Project Warlock returns, in Early Access… So, the question is does the game returned in solid form or is this another undercooked Early Access release? Well with 21 weapons and 6 levels, with each level being around 10x the size of a level in the original, there is enough here that even with a slight lack of polish this is a very justified EA release.
The story of Project Warlock II continues directly after the first game’s events. However, you really don’t need to have played the original to get enjoyment out of this, and not to belittle the story but given the game is effectively a 90s inspired shooter, the story is not a huge part of it.
Not much seems to have differed from the original initially, but what is apparent you start straight into a level. This leads to a huge change, you no longer must finish a group of levels to do upgrades, instead there is a weapon upgrade station hidden in the levels, given you one upgrade for a weapon of your choice, there are 2 layers of upgrades to each weapon. In addition to that Magic no longer drains from the same pool, so you no longer must choose between upgrading weapons and new spells.
The upgrades however are permanent, and I do not believe you can switch between them, so choose wisely. My favourite upgrade so far is 4 shots to a shotgun and then pairing that with the dual wield magic for extreme damage.
You know find magic in the levels, and they now simply have a cooldown, enemies also drop orbs that reduce the cooldown, there’s 3 orbs one for each kind of spell. Some examples are one is a dual wield where you make a magic copy of whatever weapon you are holding; another is a freeze spell and another is fireballs. With them being simple cooldowns, the combat has been changed up significantly and feels much better.
Another huge issue with the gameplay that has been rectified is level design, the first Project Warlock felt extremely flat, more so than the later original dooms and other classic titles. The developer has taken this criticism to heart, the levels as mentioned earlier are significantly larger this time round, which means the sequel now has a full system save with autosaves, fast loading and quick saving.
Accompanying the size change is verticality, the levels are extremely vertical now and you will find yourself moving up and down constantly, gone are the flat terrain levels of the original.
The game also has a combo system which is pretty well thought out, it also distinguishes
headshots, body kills and leg kills and distributes points accordingly. This
should add to some good replay value and encourage you to try and play the best
These changes have resulted in significantly better level designs, and all the levels I have played so far are extremely enjoyable and well thought out. There are a lot of secret areas, and they are hidden quite well at that, you may even find yourself looking up and seeing buttons you can shoot to unlock secret areas. Enemy Variety is also high, making this a very competent and very fun “boomer shooter”.
Visually it is a step up from the original, while the original was more OG Doom, think of Project Warlock 2 as Doom 64. That’s the visual step up you can expect, and this is fully intentional on the developer’s side.
I quite like the art style and enemy designs, and environmental probs and designs, it is old school but in an odd sense it is also memorable. I think the design is solid, and ends up fairly memorable, although in the long term I’m not sure how much I am going to remember of the game’s locales, whether they stand the test of time is yet to be seen. Some people may see this as hyperbolic, but the original Dooms have always been stuck in my head and when I reminisce about them I can clearly picture them.
If I had one complaint on the visuals side it is the fog, this may well be an intentional choice to hide certain things popping in, although I can’t see that when testing the theory. It does however lead to a low fi look that even alters colour. I understand that the game is intentionally a visual throwback, but it also has things such as bullets emitting their own light source, so it would have been nice to see this cut. Some may disagree with me on that however, and that is fine. Also, explosion on barrels seem to have no explosion animation, this might just be an EA thing, and will be polished in the final release.
This is pretty much exactly like the first one. Some sound effects have been reworked, largely for the better. The soundtrack is also more of the same and that is not a bad thing. The OST for the original was great and really fit the game, the same can be said for the sequel. The Main Menu theme sets the tone, and the levels all have their own feel.
My 8700K, 16GB RAM and RTX 3080 OC rig can run the game with Nvidia’s DLDSR at 4k and stay in the 110-144fps range, more often on the higher end. However, there are some rare moments where it drops down as low as 80. What I have noticed however is when the FPS drops or even at 110fps, the GPU usage never goes anywhere near 100%, meaning there is GPU being left on the table here. Doing some more digging, there’s two things I believe are causing this, outside of optimization issues. The fame is using DX11, which at least for me tends to lead to a 20-30% perf drop compared to DX12. Psychonauts 2 in DX12 for example nets me 30 or so more fps in scenes compared to DX11.
Another issue I have noticed is CPU usage, looking at MSI afterburner it appears that it is only using 1 thread, I believe this is likely leading to a CPU bottleneck. When the CPU is bottlenecked, the GPU will go under-utilised. A good example of this would be playing something like hitman 3 even on DX12 with a 4th gen I7 and a RTX 3080, your GPU usage will be very low, leading to significantly lower Frame rates than the GPU is capable of.
On the Steam Deck front, settings do not seem to improve performance at all, the game can run at 60fps but often droops into the 54-60 range when traversing certain areas, resulting in nasty frame time spikes, so capping to 55FPS/HZ seems to be the best option for smoothness. However, performance does often dip into mid 40s in enemy heavy scenes among some others. So, optimization needs some work, it does run better than warlock 1 but still has issues.
I imagine the single threaded behaviour of the game is causing these drops on deck, and it being DX11 certainly does not help the deck either. I have made a Steam Deck video and that will be added to this article, so you can see performance first hand. Excuse the quality however, I need to get a tripod and make some other tweaks for my Steam Deck recordings. I should also add this is running the EGS version through the heroic launcher and the latest version of Proton GE.
The EA release of Project Warlock is a solid release, optimization, and minor blemishes aside, it is a great taste of what to expect from the sequel, and personally I would say it is an improvement in every way, I highly recommend you check it out if you were a fan of the original.
However, even if you were not or have never played the first, I do think all the changes make this worth another look and any boomer shooter fans coming into this franchise for the first time should have a great time. However if you want to wait for all 3 episodes in the final release along with the other warlocks that would be recommended too.