Review: The Horus Heresy: Battle of Tallarn

By Dick Page 15 Mar 2017 0

Review: The Horus Heresy: Battle of Tallarn

Released 08 Feb 2017

Developer: HexWar Games
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Available from:
App Store
Reviewed on: iPhone 5

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is one of the more unusual mass-market sci-fi universes for its sheer absurd variety. Where else can you find idiot fungi whose technology only works by sheer force of will, or undead robot skeletons, or bondage space elves? Yet, in recent years, Games Workshop has given license to their games over willy-nilly, resulting in what feels like an endless parade of po-faced men shooting green and purple aliens. Sometimes you get to shoot other grim men that have growths and spikes on their armor. The Horus Heresy: Battle of Tallarn is yet another game of defeating the enemies of the Imperium of Man; or, conversely, casting down the false emperor in the name of Chaos, pasted on top of HexWar's generic strategy game engine.

(ED: The Horus Heresy actually takes place 10,000 years before the general timeline of 40K. So, Warhammer 30K?)

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Tallarn does have some unique aspects that draw from the fiction. In the premise, the whole world has been 'virus-bombed'. Any person caught outside unprotected will die a slow inevitable death. As a result, the war over the planet is fought almost entirely from within war machines, especially tanks. Mechanically, this means that infantry units lose a point of health each turn they are exposed. Underground bunkers with walls and tunnels make for unique locations for tank battles.

'Matériel'-ly there is not much difference between the two sides. Both have access to strong and weak tanks and transports and walkers. Flying units and titans that occupy seven hexes add a little variety to some missions. Given the variety of forces in the source material, its disappointing to not see more creative units. If I’m playing a game as the servant of the Chaos Gods I want to command a giant mechanical spider demon, dammit!

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The maps can be played from either the Loyalist or Traitor sides. The mission objectives remain similar, but the player does not simply take up the same forces they fought against from the other side. The broad concept of the mission is the same but the actual objective points and rules for winning and losing change. The arrayed forces are also distinct depending on which team the player chooses. The game comes with a dozen campaign missions (six for each side) and another dozen additional missions, all free to play from the start with no unlocking necessary. An additional two campaign packs are available with another dozen missions each.

The missions are designed not so much to provide a tactical challenge but to back the player into a corner and see if they can puzzle their way out. You are usually outnumbered, with an unknown number of enemy reinforcements arriving from unknown directions. Often this means that beating a mission is mostly a matter of replaying it to set ambushes for the reinforcements you know are coming. You typically face overwhelming opposition—or rather, opposition that would be overwhelming if the AI could think.

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This mission design is a way to compensate for the poor AI that is overly focused on taking objectives instead of taking advantageous positions against your forces. Once, the AI marched a squad of terminators directly out of their transport towards a distant objective, each step draining their health point by point until they collapsed in the street, still two hexes away from the flag. Tellingly, the higher difficulty levels do not result in a smarter foe, but greater penalties for losing.

Story text introduces each mission, but is little more than a thin justification for the placement of the units on the map; there is no sense of conflict, meaning or progression to the missions.

There's a series of tutorial missions to teach the basics, all the way down to 'touch to select' and 'touch again to move'. Frustratingly, later tutorial missions are locked until the current one is completed, which can be a problem if the player fails the mission by bad luck or a bad guess at what they were meant to do. Enjoy learning how to disembark infantry five times before you can play with the aerial bombers and super tanks.

Lacking multiplayer in a turn based strategy game is really inexcusable. Even hot-seat pass-and-play or local network play would be acceptable to nothing if online multiplayer was outside the developer's abilities. Given the state of the game's AI it's outright unconscionable.

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The graphics don't do a good job of communicating which direction a given tank is pointing, which is a serious problem when there's a huge difference in the strength of forward, side and rear armor. Effects are dull and don't express the power of the machines under the player's command. Somehow, the game still manages to take up over one GB of space.The music likewise is well-done but repetitive. I really enjoyed the clanking chains of the Traitor theme music for even the first two dozen times it repeated, but after that I turned off the sound. I did not miss the weak weapon effects.

Battle of Tallarn is a dull adaptation of the source material with embarrassingly bad AI and no multiplayer. The missions are rigged to create a challenge. The graphics and sound are poor and do not make you feel like you are commanding massive rolling (or walking) death machines. The two sides are basically indistinguishable.

Unless tiny sprites of space tanks plinking away at each other is your jam, even the biggest 40k fan should stay away.

Review: The Horus Heresy: Battle of Tallarn

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