The original Project Warlock, a throwback FPS which released in 2018, married the flat sprites and level design of Wolfenstein 3D with modern progression systems and extensive weapon upgrades. That formula worked out pretty well for Jakub "Kuba" Cislo, who developed Project Warlock alongside a small team while he was still in high school. Having recently played the demo, I can see why it reviewed well. The guns have a nice punch and the crisp sprites pair well with modern lighting and particle effects.
Now graduated and with a full game's worth of experience, Cislo and the rest of Buckshot Software are going all-out with Project Warlock 2, which was properly debuted today at the PC Gaming Show 2021 with a new trailer.
Project Warlock 2 is currently set for Early Access on Steam on July 29 with a Kickstarter planned for late June to help fund two more episodes. All three episodes will feature around six big levels with a different protagonist starring in each. The three new faces will apparently be disciples of the main Warlock character from the first game.
One priority for Cislo and team has been a complete rework of the magic system that, in the original game, ended up forcing players to choose between weapon upgrades or new spells. "In the end, not everyone was fond that idea," he said. "A lot of players were scared to buy spells instead of upgrades because they're worried that the spell might not be as good." In the sequel, magic no longer draws from the mana pool used for weapons and spells will have simple cooldowns instead. The goal is to encourage the use of utility spells without affecting your core arsenal of guns.
Speaking of guns, Project Warlock 2 will have more of those as well (22 total weapons are planned for Episode 1). Taking a note from recent Doom games, weapons will be upgraded in branching paths that add new functionality and change their look. Cislo used the example of an assault rifle that can be upgraded with an alternate burst fire or scoped mode. That may sound basic, but there's also stuff like magical staffs, so scopes probably won't be the norm. Unlike Doom Eternal, it sounds like these upgrade choices are permanent. Players won't be able to swap between upgrades on the fly, a choice that Cislo hopes will encourage players to replay the game to try out different permutations.
Top of the list for Project Warlock 2 was reimagined level design, which will be "vertical as hell" in the sequel. "We are adding a lot of verticality to the levels, the geometry is going to be much more complex," Cislo said. "Most of the levels are multi-story complex mazes."
My eyes tend to glaze over the aggressively flat layouts of early FPS maps, so this was great to hear. To prevent players from getting lost, Cislo says levels are designed around recognizable landmarks that help players visually orient themselves without having to rely on a minimap (though it has one of those, too). Looking back at the first Project Warlock, Cislo recalled the "hard task" of making interesting level design under the self-imposed restrictions of evoking Wolfenstein 3D's simplistic planar maps. "I think we somehow achieved it and I am really proud of the level design," he said. "These were the restrictions I gave myself to make the best possible Wolfenstein 3D clone."
The shift to verticality is a pretty major change that Cislo believes will have a ripple effect in how the rest of the game feels. For one, the levels are a lot bigger this time around. To compensate for longer sessions between levels, Project Warlock 2 will have a proper save system complete with autosaves and instant quicksave/quickload. The first game's lack of manual saves (the only checkpoints were between levels) was a controversial choice when the first game launched. "I really think with Project Warlock it was a good idea because levels were short. You could easily finish a level or two within five or ten minutes." Larger levels that players might not finish in one sitting necessitated some sort of saving solution.
Maybe most intriguing are the little touches Buckshot is adding to deepen Project Warlock 2's combat. Cislo mentioned that all enemies will have their own weakness and resistances that players will have to suss out by experimentation. Monsters will also gain "stress" as you deal more damage in a small time frame, which can cause them to become more sporadic and less accurate (kinda like old man Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4).
In that way, players are rewarded for keeping up the pace and wreaking havoc, though there will also be a great reason to slow down once in a while. Additional character perks will be hidden in secret areas (false walls, hidden switches, that good '90s FPS stuff).
Admittedly, my throwback shooter interests have mainly been limited to games that recreate the early polygonal era, but Project Warlock 2 may break that streak for me. Expect to see more on the game when Episode 1 enters Early access on July 29.