Reviews

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin – Campaign Review

I really wanted this to be good

For around a decade now, I have been a huge fan of the warhammer franchise. To be precise, I’ve been a massive fan of the video games. The tabletops, well…not so much, it’s just too hard and expensive to get into that hobby especially considering my location and the economy here, but I digress. My first encounter with the warhammer franchise was Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Dark Crusade. I was a kid back then, and I didn’t even know a campaign existed so for the most part, I’ve only treated it as my very own, personal, cinematic war game. And it was awesome.

Fast forward to 2012, I first got my hands on Dawn of War 2: Retribution. I never really played the original Dawn of War 2, just this expansion. But even then, this was the most epic singleplayer RTS experience that I have ever gotten the privilege of playing. And it’s still the best singleplayer RTS game so far, even compared to games like Spellforce 3. Then 2023 came along. May 26, 2023, Warhammer drops its announcement on Realms of Ruin in Youtube, and I couldn’t have been more hyped. From what I could fathom in the trailers, it was basically Dawn of War 2, with better cinematics, more immersive gameplay, and just so much more but set in the warhammer fantasy universe. An upgrade, so to speak. However, having played the game, I really wish they’d have put some more thought into this. 

The story has 18 chapters overall and takes about 19 and a half hours to beat on average. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Opening the game for the first time, glancing at the main menu and the different accessibility options that the game throws at me, gave this big impression that the game is as polished as it can be. And objectively, it is. The menus and the UIs look and feel modern, the sound effects are on point, the music is great, the voice acting sounds professional, the cinematics feel like actual movies, and the in-game combat animations are pretty cool. However, it didn’t take long during the first few hours of the game that it started feeling…slow. But I chalked it up to the game dumbing everything down to a pace that everyone can follow, so I pushed on.

THE STORY IS AWESOME

The main story takes place in Ghur, the Realm of Beasts. The dawnbringer settlement “Harkanibus” has been under relentless assault by the realm’s Orruk denizens. Lord-Celestant Sigrun of the Stormhost leads the city’s defense but constant attacks have left her forces depleted. Following the divinations of a Celestial Wizard, Demechrios, she leads a Stormhost into the swamps of Ghur in hopes of finding an artifact that will turn the tide in their favor and save Harkanibus. 

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In proper Games Workshop fashion, the story and its presentation are absolutely amazing. The plot itself is serviceable but the game does a great job at actually making you care about the characters and making you pay attention whenever a cutscene is playing. Each character actually feels alive, each having their own values and convictions that drive them to do what they do throughout the story. Even the Orruk villains have depth in their backgrounds and character.

The story is also told from at least four different perspectives, one for each faction. For the most part, the story is told in a linear fashion, with the POV jumping from one faction to another with some missions being flashbacks. By having you experience each different perspective, the game helps you grasp the bigger picture as you play through the campaign. Although the game’s presentation of the story in dialogue and cinematics are on point, the same can’t be said about its visual storytelling in terms of level design and gameplay, which is unfortunate.

If Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin was a full feature animated movie instead of a video game, it could have been one of the best works of media from Warhammer in recent years.

MISSIONS TAKE FOREVER

During the first two missions, I chalked up the game’s slowness to the tutorial stage. Four to five chapters in, the game still felt really, really slow. And during this part of my playthrough, I’ve started to notice more issues. Firstly, movement and terrain in this game feels so over thought and some mechanics, completely unnecessary. Almost every unit in the game already moves really, really slow, and the game still introduces these detrimental environment elements that either slow or damage your units. And because this game’s pathing kinda sucks, I still constantly find some  of my units stuck in the mud despite my best efforts in guiding them to avoid those pesky mud puddles.

Aside from that, individual battles feel like they last excruciatingly long, and I think it is by design, but I’ll get into all that later. As a result, every mission past the first few takes almost an hour to finish which is a very long time to be sitting on one mission alone. 

MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THE COMBAT

Battles in Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is quite unique in its own way. At first glance, it resembles Relic’s signature RTS format, which makes the game look similar to games such as Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 or Company of Heroes 2. However, the only real mechanic that resembles those games are the capture points. Everything else is done differently or at least, feels off at times.

Movement and command precision in this game is really low. One mechanic that I absolutely loathe in this game is the melee mechanics. Once a unit engages in melee combat, they will be forced to attack that initial attacker until either one of them gets annihilated. Meaning you can have your soldiers switch targets in the middle of battle. Adding to that, your units engaged in melee combat also won’t be able  to move during this time. The only way to disengage from melee is to do a retreat command, which has your units clamoring to rush their way back to the main base to heal. This means that micromanagement after engaging enemies in melee doesn’t exist, aside from using skills.

The game has this rock-paper-scissors like mechanic when it comes to unit variety and compositions. Guardians beat Ranged, Ranged beats Vanguards, and Vanguards beat Guardians. It’s a pretty standard counter triangle. Although the game would make you believe that this mechanic is the most important thing you should worry about, it can’t be further from the truth. In reality, yes the rock-paper-scissors mechanic kinda helps but it’s completely overshadowed by abilities. 

Combat in Realms of Ruin seems to completely revolve around the use of unit and character abilities. Aside from having a solid army composition, it’s way more important to learn how and when to use unit abilities at the most opportune timing. According to the game, an army of guardians should win against an army of archers. However, putting abilities into consideration, an army of archers has the potential to wipe out an army of guardians in a single move. Although counters do exist, like guardians being able to shield themselves (depending on the faction) but the point still stands In terms of importance, abilities outweigh unit composition in almost every scenario. Instead of creating unit compositions using the counter-triangle, it’s much better to make unit compositions based on the unit’s abilities instead. 

This is probably why combat in this game is deliberately designed to be slow and takes a long time if two armies just mindlessly hack away at each other. Because the divisive way to win battles in this game is through timing and abilities, rather than unit composition and positioning. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin was a surprising announcement and an exciting idea for fans of Dawn of War 2 such as myself. To be clear, I am their target demographic. I’ve been playing the Dawn of War games for more than a decade now and I absolutely adored Dawn of War 2. Even with my longing for a new game that will freshen up the genre, Realms of Ruin still left me feeling quite disappointed. Despite having the blueprints from the Dawn of War games, Realms of Ruin somehow squanders this opportunity with unnecessary and imprecise RTS mechanics. And despite its goal to be an RTS that focuses on cinematic battles and spectacle, it’s still overshadowed by its predecessors released an entire decade before. But the story and the cutscenes are phenomenal, making it really hard for me to actually hate the game. The story is worth it, the gameplay not so much, so at least grab it when it eventually goes on sale for dirt cheap. 

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