Focus Home is pumping out a bunch of Warhammer games as of late, but the publisher has the honour of putting out the first based on Warhammer: Age Of Sigmar.
Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Storm Ground, by Gasket Games, is a turn-based strategy tactics game with roguelike elements. With three factions to choose from, a random-ish campaign to go through and loot and cards to collect, Storm Ground could easily be really good or really bad based on how the basic gameplay shakes up.
We’re still a few hours since been playing the game, and you know what? Storm Ground’s holding its own right now, if you can forgive if you niggles here and there.
Promising Turn-Based Strategy Tactics Combat
Storm Ground’s campaign will start off with three tutorial missions as the Stormcast Eternals (think Space Marines, but with a fantasy twist). This will walk you through the basics of what to expect.
It’s hex-based and turn-based, with terrain elements to consider. Stormcast units are slow but heavily armoured, and the melee units start off with hammers.
With hammers equipped, there’s a skill that does little base damage (one point) compared to swords you can get later on (four points). But it does knockback.
This one little trick basically reveals the potential of Storm Ground’s turn-based combat. It’s not as straightforward, and it’s not another XCOM-like either (there’s no cover mechanics). With the Stormcast, you can play around with pushing (hammer skills) and pulling (taunting) enemy units to either set traps or make combo hits.
You can have your range unit, the Castigators, prime a shot that does more damage at a specific tile, and then have your hero unit, Lord-Celestant Freya Skyhelm, taunt them into said hex. It works best when you have multiple Castigators, trapping them into a barrage of arrows.
Also, you don’t necessarily need to prime the trap either. Friendly fire is a thing. So let’s say, an enemy is priming a shot on your hero Stormcast. Move back one tile, and there is a possibility to lure an enemy to that hex. And gets shot by their own unit as a result.
(It can happen to your units too if you’re not careful.)
As for knockbacks, you can hammer swing an enemy and knock them into another enemy, or more satisfyingly, yeet them off the map.
(Again, you can also damage your own units this way. Units that explode on death is more deadly as a result- they too can produce knockbacks.)
Each of the three playable factions has different gimmicks and playstyles. The ghastly ghoulies that are the Nighthaunts overwhelm the enemy with many squishy units. Whereas the Maggotkin of Nurgle is the most complex of the three. They can put debuffs on the hex tiles from their icky goo of pure pestilence.
We’ll see if all the factions are fun to play when enough hours have been put in. But as a first impression, Gasket Games seems to get it. Hopefully, there are more gimmicks for one faction that you can build around.
Storm Ground’s main mode is the rougelike campaign. Each of the faction will be going through the different Mortal Realms. For the Stormcast, you’ll be traversing through the Realm of Death, Shyish (i.e. The Nighthaunts’ haunting grounds).
The maps themselves are not procedurally generated. But the way the hex tiles are laid out do change in each run. Sometimes there are more hazard tiles. Sometimes there treasure you can collect (before the enemy collects it for themselves).
Expect to die a lot. At first, you will feel like the enemy is just way too strong and your units being too squishy. But after a few botched runs, you’ll gain loot to deck your army. These can range from downright better stats, or additional skills.
There’s not a clear place to look up what exactly carries between runs, but it’s actually very generous. You get to keep all the loot. Instead, you are limited in what you can bring when you start a new run. Losing doesn’t suck as much as a result.
I feel like the roguelike campaign feels more of a budgetary choice, and if it is, they have made the most out of the situation. It does work well to tie in the combat gameplay together.
The temptation of maybe this run gets you the good loot you need for the next will keep you coming back. Just as the hope that maybe the later battles, with better loot, the game will open up even more.
What’s Up With The UI?
But there is one big issue with Storm Grounds that we can spot early in the game. And it’s how the UI is presented. There are parts where the game uses the tried-and-true pop-up tool-tip (like when you highlight a hex tile). But I wish it consistently pops up in more areas, in particular the army setup screen.
Each army unit has main 4 stats, and if you can’t tell from the icon shapes represent damage, armour, health and movement respectively, then you just don’t know because it’s not labeled anywhere.
The card presentation for all your warspoils (loot) is also confusing. You can’t tell at a glance which cards are skills and which are gear. A lot of additional information (like which unit can equip it and what the skill do) are buried under the inspect option when there’s room to put it in the card. You can’t hover on the cards for a tooltip to show what exactly the number or icons mean.
I also don’t know some of the cards are actually consumables (I wasted a good unit summon not knowing this), and what do you gain from levelling up your unit (from what I can tell, additional skill slots).
I haven’t tried the multiplayer yet. The UI on the army setup screen is the main reason, I’ll give it a go once we got a grasp of what the game is about.
The UI clearly could do with a bit more work on it, just so newcomers are not too lost once the hand-holding session is over. More seasoned strategy game players should be able to work it all out, but I wish to see some improvement on this aspect should the game get post-launch support.
Warhammer games are usually a hit-and-miss kind of ordeal, but Warhammer Age Of Sigmar Storm Ground First is definitely a swing. You can tell that the game does have a budget constraint, so it’s not a big game. But what matters most is its core gameplay- and that’s where Storm Ground holds its ground the best.
If you have a fascination of the Warhammer franchise and like turn-based strategy combat, Warhammer Age Of Sigmar Storm Ground First is definitely worth a look. But we’ll get back with a definitive review and verdict in the coming days.
Review based on PC. Review copy purchased by the reviewer