There are few brands out there with the staying power or the creative prowess of Warhammer. It’s more than a brand at this point, more than a game, it’s something of an institution, unafraid to take the core ethos of the Warhammer universe and impose it on books, films, and yes, now a new mobile game too. That’s Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus from Snowprint Studios, the next big step for Games Workshop on its path to global domination.
Ok, so I might be exaggerating slightly, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the release of Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus is a big deal. With Snowprint Studios, a mobile studio already known for its articulate tactical titles, on board to bring the massive universe of minatures to life, it’s the first game we’ve seen out of the series that truly feels like it’s made for mobile.
If you can’t guess from the title, Tacticus is – drumroll, please – a tactics-based game, pitting the heroes and villains from the Warhammer 40,000 series against each other in fast-paced battles on far-flung planets. With your warriors charging across portrait perspective battlefields to face the enemy head-on, it’s your job to control your resources and learn the lay of the land, all inside of compact campaign missions, raid battles, or the big draw, PvP.
That sounds like a lot to get your head around, right? It did for me anyway, so I demanded a sit-down meeting with the team behind Tacticus (ok, PR arranged it, but the sentiment is the same). I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with two of the big dogs behind Tacticus, Alexander Ekvall, Snowprint’s CEO proudly wearing his Tacticus sweater, as well as game director Wilhelm Österberg, who I noted was surrounded by Warhammer merch and figurines.
I clearly found the right people, and after a little time spent in the world of Tacticus, I had some questions, and chose to start with one that was most applicable to me when I asked how they might explain the new game to those unfamiliar with the Warhammer series. Österberg, the Warhammer expert himself, said “we see Tacticus as a way to get into the IP without a high barrier. It’s free to download, the tutorial is right there, you just start swiping and shoot, there’s no prior knowledge needed.”
It was clear from the wry smiles of the two men that they’d realised I was asking for myself as much as I was asking for you, the dear reader, and the director continued by saying, “through playing, you get exposed to some of the locations, and the heroes and enemies and their names, and it may pique your interest, and you can get involved in the game and learn some of the elements of the overall hobby”.
The explanation made sense, especially as Österberg’s words and wishes for the game rang true from my experience. I’ve played a lot of strategy titles in the last year from different franchises and studios, and there are few on mobile as easy to pick up as Tacticus. The ease of use counterbalances the realms of lore, and with quick battles dropping easily digestible nuggets of narrative that introduce you to the heroes and villains of the Warhammer universe.
If you’re a Warhammer fan and you’re reading this thinking, “what about me?!”, don’t worry, I’ve got your back there. Neither of the developers were surprised when I asked about crossing over with the hobby, and had answers perfectly prepped. “We will definitely continue exploring quite a lot in this area. Warhammer isn’t just about collecting the figures, it’s a hobby with many different aspects to it. With Tacticus, we see a real opportunity to have as many touch points with the physical game as possible, and we want to offer both new and regular players to interact with the hobby, as the hobby is the real centre point of everything”.
That answer will be music to the ears of Warhammer fans, especially those who have been disappointed by the lack of relationship between the physical medium and mobile titles we’ve seen from Warhammer in recent years. The team at Snowprint are obviously fans of the series, I only needed to look at the realms of Warhammer merch surrounding Österberg to know that, but if the game is to be judged on its connection to the wider hobby, I think this might be a real win for the minature battling community.
The gameplay is a win too. Even if you were to be slightly put off as a non-Warhammer player by a lack of awareness in the game world, characters, or lore, the tactics battles of Tacticus are little tactile delights. Each campaign mission takes less than a couple of minutes, and despite there being clear depth for those looking for it, it’s also possible to steam through a few levels while learning the basics and not being punished for it.
Those playing Tacticus who are Warhammer fans will notice a few recognisable faces right from the off, with Snowprint picking some of the most famous moments from the Black Library to pinpoint an exciting narrative to draw in the community to the new game. During our chat, the pair offered some insight into the decision-making, stating, “Of course, it’s incredibly hard to pick which parts we want to start with when there’s so much. On one hand, we wanted to have some of the legendary locations and some of the huge in-universe celebrities.”.
