Review: UHR Warlords04 Mar 2014 0
Review: UHR Warlords
Released 18 Feb 2014
UHR Warlords addresses the question of what happens when you take a pretty good tactical battle game for two players and add heavy metal. The metal comes in the form of artistic input and music from Demonaz, a Norwegian musician of some renown, and a brilliant fit for the dark fantasy setting. Turns out, the answer to that question is: a pretty good tactical battle game.
I've always been sort of baffled by metal. It's like the Hell Pavilion at Epcot Center; so defined by contrast with the comforting embrace of bourgeois conformity that it takes an oddly similar shape in reverse. However, it doesn't detract from the game, even for a player with as superficial an understanding of metal as my own.
In UHR Warlords, you pay for everything using a single in-game currency: summoning new units, moving and attacking with existing units, and casting your two spells (from a set of eight options). This nicely sets the game up to involve many choices which balance one virtue against another: you can buy more units, but then you can't do anything with the ones you have. You can summon two weak units, hoping to grab some resource-producing squares and ramp up to more flexible turns later, or you can bring out a kicker of butts and move him into position to do some real damage. You can eliminate opposing units, but this usually leaves you vulnerable to counter-attack.
The eight units play substantially different roles. Each moves in a unique chess-like movement patter (only diagonally, or only in a cross-like shape, etc.), so careful planning can play on the odd gaps in your opponent's line or prevent you from being similarly exposed. By making each square moved more costly (usually one resource for one space, three for two, six for three, and so on), the game avoids devolving into a chaotic mess of dashing all over the board, despite the ability to activate more than one unit per turn. Each player starts with ten health; you damage your opponent by killing opposing units and destroying the monuments which fill the farthest rank.
All of this is pretty awesome, and it's nicely animated and ominously accompanied by the calming orchestration of the doom of all humanity. Unfortunately, there are a host of ways in which the implementation is awkward. The game has some rules which are never explained (or surprisingly consistent bugs)--for example, I still have no idea who are eligible targets for the "Ward" spell, which makes the lack of an in-game rulebook a puzzling omission. That wouldn't be so bad if the game had an undo feature, which wouldn't break anything about the game so long as it didn't allow players to undo attack rolls and re-roll them. Unfortunately, the game seems to autosave poorly, so, although it sometimes returns to your game in progress after switching apps, that's not at all reliable.
The single-player campaign isn't terribly long and the lone AI, though suitable for learning the game, isn't great. Compensating somewhat for this is a system of optional challenges for each level and the ability to play one-off games outside the campaign and multiplayer. Unfortunately, it's 2014 and there are still turn-based games being released with only synchronous multiplayer (local and online). If they add asynchronous play (which they've mentioned in the forums is under discussion but not guaranteed), UHR Warlords will attract strong interest among those who enjoy our Pocket Tactics forum tournaments.
Though its rules are too strict to make the game feel like it simulates much of anything, UHR Warlords produces a wealth of the sorts of decisions which involve balancing various values against one another. It leans a bit more toward the tactical than the strategic side of things, but in doing so it makes every turn meaningful.
Metal fans will presumably appreciate its stylistic influences, but they aren't so overbearing as to turn away others, especially since the game doesn't really support much narrative. So, although it's a pretty grim story, it's only communicated through brief, easily-skipped text. Should the game receive some post-release updates, it'll be a real gem, but as it is, there are a few too many disappointments dragging down a fundamentally excellent game.
Today's review was brought to you by the number eight and the letter H.