4X Games are one of the most enduring strategy genres out there. Games like Civilization and Sins of a Solar Empire have fans that are legion. Heck, I doubt I’m the only person on MMORPG.com who appreciates this sort of strategy. But one thing I’ve always wanted is for a little more RPG to make its way into the 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) pantheon. Stardock tried this to some success with Fallen Enchantress, and now ups the ante quite a bit with the excellent Sorcerer King.
Taking place after the events of Fallen Enchantress, Sorcerer King is a sequel of sorts where players must take the world back from the evil Sorcerer King before the Doomsday Meter fills up and the world is ended for good. This meter, which progresses every 10 turns and depending upon the choices you make during the game, adds a nice sense of urgency to the overall proceedings of each game. And while there’s an excellent campaign to experience the story of the Sorcerer King’s rise to power, the main fun of the game is this highly replayable fight to stop the King from ending the world as we know it.
Sorcerer King, like the Fallen Enchantress games before it, has plenty of city and empire building, but it’s the game’s RPG aspects like leveling your hero units and your Sovereign that really shine. Heroes and military units have their own gear to equip, while the former also have their own skill trees to dive into. You, the Sovereign, also get to level up, pick perks and research new spells. And since there are six unique sovereigns with varying paths to take, heroes to recruit, well… you can imagine how deep the progression rabbit hole goes.
But it’s not just the progression of your hero units and sovereign that make Sorcerer King sing. Each procedurally generated map you play has a bevy of missions and things to uncover. Small villages pose new questions and it’s up to you to decide how you undertake the threats posed to you. Find an old man claiming amnesia in a village filled with recently murdered bodies? It’s up to you if you will ask the probably murderer to join your band of heroes, or if you’ll turn him over to the authorities. Little stories like these await in every new little POI you find, so it’s easy to forget about the whole impending doom lurking on the horizon and instead get lost in the fun of just exploring the map.
You always have this overarching story and mission of defeating the Sorcerer King, but it’s plenty of fun to just explore the map and befriend or take on your rival factions, while uncovering every little side mission and point of interest available.
Combat itself can be a blast too, though I am unbearably bad at the fights the game throws my way. You can auto-resolve fights, a la Civilization, in which case your army’s power will be matched against the enemy’s with the higher score almost always coming out on top. It’s turn-based with a square grid for movement, positioning, and all of that. Think Heroes of Might and Magic and you’ve got the gist. During these fights you can also cast your sovereign's spells on the map too, though you’re often limited to one or two per battle so you’ll want to choose wisely.
If there’s one weakness in Sorcerer King’s 4X RPG armor, it’s definitely city management. It’s ineffectual and a little cumbersome, and without the ability to set a production queue for each city, you’re left to constantly be checking in on your empire’s cities and setting up queues every turn. Micromanagers will be fine with this, but I tend to like to set a queue of about 4-5 things and come back later. This isn’t an option in SK, can probably my biggest annoyance with the game.
Overall though, for fans of the 4X genre who also happen to love a good fantasy RPG, you can’t get much better than Sorcerer King. For the $40 the title costs on Steam, you’re likely to get hours and hours of gameplay. The only thing that could make it better is competitive or co-op multiplayer where you can work with or against others trying to take down the Sorcerer King. Maybe an expansion will bring this feature, but for now I’m content trying to do all the hard work on my own.