Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is the latest RTS title to march onto the battlefield proudly bearing the Games Workshop standard. It’s an altogether less complex affair than Creative Assembly’s use of the license, though, more analogous to something like Kite Games’ The Valiant in terms of strategic depth. In fact, it cleaves pretty close to The Valiant in many ways, although it does feature four differing factions which extends the variety and the runtime.
You take command, primarily, of Sigrun, Commander of the Stormcast Eternals and her two advisors, Iden, a devout and warlike knight, and Demechrios, a wizard with some expertise on ancient Chaos rituals. With these three – and later others – your role as a battlefield commander is rarely focused on pitched battles. Instead you’ll often have multiple objectives that see you pulling your meagre forces to and from across the mission area, attempting to hold multiple fronts.
It’s this constant ebb and flow that makes Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin intense and enjoyable, but also incredibly frustrating and almost exhausting at times. For example, a fairly early Chapter sees you attempt to subdue three large Growloaks on the map while also holding three key points for long enough to fill your points bar and diminish the enemies. Only Demechrios is able to subdue the Growloaks, using chain lightning, and you can only hold 8 units or squads, including the three main characters. In the meantime, the enemy commander runs around the battlefield freeing the Growloaks from your control, while his forces constantly assault your control points and harry your Arcane Conduits.
As a result, you’re constantly trying to move around the battlefield – and even with the pre-release buff to unit movement, they move painfully slowly. And you can only field reinforcements from one point on the map, typically miles away from the action. Capturing Arcand Conduits allows you to construct various nodes that heal you, attack the enemy or clear the fog of war, but the enemy will constantly attack them. Sometimes I was sure I’d cleared an area out only to hear it getting attacked when I was halfway across the map.
All of which is intended to be part of the fun, I guess, but it’s just all a bit too frantic for such a slow-moving game. You can upgrade your structures and units using gold, but you’re often restricted quite heavily in terms of numbers. And splitting your forces is often signing your own death warrant as if you run into a larger enemy force you’re unlikely to survive. Which means retraining and respawning at the arse-end of the map again.
That said, the campaign is still fairly enjoyable for its story and varied mission objectives. You’ll rarely repeat the same mission type, and the plot contrives reasons to take control of factions other than the Eternals from time to time. But it still suffers from the inconsistent Warhammer tone, where one moment a character is giving loft gothic soliloquies and in the next they’re making some glib remark about what colour Ork blood is. The Age of Sigmar setting is interesting enough, but all it really does is supplant Space Marines with the Stormcast and the God-Emperor with Sigmar. Obviously this is the whole point, but that doesn’t make it feel any less po-faced at times.
Your factions (the Stormcast, the followers of Tzeentch, the Orks, and the undead Nighthaunt) are all warring over control of an ancient artefact that may or may not be a doomsday weapon of sorts, and that entails hopping around various viewpoint characters and locations. Some of the characters are pretty interesting though, and the lip-synching and voice-acting during cutscenes is very competent, even if all the human characters – including Sigrund herself – resemble Vinnie Jones somewhat.
One thing the campaign does is prepare you for the multiplayer and Conquest modes. In the former you’re obviously facing off against other players, which is a whole different ballgame than the AI. The AI might focus on the objective and feel like a pain in the arse at times, but other players are canny, cruel and creative.
Conquest mode, on the other hand, allows you to choose a faction, change their paint palette (this is Warhammer, after all), and then take on a series of challenging scenarios that pare the objectives down and give you something to focus on. I found the difficulty more oppressive than in the campaign, but at least you have the variety of choosing a faction and altering your tactics to suit.
Finally, there’s a map editor, which allows you to create entire battle maps and upload them for others to play, or download custom maps from the exchange. This is a great mode for creatives and people who play the tabletop game, and would like to transfer their own playspaces into the game. There’s a decent suite of options available, and from what I experienced it seemed fairly intuitive. Map creation isn’t really my thing, though, and I struggled to create anything particularly exciting. As you can not only adjust the terrain but also choose what props, landmarks, hazards, and decorations to place, you can have a ball here if you know what you’re doing or are willing to learn.
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin is a genuinely likeable RTS game that would simultaneously benefit from a slightly faster movement pace and a little more restraint where objective stacking is concerned. Sometimes there’s too much going on and it takes far too long to get there. That said, this is Warhammer, and as such there’s a solid variety of units, special commands, locations, and objectives, which stops it ever becoming stale. It just feels like it piles a little too much on and doesn’t always give you the tools to deal with it.
Good voice acting
Comprehensive map editor
Slow movement speed
Tone is a little too serious
Can be too much to keep track of