Review: Warhammer: Arcane Magic07 Sep 2015 0
Review: Warhammer: Arcane Magic
Released 28 Jul 2015
Warhammer: Arcane Magic does something that I wish more Games Workshop titles would do: get out of the 40K universe. The grim/dark future where there is only war is just dandy, but if I had my preference, I’d take spells and swords over boltguns and power fists. Unfortunately, up to this point, the only notable game in the Warhammer Fantasy realm has been Warhammer Quest which is already well past its second birthday.
Not only does Arcane Magic set itself in Games Workshop's under-used (how often do you hear that?) Warhammer Fantasy lore, it's also a digital board game. At first glance, it would appear that UHR Warlords makers Turbo Tape Games know how to push all my buttons, and I certainly went into the game expecting something just this side of wonderful. Initially, I wasn’t disappointed. The game is lavishly produced (by mobile standards) and combines deck-building and dice with XCOM-style squad combat. It didn’t take long, however, to determine that the combat was a repetitive slog that lacked any of the tactical or strategic choices that you’d expect to find in a board game or squad-level combat game of this ilk.
Arcane Magic lets you build a squad of wizards and only wizards, who have apparently conspired to reclaim some of glory being hogged by other fantasy character classes. Their magic is controlled via cards and each of your wizards will have their own hand of cards that matches their specialty. For example, my Bright Wizard had a hand of fire spells with a red border in his hand. These were his “core spells” which he could cast repeatedly while in combat. The meat of the game comes from deck-building and adding new cards to each of your wizards’ hands. Most of these will be one-off spells that are gone forever once used, but you can also add more core spells into your hand as well. Each wizard can only carry seven cards into battle, so picking the correct mix is critical.
After your cards are selected, you can enter one of the game’s 16 chapters which make up the single player campaign. Each chapter contains a square-grid map across which are scattered several Arcane Fulcrums, which despite the impressive-sounding moniker are just special squares on the grid. Your job is to activate each of the Fulcrums (e.g. step on the square) and then find the chapter’s exit. To do this, you’ll move your wizards across the map like animated miniatures. Once you get close to a Fulcrum, a section of the map is cordoned off into an arena and monsters will spawn. Kill the monsters, move onto the next Fulcrum, repeat.
This is where Arcane Magic falls apart. Combat is tediously repetitive, with each Fulcrum battle being much like each that came before it. There might be a new monster or two, but probably not, and you can expect it to feel like every encounter you’ve had so far.
Being repetitive in and of itself isn’t a game-killer. XCOM and Diablo aren’t exactly redesigning the wheel each time you dropship or portal into a new area. The real problem comes from having all these wizards and monsters in a 3D space, and not doing anything tactically interesting with that space. There’s no cover, no opportunity attacks, no zones of control, and no line of sight. There’s no reason to have 3D figures on a 3D board at all, and combat eventually comes down to throwing down cards until you, or the monsters, are all dead.
The other problem with combat is the lack of loot. The only treasure you’ll gain during the game come in the form of Plunder Packs, which sounds like something from a Pirates of the Caribbean Happy Meal. These chests are scattered around the maps, but aren’t hard to find and, in fact, you can usually find them all without triggering combat, as they tend to be far away from the Fulcrums, the only place that combat occurs. Plunder Packs contain three pieces of loot, usually new one-off-use cards. They also contain one of the game’s currencies, Warpstones. Warpstones are used for healing and resurrecting fallen magicians, and you’ll usually have enough of them stashed up that losing a wizard during a fight isn’t a big deal.
The other currency in the game is gold, and it’s used to buy new core spells for each of your wizards as well as buying new Plunder Packs when your between missions. The ability to spend real cash on gold does exist in the game, but doesn’t seem necessary. That said, I only played through with three wizards—while you can have up to seven wizards in your stable, only three are ever allowed on a mission at once—so I didn’t need to buy that many new cards. I suppose you would need a lot more gold if you wanted to stock all seven wizards with their full complement of core spells. You’d also need to spend a lot of real money just to get the wizards. Only four are unlockable for free, with the three more powerful wizards—I know they’re powerful because they actually have names—available for $4 a piece.
If the gameplay isn't inspiring me to shell out dough for more wizards, neither is Arcane Magic's art. The wizards all look interesting enough, but their animations are terrible. Not that they look bad—although I’m not sure than people standing still should bob up and down quite this much—but they take an eternity to do anything. I can mow my entire lawn in the time it takes the wizards to amble across a map, and being forced to watch the spell casting animations as every single card has played generated more ennui than a 4th grade piano recital.
As I mentioned, there is a single-player campaign available, and it’s the only thing available. Once you complete the 16 chapters, with each taking 15-20 minutes, there’s nothing else to really do. The slow animations and repetitive combat make this feel like an epic-length campaign, so I guess that's one upshot.
As negative as I've been about it, Arcane Magic isn’t far from being a pretty good game. Its card mechanics are an interesting idea, but there’s just nothing of substance underneath it. If the game's terrain mattered at all in combat, if there were some tactically beneficial interactions between wizards-- any sort of meat on this game's bones--I could see it being fun. In its current state, however, it’s a bust and can’t be recommended.