian Knights, the mercantile Empires of Men, the elves and the dwarves. On the side of evil are the demonic horsemen: the Lord of Plague, the Lord of Famine, the Lord of War, and the ever present Lord Bane, Lord of Death.

The politics of the world, however, are more complicated than they first appear, particularly in the third installment of the series. For example, the Minotaurs, who were created as servants for Sartek, the Lord of War, are a neutral race rather than an evil one. Also, the third game opens with the human Empire pillaging and exploiting the newly discovered lands of the peaceful Srrathi snakemen, in an obvious nod to the historical European conquest of the Americas. Most importantly from a player's point of view, a Hero's race is not as important in determining their moral alignment as their choice of class. For example, while the Undead are evil as a rule, an Undead Paladin would be treated as good (though such a thing is only possible in the third game, wherein all previous restrictions on race and class combinations have been removed).

The most recent Warlords Battlecry game is based upon the release of the fifth horseman from the demonic dimensions. Other races also populate Etheria, including Dark Elves, Dark Dwarves, Barbarians, Orcs, Gnolls, and Srrathi, with some races being dropped and added with different games.


The first game in the series, Warlords, was created in 1989 by Steven Fawkner and was published by SSG. It featured eight different clans battling for the control of the mythical land of Illuria: Sirians, Storm Giants, Grey Dwarves, Orcs of Kor, Elvallie, Horse Lords, Selentines, and Lord Bane. Each clan could either be controlled by the computer or by a human player, allowing up to eight participants taking turns in hot seat play. Gameplay consisted of moving units, attacking opponent units or cities, adjusting production in cities, and moving hero units to explore ruins, temples, libraries, and to discover allies, relics, and other items. The goal of the game was to conquer the land of Illuria by capturing or razing at least two thirds of the cities in the land.

In 1991, Warlords was the co-winner of Computer Gaming World's 1991 Wargame of the Year award.[1]

The game was reviewed in 1991 in Dragon #172 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.[2]

Warlords II

Following the success of Warlords, SSG released Warlords II in 1993. This version included scenarios (five initially, although the later released mission pack and the Deluxe version (1995) increased the number to several dozen). Another new feature was 'fog of war' - optionally, enemy units or even the map could be concealed from players without units close enough to see them. The interface of the game was improved, as were the graphics (with additional unique city graphics for each different player). Moreover, the game featured multiple army, city and terrain sets (still in 16 colours, but upgraded to 256 colours with the Deluxe release), play by e-mail as well as hot seat, and a random map generator and map editor.

Thanks to the publication of the editor, Warlords II Deluxe was the apotheosis of the series in terms of user-created content. Many new maps, army and terrain sets, and scenarios were distributed on the Internet for the game.

Longtime Warlords player and enthusiast Bob Heeter imagined, and then organized, a multi-player tournament using Warlords II, through the newsgroup for strategic games. The tournament depended on a special program called "WarBot" that calculated what 'should' happen when two diverse armies fought under the Warlords rules. Tournament rankings and awards were given based on how well a player did in comparison to other players with the same side in the same scenario. Awards were also given for best roleplaying during the games. The tournament generated a great deal of interest, as well as a great deal of excellent roleplaying, which was archived.[3]

Warlords III: Reign of Heroes

After a four year hiatus, SSG developed Warlords III. By this time, the real-time strategy game genre was in full-swing. There was less of a market for turn-based games. Warlords III added a campaign system, along with new spells, new units, new hero abilities and new hero classes to the game.[4]

Warlords III: Darklords Rising

Shortly after releasing W3:RoH, SSG followed with a stand-alone expansion pack. However, its release in 1998 was truly overshadowed by the oncoming rush of FPS and the MMORPG predecessors. The TBS genre in general would take a hit during this period[citation needed]. Warlords III like Warlords II had a campaign editor and had realistic terrain.[5] The plot of the main campaign continued where the previous game had left off.[5]

Warlords: Battlecry

Warlords Battlecry (WBC) marked an important diversion into real-time strategy. Although it failed to appeal to much of the franchise's existing fan base, it opened up an entirely new market. As the first truly hero-based RTS, it played a seminal role in the creation of the role-playing strategy genre that would eventually be dominated by Warcraft 3, and indirectly influenced major MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. Some of the key RPS characteristics pioneered by WBC included persistent heroes customizable through gaining experience and a "hero influence radius" that affected normal units. Some of the hero classes are common to games both before and after, though the Death Knight is a notable addition that influenced the Warcraft series. WBC and its sequels, WBC II and III, received critical acclaim but were met with limited commercial success.

Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria

In November 2003, Ubisoft released Warlords IV. Similar to Warlords III (in theme, not in gameplay), but with improved graphics and a more intricate magic system, it received a lackluster reception. Game Rankings, for example, shows an aggregate review score for the game of 70%, about ten percentage points lower than both Warlords III games ([1]).

One of the reasons this version was not as popular was due to the poor quality AI.[citation needed] The game was easily beaten on any difficulty when playing against computer players. The 1.04 patch (not available from Ubisoft, but from fixed many of the AI issues, rebalanced the races, and fixed issues in the original version. This patch was released at the beginning of 2006 long after the original game's release, which may affect its ability to revitalise interest in the game.

According to Steve Fawkner, this game was built from scratch in 6 months by Infinite Interactive after being handed it by SSG in an incompleteable form ([2]), and is why the game is not up to previous standards.


  1. Staff (November 1991). "Computer Gaming World's 1991 Games of the Year Awards". Computer Gaming World (Golden Empire Publications, Inc) (88): 38–40, 58. 
  2. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (August 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (172): 55–64. 
  3. The Warlords II World Tournament (1997)
  4. Warlords III: Reign of Heroes review. Games Spot.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shamma, Tahsin (1999-09-18). Warlords III: Darklords Rising Review. Games Spot. Retrieved on 2009-05-05.

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