Think about this the next time you’re crushing the Chimera or halving the Horde: Warlords did it first.
Well, not first. Not even best. But to the people who remember waiting in line for machines to open up in arcades Warlords was one of the visionary games that brought people together before the word “multiplayer” was ubiquitous. A lot of games in the golden age were multiplayer. Pong could not be played without an opponent when it was first released as a bar novelty. Through the years kids would gather around cabinets such as Gauntlet and TMNT along with a ton of side-scrolling beat-em-ups and lose quarters together. But it was the 1981 release of Warlords for the Atari 2600 that got people together in front of the TV for 4-player action. Other multiplayer games came before it, but none of them hold up as well. Instead of beating a buddy in Combat or besting one person’s score in Pac Man, Warlords let you lay the smackdown on three people sitting right next to you.
And it was fun.
In the game you defend yourself from three other players – preferably human. Each player occupies a castle that they defend with a shield. It’s been a long time since I read the instruction manual for the Atari 2600 version, but I believe each character represents one of four brothers fighting endlessly over the fortune of their dead father, the king. Cool. The object is to chip away at your opponents’ castle until you can strike them dead. When this happens, their “ghost” can be seen wandering the fortress.
None of the upgrades or Atari classic compilations have really done justice to the game. To be played right, you need an Atari 2600, a copy of “Warlords” and two sets of working paddles. Luckily, all those things will cost you around $50 on eBay.
Believe me, it’s worth it. The sad truth is that many classic games are simply not fun to play anymore. Our memories of most games are often better than the games themselves. But as we get farther away from the classic era of gaming, I think it’s important to remember not only the games that made a difference, but the ones that are still fun to play.
Warlords is just such a game.