Review: Warhammer Quest29 May 2013 0
The dungeon crawler is one of video gaming's oldest, most venerable genres -- it's difficult to reinvent something with so much history and precedent behind it. It's probably for the best that Warhammer Quest doesn't try.
Warhammer Quest doesn't revolutionize the dungeon crawler. Any gamer who hasn't Rip Van Winkled through the last couple of decades has delved more virtual dungeons than have ever actually existed in history. There's little in this game that you haven't seen elsewhere, but you've rarely seen that stuff assembled into such an elegant, sophisticated package.
Warhammer Quest doesn't revolutionize the dungeon crawler -- it elevates it.
Warhammer Quest takes place in Games Workshop's Old World, the vaguely Tolkien-esque setting of its Warhammer Fantasy games -- the game is a largely faithful adaptation of the now long-out-of-print tabletop game of the same name. Your band of heroes (four of them: a Norse marauder, a Wood Elf waywatcher, a wizard, and a dwarf ironbreaker -- unless you stump for the three DLC heroes which we'll discuss a bit more later) will travel across the Old World, delving dungeons and discovering towns and settlements.
There's a mix of scripted and randomly-generated content here: each town has at least one associated questline, but alongside these plot-driven adventures there's always new dynamically-created quests for those wishing to build their characters up and scrounge for better equipment. The towns themselves (after a clever introductory cinematic) are little more than a series of menus representing market stalls and hero-specific temples, but nobody's playing Warhammer Quest to visit towns -- they're just a chance to catch your breath before crashing the next dungeon. On the hardcore difficulty -- where your heroes can (and do) die permanently -- visiting the town menus to recruit replacements for the fallen will become almost muscle memory
Warhammer Quest strikes a particular stylistic balance that we don't see very often. It's a game made up of countless individually hand-crafted components that manages to feel big. We have grown accustomed to games that deliver scale through the vehicle of procedural generation: algorithms that create enormous worlds in Minecraft or the infinite arsenal of Borderlands. Randomness is an important tool in Warhammer Quest's kit, but it's also a masterwork of good old-fashioned artisans -- developers who take pride in the little things.
The game's dungeons are assembled psuedo-randomly -- being revealed one tile at a time as you explore -- but each dungeon tile is packed with the sort of extraordinary detail that most games reserve for player characters or bosses. Seals and symbols of brass inlaid into marbles floors, worn smooth with age and abuse; wooden doors long ago battered from their hinges with axe gouges still evident. All of these environments react dynamically to light sources like wall sconces or pyrotechnic spells and stain with the blood drawn by your battles. Rodeo are well aware of how good their game looks -- the UI is kept to a bare minimum so you can keep your focus on the lovely action. Your party's inventory doesn't even have a button assigned to it -- it's accessed by flipping your device to portrait mode, a clever trick that I expect other games to rip off before long.
Enemies are also generated randomly, but here again, there's an unusual amount of attention: each enemy will be outfitted with weapons and armor drawn from a pool available to each race, giving him individual stats and a distinct look. Each of the seven hero characters has a wide array of gear that's unique to him or her -- and the gear even shows up on the character model in-game when you equip it.
In production value Warhammer Quest is a Swiss clock of a game, created by developers who are (quite rightfully) growing more confident and self-assured with every new title. You can tell that Rodeo Games are consciously trying to address some of the knocks on their last outing, the sci-fi tactical game Hunters 2.
One criticism I had of Hunters was that your band of space-faring mercenaries were largely indistinguishable from one another. Warhammer Quest almost over-corrects for that with its racially diverse cast of characters and bespoke equipment sets. Nobody's going to confuse the dwarf painted up like Braveheart for the spooky elf archer played by Olivia Wilde.
Hunters' true Achilles' heel was its combat. The tactical model lacked depth and eventually started to feel repetitive -- a serious failing for a game that was 95% fighting. Warhammer Quest is a bit less successful in addressing this problem. Most of your characters only have one attack at their disposal, and there's little functional difference between the weapons you find. The wide variety of enemies goes some way towards balancing this out. Rodeo have also incorporated a clever ambush mechanic to the game: every turn you spend underground runs the risk of generating a surprise attack by the dungeon's residents, giving you an added incentive to keep your party moving forward, lest your healing supplies run out.
With their painstaking approach, Rodeo have made a video game that captures the experience of collecting Games Workshop's Warhammer miniatures better than any other to date. As any GW fan can tell you, part of that experience is paying up for it. Rodeo have captured that, too: besides your four default heroes, there's three more available as day one DLC for three dollars each. That seems steep at first, but when you consider that each hero comes with a wide selection of individually crafted gear, you're reminded of how much work has gone into the margins and details of this game.
Warhammer Quest might not be the most comprehensive tactical combat game or the most intricate RPG, but it's a beautiful world to get lost in -- and one that keeps calling me to come get lost in it some more. This one will be living on my iPad for a long time to come.
The game was played on a 3rd-gen iPad for this review.