November 17, 2023
Frontier Developments plc
I’ve been an avid fan of real-time strategy games for a long damn time. In fact, I’m old enough to have basically grown up in parallel to the entire genre. Unfortunately, this also means that as these games have evolved to become faster and faster over the years, my reflexes have naturally become slower and I’ve struggled to keep pace with a genre that I love. Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is an incredibly fast-paced RTS game, at least by the standards of what I’m usually comfortable with, so it came as an absolutely wild surprise to me that I adore it as much as I do.
If you took one look at any of Realms of Ruin’s screenshots or trailers and thought ‘This kind of looks like Dawn of War by way of League of Legends’ then you’d be largely right.
With the exception of a handful of base-less campaign missions, you’ll begin each match with just a unit-training command building capable of defending itself to a limited degree, one or two basic blocks of infantry, and a unique hero unit. In order to generate the twin resources required to expand, improve, and make use of the powerful special abilities of your army, you’ll need to take and hold neutral nodes spread across the map. An extra layer of strategic depth falls on top of this however in that these nodes will then need to have a specific building constructed upon them to actually start generating whichever of the two resources you most urgently need. This is made further complicated by the fact you can also choose to build a tower that heals your forces gathered around it or a decently powerful turret that automatically attacks enemies who try to take the node from you, neither of which generate any resources at all.
“…resources need to be aggressively earned and staunchly defended…”
These resources need to be aggressively earned and staunchly defended not only to construct and operate your forces in the field but also to upgrade your command building granting access to more powerful and expensive units as well as upping the limit of how many units you can even actually have on the map.
Oh and conquering those resource nodes? Yeah, that isn’t even how you actually win.
With the exception of some campaign missions, most games of Realms of Ruin will actually require you to take and hold the majority of a set number of command points that tick down your opponent’s score while held, with the first side to hit zero losing. Or you can wipe out their command building, whichever.
Even on medium difficulty, the level of map-wide micromanagement of your forces and the constant aggressive pushing for dominance that success demands is extremely intense. The game will train you very quickly and brutally to realise that constant, careful momentum is going to be a requirement if you want to push through even the earliest levels of its campaign.
Each unit across Realm of Ruin’s four factions is grouped under a tank, ranged, and damage category, which broadly operates under a rock, paper, scissors type relationship on the battlefield. Every one of these units also features at least one of the aforementioned special abilities which are unique to them, powered by resources, usually featuring a lengthy cooldown, and only able to be activated by the player themselves.
All combined, it’s a lot of micromanagement, and it took me quite a while to warm to the frantic intensity that successful play requires. Frustratingly the sheer degree of micromanagement wouldn’t be nearly as much as it is if your troops weren’t dumb as Hell, didn’t get frequently confused, and were actually capable of responding to threats more than three feet away from them.
As with any RTS, forming two or three grouped strike teams that you can hot-swap between is crucial for competitive play. Also as with most RTS games, you can add units to this group from anywhere on the map using a keyboard shortcut and a mouse-click, which is most commonly used for adding freshly trained units back at base to an already pushing forward army. Unfortunately in Realms of Ruin when you then command this group with its new, distant addition to keep pushing the attack forward, they will more often than not start retreating toward their newly joined friend and try to all meet somewhere in the middle. It’s easily manageable to work around, but constantly aggravating nonetheless.
As is the typical fashion these days, the campaign functionally serves as a well-paced tutorial for the four factions and their respective unique units. Though predictably centering mostly on the Age of Sigmar posterboys the Stormcast Eternals, various missions and subplots grant you control of Nighthaunt, Disciples of Tzeentch, and Orruk Kruleboyz respectively. It’s a decent yarn with compelling enough mission variation to pull you along, but nothing within it is particularly memorable. Being a Warhammer video game does mean that it’s chock full of UK voice talent giving delightfully cheesy performances though, so there’s that at least.
There’s the obvious suite of competitive online multiplayer features too, as well as an army painting and personalisation toolset that one would expect from a Warhammer strategy game. More interesting is the roguelike Conquest mode, which tasks you with winning randomly varied battles in a drive toward an enemy stronghold on the other side of the map. There’s not a whole tonne of depth to it, but I appreciate the creativity of its concept.
- Exhilaratingly fierce gameplay that proved to me I’m maybe not as old and slow as I thought
- Absolutely nails the vibes of its tabletop source material
- Allows play of a varied cross-section of Age of Sigmar’s factions…
- …none of which actually play particularly distinctly from one another
- Painfully poor unit AI
- It’s already been written off as a failure within a couple of weeks of its launch
As I write this review a couple of weeks after Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realm of Ruin’s launch I can’t help but feel sad. It’s a very good game despite its issues and an incredibly strong first RTS from a studio known for their management sims. A sequel that addresses its handful of shortcomings could absolutely be top-tier. Depressingly the writing already appears to be on the wall however, with the studio already announcing that they’re returning to the genre that made them famous after the game’s launch sales were so poor it tanked their stock price. Oh well.