Review: Warhammer 40,000: Regicide03 Aug 2016 8
Review: Warhammer 40,000: Regicide
Released 19 May 2016
Warhammer 40,000: Regicide takes me back to 1988 and 1996. In ‘88, Battle Chess realized the dream of Dejarik, allowing chess players to watch their pieces murder each other in short, comical animations. Eight years later, Quake would make its signature contribution to the English language, adding “gibbing” to the vocabulary of every gamer who ever attended a LAN party. At heart, that’s the core concept of Regicide: 40k themed Battle Chess with gibbing. Lots of gibbing.
Sure, not every death animation in Regicide ends with a meatbag explosion, but fountains of blood and flying bloody bits of rib cage are to Regicide what Warner Brothers slapstick and trauma to the groin were to Battle Chess. The first trailers for the PC version of Regicide consisted almost entirely of these death animations and advertised the fact you were watching “gameplay footage.” Sure, but as with Battle Chess and various the recreations of its central conceit over the years, you’re watching the same pre-scripted and presumably pre-rendered animations over and over again.
After a couple of games, I was deeply grateful for the option to toggle the “kill cam” off. It was only then that the ways in which Regicide is more than a Battle Chess clone really came to the fore. Turning off the kill cam in Regicide doesn’t kill the animations: we all did that sooner or later with Battle Chess, and discovered to our horror that, underneath the cartoon violence, Battle Chess was just… chess. Even in “classic” (Chess) mode, I started to appreciate the smoothly-animated clanking of the Terminators and Meganobz and the spray of bolter fire: Regicide is gaudy, but it also keeps it’s animations snappy enough that they don’t become a drag on play.
More importantly, there’s Regicide’s signature hybrid gameplay, combining chess rules with statistictical, probabilistic combat. The balance is interesting: chess captures are still allowed and are auto-kills, but after each player’s move, they get Initiative points to use for ranged and melee attacks with hit chances and damage ranges, as well as unit-specific and team specials. Advance an Orkboy (pawn) on your first move, then lob a Stikkbomb into the Blood Angels’ back ranks. Move the Raven Guard’s Librarian (queen) to take out a Meganob (rook) and then use Stealth (can’t be attacked for a turn), only to lose your prize unit to a Greenskin Loota (bishop) because Stealth only protects against Initiative attacks, not chess captures.
There are significant statistical differences between the Orcs and Space Marines, and smaller tweaks exist between different Chapters or Warbands, depending on what flavor of genetically engineered combat monster you prefer. Most of these differences are small, and there are a lot of functionally identical specials: the Weirdboyz normally have Extra ‘Urty, whereas only a few chapter’s Librarians get Smite, but Extra ‘Urty and Smite are identical in effect. There’s some guesswork here, as information in-game is incomplete. I had problems with the external Librarium page the first time I tried it, but it’s working now.
The Librarium page wasn’t the only quirky or flat-out buggy element in Regicide. There’s no option to adjust AI difficulty in the game’s single-player campaign, which at first left me with the impression that the game’s AI was completely broken as the Orcs passed up obvious captures, failed to focus fire, and generally gave the impression that it was trying to lose. After the game somehow lost my progress after four completed campaign missions, I gave up on the campaign (which really just felt like an extended tutorial for people who’ve never played chess or turn-based strategy anyway) and focused on single games instead.
The computer can be set to play better in Skirmish mode using either classic or Regicide rules. I'm afraid that it's just a decent chess AI with a hamfisted Initiative-actions AI as a separate layer on top: it's much too easy to use Regicide's mechanics to counter the AI's game of chess. Even in classic mode, I don't think Regicide's AI is going to prompt you to remove Stockfish from your phone,
That leaves multiplayer, a feature that should be a saving grace for Regicide, but I found it almost impossible to complete a multiplayer game. Either there are a dearth of players or matchmaking usually failed for me in live play (3 minute turns), and all of my asynchronous games (24 hour turns) have ended in victory-by-default after the first turn because the other player didn't (couldn't?) submit their turn. I'd wonder if this was a launch issue on Android,but iOS and PC players have expressed similar concerns, as well as complained about frequent crashes. The game was stable for me (and may be so for other mobile users with 2+ gigs of RAM). Regardless, I haven’t been able to get in enough play against other human players to develop an informed opinion about the metagame, and whether there are some interesting pvp strategies or if boils down to chance: to-hit odds run from about about a coin flip to 90%, and with an average of 2-3 Initiative actions per turn I can easily see a game being won by a couple of lucky rolls, or lost by a single unlucky one.
There are also some serious information design problems in Regicide, some of which seem to be bugs, but others are baked-in. The bugs are correctable, so I’ll address them first: in Skirmish and Multiplayer modes, when you change squads the image displayed doesn’t update. To be precise, if you change from Space Marines to Orcs, it does change from the Blood Angels to to Goffs and vice-versa, but if you change from the Blood Angels to the Ultramarines, you’re still stuck with an image of carnelian Blood Angel armor. Map selection is even more of a mystery, as the game automatically displays one randomly chosen map and its description when you go into Skirmish mode (maps are always randomly chosen in Multiplayer), but that image and description doesn’t update when you change maps, so it is literally impossible to be sure you selected the map you wanted without starting the game.
Maybe these bugs are Android-only, but they’re really sloppy. The more irreducible problems mostly result from the game’s focus on kill animations. The different units stand out in zoomed-in kill cam shots, but from the whole-chessboard perspective you need to play the game, all those different kinds of Space Marines look alike. Take the highly monochromatic Raven Guard and play them on a map with dusky lighting and even telling a Terminator from a Librarian becomes iffy, let alone distinguishing a Tactical Marine from an Assault Marine. You can enable an overlay that stamps a giant unit icon or chess symbol (pick your poison) on each unit, but that’s an incredibly intrusive and awkward fix to the problem.
At least the different Space Martine chapters are distinct, as each one paints their armor a different primary color. The Orcs have the opposite problem, as their incivudual units are distinctive, but the two warbands that are unlocked at game start are impossible to tell apart.
Hammerfall clearly put a huge amount of time, money, and 3D rendering processor cycles into the game’s characters, and while the existing animations could be applied to any 3D object with the same wireframe, they’re so highly developed and specific that any substantial alterations is likely to cause problems with some of the unit’s animations… and any alterations have to be refined to the same degree of detail to match the rest of the art. So there’s little or no hope of a better integrated solution.
For the same reason, adding any of 40k’s other iconic factions would be prohibitive: sure, it’d be great to see a Space Marine Captain with a power sword go toe-to-toe with an Avatar of Khaine, but adding the Eldar to Regicide would require a ton of 3D design and then about as much rendering as currently exists in the entire game (animations not just for the Eldar, but for all of the ways each unit can kill and be killed by every Space Marine and Orc unit...).
In the end, I don’t think I’m the target audience for Regicide, and I think that’s more than a matter of personal preference. Regicide feels like a turn-based strategy game for fans of gory 40k action games like Space Marine, with people who are dying to see their meticulously hand-painted figurines come to life as a secondary audience. With a weak campaign, shoddy AI, and broken multiplayer, there's little reason to pick up Regicide aside from the art, and that brings me back to where I started. If “Warhammer 40k Battle Chess with lots of gibbing” sounds like a fun afternoon to you, you’ll get some jollies out of Regicide, but this one's all visual polish with no core.