Seems like everywhere I look these days I see another Warhammer game. From MOBAs to Left 4 Dead clones, the brand is everywhere, but nowhere is it so prominent as in the library of Focus Home interactive. With no less than four upcoming games split between Warhammer Fantasy and 40k, the publisher is showing nothing but love for Games Workshop’s iconic wargaming franchise. What’s really remarkable is that every last one of those games feels wholly distinct from the others in both tone and gameplay, despite the fact that three of the four are strategy titles.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is perhaps the most serious of the bunch – a real time adaptation of Games Workshop’s classic space strategy game Battlefleet Gothic. But this is no mere rules conversion. In battle you’ll have to simultaneously coordinate a dozen ships, each the size of a city, as they exchange fire across the vastness of space. This involves monitoring weapon systems on each ship, and setting levels of engagement individually (commanders can either fight to the last man or turn tail and warp away as soon as they start to lose, depending on your preferences). In skirmish mode you can take control of many different armies, from Orks to Chaos Marines, and they all play very differently – Orks, for instance, don’t have the best weapons, but they can do a lot of damage by ramming enemy ships. At any second in the middle of a battle you’ll have a dozen different factors to worry about.
And that’s just half of it. Armada asks you manage an entire fleet of imperial ships over the course of a grand campaign, fighting off the forces of chaos in the midsts of a black crusades. Entire planets can be taken by chaos or by Xenos scum, leaving you with no recourse but to order exterminatus and wipe them from the galactic map. Your commanders grow in skill with each engagement, but their egos can also become inflated, and they may begin to disobey your orders – at that point, it’s up to you whether it’s worth summarily executing one of your best men to restore order. The game goes to great lengths to make you feel like a leader in 40k’s Imperium, and for the design team at Tindalos Interactive (among the most dedicated Warhammer fans I’ve ever met) authenticity is paramount.
On the less grim side of things we have Blood Bowl II, a more straightforward adaptation of Games Workshop’s brutal fantasy football (not to be confused with what Steve does on weekends) tabletop game. The original Blood Bowl was one of developer Cyanide’s biggest hits, combining their love for sport (Cyanide’s bread and butter is a successful line of Tour de France titles) with their fondness for high fantasy and focusing that passion into a single product. As the name suggests, the series parodies the brutality of American football in a Warhammer Fantasy setting, with Orc quarterbacks and Dwarven linebackers pummelling each other into oblivion whenever the ref isn’t looking.
Like its predecessor, Blood Bowl II translates the rules of the tabletop game more or less verbatim, spicing up dice rolls and grid-based movement with gruesome animations of wanton slaughter. The animations and character models in this sequel look better than ever, and everything is more customizable – you can create your own team jersey and deck out your home stadium as you see fit. The team management simulation runs even deeper than that, as teammates can be traded with other players in the online league, and even retire after a successful career (if they live that long). If you’re not interested in taking your team online, you can follow an entire story-driven campaign, all while enjoying hilarious dynamic commentary from Jim and Bob, the orc and vampire who man the broadcast booth.
Lastly there’s Mordheim: City of the Damned, a game which I was sold on with just three words: “like Valkyria Chronicles.” Based on another obscure Warhammer Fantasy tabletop spinoff, Mordheim gives you command of individual soldiers in small skirmishes. As in Sega’s modern classic, you’ll take direct control of each unit, moving them around like characters in a third-person action game rather than pawns on a chess board. You can consume action points to run up and wallop your foes, or assume defensive positions and lay ambushes using an overwatch command. Of course, the technology of the Warhammer fantasy universe is a bit behind Valkyria Chronicles‘ alternate history World War 2, so you’ll do most of your fighting with swords and staves as opposed to guns.
Mordheim is a sight to behold in itself – an entire city abandoned after a magical disaster, like some sort of Fantasy Chernobyl. The ruined architecture is rendered in immaculate detail, with texture and shader work so good that developers from Epic were fooled into thinking the Unity-based game was running in Unreal. Character models look fantastic as well, and you can take command of any faction, from Humans to Skaven, as you fight for control of the lost city. Not only will you be able to take a squad of your choice and build it to your liking, the game will allow you to customize individual soldiers in just about any way imaginable. You can even “kit bash” characters together – a practice from the tabletop game where parts of one figurine are grafted onto another. City of the Damned lets you enter the Warhammer
You don’t even have to wait to try Mordheim. It’s out on early access right now, and it evolves with every update. Online and offline skirmishes are already a joy in themselves, and in a future patch Rogue Factor plans to give us a taste of the game’s story-driven campaign. Blood Bowl II isn’t far off either, and it’s packed with new features that will make it a must buy for fans of the first game. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is still a ways off, but when it arrives the dark, choice-driven campaign and deep combat will keep us enthralled for days on end. Focus is absolutely spoiling strategy gamers and Warhammer fanatics alike. No matter what your tastes in tone or mechanics, I expect you’ll fall in love with at least one of these games.