[Review] Warhammer Underworlds: Online
My first foray into an Age of Sigmar setting was not disappointing. Warhammer Underworlds: Online surprised me in several ways. I am traditionally not a fan of turn based games, but between Warhammer Underworlds and another Warhammer title, I’m going to have to reevaluate that aversion . The game delivers a great Warhammer experience with satisfying visuals and chess-like strategy. For the glory of Sigmar, and objectives, I will endeavor to explain.
Warhammer Underworlds: Online is developed and published by Steel Sky Productions, and many thanks to them for providing me with a copy of the game to review. It’s a turn-based strategy title like X-Com 2, but the gameplay is much faster paced. It retails for $29.99, and can be found on Steam and other Steam-key reseller websites. It offers both singleplayer and multiplayer game modes, including a ranked PvP queue for progression (which rewards cosmetics).
Gameplay consists of battling Warbands; smaller squad sized units. Choose between six of these Warbands: Orks, Chaos, Skaven, Undead, and two from the Stormcast Eternals. You build a deck of cards which essentially translate to skillpoints in an MMO character build. This is not a card game by any means, the cards are simply used as an RNG generator. Your team then does battle with your enemy on an array of maps that you can both select, combine, and reposition for some very interesting environments. Your cards are used to enhance your characters, and score ‘Glory’. The winner of the match is who scores the most Glory – not necessarily who does the most killing. Playing the objectives can be just as important as slaying your enemy, and you can still complete objectives, and win, even if you’re dead. Think chess, not checkers. Games last between 20 to 30 minutes on average.
There is a lot to like about this game for me. Warhammer Underworlds: Online offers some fantastic visuals. The dice rolls are especially satisfying when you CRUNCH your opponent with crits! The character animations are fantastic, and to my surprise, are more than just generic swing/dodge/miss animations. For example, a block will generate a small parrying battle animation where weapons actually make contact. This little touch is fantastic and adds a lot of detail to the game. The character models are excellent, and you can even vary your viewing perspective and zoom in to see your characters doing battle in almost third person. I also really love the dark environments, and the variety you can create with them. Your own level of strategy can be adjusted through the cards system. You can ‘spec’ your Warband into an objectives build, for example, and focus on holding objectives. Alternately you can just go for the throat and stack your deck with kill objectives. It’s very customizable, and gives a lot of freedom towards adjusting any Warband to your style of play. Finally on a small note, I want to give a shoutout to the AI. It took me FOUR tries to defeat the Orks while playing the Steelheart Warband. It is very challenging AI, and the game lets you adjust the difficulty even further by giving the AI bonus starting glory. If PvP isn’t your thing, you may still find the AI a nice challenge in skirmishes, or at least a reliable way to test deck ideas.
Areas of improvement are relatively few, and are all quality of life things. Better availability of information is a big one for new players. As an example, your heroes can get ‘inspired’, which is a buff that lasts the rest of the game. What I don’t know is what it does mechanics-wise for each Warband. There is a mouseover point on screen that tells you how to get inspired, but not what benefit your warriors receive. Another fix needed is that some of the text in game is really tiny in order to squeeze it all onto the cards. It gave me a headache after several hours of play. Also the animations, the really awesome crits, and when your opponent plays a card and it pops up, are just too fast. It needs literally about a second or two more. The ‘history’ function is not a great option, and is a liability when your turns are timed because you need to know what your opponent is doing.
Since this is a Warhammer title, let’s address the War Mammoth in the room; Longevity. I provide this in the context of what to look for in the game to someone who may find this in the future. I want to clearly state that at the time of this review, I think there is plenty of content to warrant the $29.99 price tag. I’ve spent about 10 hours playing, swapping between two Warbands. I’ve just scratched the surface of how to play these Warbands, learning their strengths and weaknesses, and how to take advantage of the cards available to them. That’s roughly 3 hours per Warband, and with 6 total available, you can see how this can spiral into a rabbit hole when you try new builds and strategies. What you should look for in the future is the tempo that they release new DLC, be it new factions, new cards, or whatever. The game is really going to need consistent content to keep players logging back and motivated to stay in the ranked queues. It feels a lot like Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2’s multiplayer component. Gameplay consists of creating your build/spec, then jumping into multilayer queues. If you would be happy with just the multiplayer portion of BFGA2, you’ll enjoy Warhammer Underworlds Online. Again, I want to stress there is plenty of content currently available, this is just a forward thinking note to anyone who finds this review a year from now, and is curious as to whether development has been done right.
If you’re looking for a fast paced, dice crunching entry into an Age of Sigmar setting, Warhammer Underworlds: Online is your game. Brilliant visuals, fluid gameplay, and the ability to deeply customize your strategy make this worthy of Sigmar’s praise. What Warband do you want to see next? Leave your choice in the comments below. I’m hoping for Seraphon since they’ve just gotten a nice battletome update, and because the only thing that could possibly make Warhammer Underworlds: Online better is dinosaurs. I look forward to being proven wrong(right).