I pushed a little more for the specifics, trying to dial down on how the exact locations were decided upon, especially for the important opening section of the game, and Ekvall was happy to enlighten me. “We have the Fall of Cadia campaign, which is one of of the most pivotal events when this whole planet got destroyed after existing in the lore for years, so we wanted to get a lot of that in, but we also wanted to get in a lot of characters of our own, so we’ve added new characters like Certus the sniper to mix it up a bit”. I have to admit, that even for new players, Cadia does seem like a pivotal place to pick up the story, and there’s an immediate sense of importance in the campaign narrative.
Of course, in this day and age, not everyone is looking for a solo campaign experience they can play in between stops on the bus, and the dawn of competitive mobile gaming is truly upon us. So, the big question is, how does the PvP fare? To quote Österberg, “The philosophy with the different game modes is that they should each offer a different way to play, so that there are different challenges constantly coming at the player. I think the single game mode I’m most excited about is the live PvP, there’s just some real magic about it.”
So it fares well, and that shouldn’t be a surprise, especially with Österberg openly declaring the game mode as that which he thinks will prove the most popular (and his personal favourite, for those wondering). He went on further to say, “I felt it myself when playing games for years, that the ones where you can play PvP live are the ones you spent the longest time with, I think I have over 1000 hours now in Age of Empires. It’s great to play, but it’s in the PvP where you really get stuck in.”
He’s not wrong either, and with my brief spell taking a few turns in the PvP arena, I found the playability from the campaign mode front and centre in the multiplayer mode too. Matched with the challenge of human opponents rather than forgiving early-game AI, the design choices like elevated areas with attacking advantage, special move variety across the different characters, and the condensed hexagon-filled battlefields make for a format worthy of those who consider themselves tactical masterminds.
Still, the promise of an exciting PvP and a challenging campaign are elements of mobile games I’ve previewed before, and the concern I always have going into launch is in how much enjoying these game modes, and progressing through them, will rely on microtransactions. Ekvall was quick to temper my concerts, informing me “I think the big thing to understand from how we approach it is that it’s very important that every aspect of the game, and every aspect of all Snowprint Studios, can be enjoyed without spending. You can play all the game, see all the content, go through all the levels, and this means that the in-game purchases are optional, and they should feel like they’re giving value to the players.”
The studio director has a hard tightrope to talk, as he clearly cares greatly about the game and its community, but as a business, he still needs to make sure that there’s a financially viable future for the company, but it’s his corporate ethos that finds a balance between the two. Ekvall himself went on the record to say, “Our philosophy is if there isn’t value for money, people aren’t coming back to the game, and that’s what we don’t want. We want it to be an active choice where someone decides they spend enough hours on the game that it’s worth paying for”.
That’s an answer I can’t really argue with, and even though I’ve only spent a few hours in the world of Tacticus, it does seem to ring true with my experience. The flurry of currencies, special items, and resources, does remind you that you’re playing a free-to-play with microtransactions available, but with the frequency in which they arrive, matched with the dynamic tactics that reward critical thinking, it never felt like I had to open my wallet.
The lack of reliance on microtransactions also shows that Snowprint is aware of its community and their wants and needs, but it goes even deeper than that. Both Ekvall and Österberg pointed out that they’re regularly talking with the community through the Tacticus Discord, and it’s these discussions that have helped mould the title into an experience that fans of the franchise are sure to find themselves at home in.
Aside from the attention to detail in the campaign and PvP battles, I found that it’s the little things that help Tactitus stand apart from both previous Warhammer mobile titles as well as the saturated genre as a whole. The warriors you use to battle across the campaign levels all have their own animations, something that lends them more character than you might imagine for a minature, with Österberg pointing out this is one of the decisions Snowprint made to make the world of Warhammer feel more alive than ever before.
More than anything, Tacticus carries the ethos of the Warhammer series through another expansion of its all-encompassing institution, opening another door for those looking to learn about GW’s monolithic brand of minatures, those who are well aware of it, and even those just looking for an enjoyable tactics experience. Whoever you are, there’s a Warhammer game for you now, and it’s well worth checking out.