A solid RTS weighed down by technical problems that make it feel as untameable as the Realm of Beasts.
As you trudge through the foetid swamps of Ghur, the Realm of Beasts, you know you're being watched. The soft clanking of your armour is the only sound accompanying your incursion into these harsh lands. Finally, the trap is sprung, you hear the war horns of the fiendish Orruks as they seek to lay waste to you and your men. You stand strong, stalwart, and prepare yourself for battle. And then, everything stops. Is this a tactical pause option? No, it's the game crashing. Sorry, no epic fantasy story for you.
Sometimes, I do wish we didn't put scores on things. They're what 90% of people are interested in, when really it would be lovely if everyone could understand the ups and downs of a game without a numerical value. And yet, we don't live in that world. Most will probably just scroll down to the bottom of this article to get the score and jog on, but if you've stuck around, thank you, because I'm about to rattle on about a game I wish I could've liked more.
I've had a few chances to play Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin, and apart from wondering if the title could just be a tad shorter, there was a good deal of anticipation going into this game. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a top-tier RTS in my eyes, and from previews and more this looked like a fantasy version of it. Control small but powerful armies from different factions as you go through a finely crafted campaign, take on the AI in the roguelite Conquest Mode or fight against other players in Multiplayer.
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First of all, it's worth noting that we might as well scratch the campaign from this review. The first cutscene caused the game to crash repeatedly, and so I was forced to skip it in order to get into the campaign. Then, three missions in, the game just wouldn't let me continue. Constant crashes, and with my PC being able to run everything else I've thrown at it from this year, I have to chalk this up to technical issues on the game's side. This won't affect everyone, but it has stopped me from getting into the main attraction. Multiplayer and Conquest are fine, but the campaign is where it feels like the most focus has been placed. The developers have brought in renowned Warhammer author Gav Thorpe, given the player an introduction to Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and crafted their own unique tale to be placed into the lore.
It's not like the campaign would be up there with the best narratives around, but without being able to experience it there's a feeling that I've only seen about half of what's on offer. It doesn't help that when you play the other modes (Multiplayer and Conquest), essentially you're asked to do the same thing over and over. Build up your units and resources and then fight for control of three victory points. The maps change and Conquest gives you different modifiers to spice things up, but after a good amount of time it's hard to see this not getting stale, whereas the campaign gives you a host of different objectives and scenarios. The technical issues don't end with the campaign crashes, by the way. Visual bugs were apparent in the upgrade menus, and units often got themselves stuck on bits of the map.
But, enough complaining. When I could actually play the game, it proved to be a good amount of fun. The gameplay follows a simple rock, paper, scissors-style of play, where you have archers countering sword units, swords countering shields, and shields countering archers. It's not so simple as to just throw units into good match-ups, though, as there are also different tiers of units, and combinations that can allow for shield units to beat swords. When playing as the Orruks, I held a chokepoint for about ten minutes just by using three Marshcrawla Sloggoths and having them crush everything the enemy threw at me. Most units also have unique abilities, which can turn the tide of battle. With a system that is very easy to pick up, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin feels like an RTS that's very accessible for newcomers, both to the Age of Sigmar setting and the RTS genre. There's also a depth there for higher-skilled players, but veterans are likely going to be annoyed by the fact that you can't pull your units out of a bad fight unless you want to send them all the way back to home base. This can lead to some annoying scenarios where you end up trying to outmanoeuvre your opponent only for your troops to get a wee bit close to the enemy and charge into a hopeless melee.
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Despite some annoyances, the battles are pretty engaging, and a lot of that comes down to the visuals deployed by Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin. Units appear as if they've been ripped right off the tabletop and each have such a distinct look to them You're not just bashing soldiers of different colours against each other, and every clash feels like a great fantasy skirmish. Age of Sigmar has come to life like never before (though that's not exactly saying much considering the games the setting has had previously), and there's a lot of detail that shows how much the developers cared about making that a reality. The army painter and scenario creator are just two examples that add another layer of depth to the game as a whole. They might not make the battles any flashier, but they make you feel like your army is your own and you can set up a scene to capture their glory however you wish.
As mentioned, I've only really experienced about half of what Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin has to offer, and so in time I will be returning to this game to see if it can actually live up to its potential. However, as it stands right now, the game is one that does act as a solid introduction to Warhammer Age of Sigmar, the RTS genre, or both. A great look, decent battles, and plenty of customisation make the Realm of Beasts inviting despite it not being the perfect holiday destination. Outside of its campaign, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin doesn't stand out particularly well. Its Conquest and Multiplayer modes are fun for a time, but lack that pull to keep you playing for hours on end. Hopefully, when the technical issues are resolved, we can see the vision Frontier had with its shiny new strategy game.
6 / 10
Great visuals, simple but effective gameplay, good introduction to Age of Sigmar/RTS games
Technical issues, crashing, multiplayer and a roguelite mode that get stale