The history of Role-playing games is one with humble beginnings – tabletop affairs held in people’s basements, using carefully sketched dungeons and hours of preparation. As time went on, combat for these kinds of games grew in complexity, and miniatures were added to the mix. One of the more popular tabletop titles was Warhammer, a name and franchise that has remained strong to this day. Using lore and ideas from Warhammer, as well as the grid-based format of the 90’s tabletop series – HeroQuest, Warhammer Quest was beloved for its difficulty, structure, and co-operative elements. In digital form, does developer Rodeo manage to capture the spirit of this classic and give it enough modern twists in order to remain replayable? Read on to find out.
If you’re familiar with strategy or grid-based Role-playing games, much of what Warhammer Quest offers is very familiar. Selecting four heroes from a substantially large pool of playable characters, the player enters a variety of dungeons in order to fight enemies and complete whatever quest they have taken. Enemy encounters can be triggered by opening doors or simply spending a bit too much time wandering the halls.
Each of your four units has their own turn and movement speed, with the distance usually dependent on their equipment or class type. Likewise, units have their own unique traits that are either inherent or gained through level-ups. When roaming the dungeon maps, you’ll need to move each unit separately, and even friendly units cannot cross over one another, although they can slip through diagonal, adjacent spots. Their special abilities and inventory can be accessed by holding down the Y or X buttons respectively, allowing for quick selection during combat.
The combat itself is standard, as well. Select a space to move towards, then select an enemy to attack – whether or not the character can reach will be displayed with an orange highlighted square beneath their feet. Slash the baddies, use your abilities to overcome enemies, rinse, and repeat. Characters rely heavily on their abilities in order to be truly effective in combat – killing an enemy with a Berserker, for example, will trigger their bloodlust and send them swinging at other adjacent enemies. Archers gain the ability to fire off a volley of arrows, and there’s a swath of unique weapons usable by other classes, such as revolvers, staves, and the like, that each have unique properties and can be two-handed or dual-wielded.
WarhammerQuest_20161213081813Engagements end once all enemies have been slain, and many grant item drops that can either be classified as “useful” or “junk.” Junk, such as bat wings or spider’s webs, can be sold en masse at one of the many towns you’ll visit over the course of the game. Saving up money for equipment or consumable items is key, but it’s also key to leveling a character at the training grounds. Party members don’t level while in dungeons, and instead must reach a threshold before having the opportunity to improve their abilities. You can also stop by the holy grounds for a randomized opportunity at receiving a blessing or curse.
Randomization is a big element in Warhammer Quest, as events can occur while stopped in a town or on the way to a dungeon. Whether it’s the unexpected blessing of a blood god or a surprise bear trap, temporary buffs and debuffs can help – or hurt – one or more party members on your way to a battle. Likewise, traps can trigger during dungeons, optional paths can open up, and random encounters will keep a party on their toes. It’s best to stick together during an expedition, lest you be overwhelmed.
Aesthetics and Narrative
Warhammer Quest features a slew of well-delivered quest dialogues, enhancing the feel of a tabletop game with scenarios both amusing and foreboding. While some lines are there simply to communicate a point, the exposition and conclusions to most quests are very satisfying to hear, giving the game a great deal of character that it would otherwise lack.
This is primarily because, in terms of graphics, Warhammer Quest is relatively tame. All battles and exploration occurs from a camera positioned directly above the action, which means you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the look of your party in order to ensure they’re strategically placed. Fortunately, the impressive enemy variety that is truly in the spirit of Warhammer Fantasy is well-represented, looking different enough from one another in order to spot clearly on the battlefield. While there are a variety of dungeon layouts and terrain types, they are often a bit busy, static enough that moving characters stand out atop them, but a bit too detailed so that whatever they are attempting to represent is sadly lost.
The music has a few suitably epic battle themes and most tracks are able to communicate the fantasy nature of the world, but there aren’t many in particular worth mentioning. While towns all have these delightfully elaborate cutscenes where the entirety of each structure unfolds and builds itself before your eyes, the end result is simply a menu screen, which is somewhat disappointing. What makes these areas harder to stomach, however, are the colors used to imply a button is highlighted. Most of the buttons are a shade of brown or red, and the highlighted color is a burnt orange. Ever with brightness settings turned up, it can be hard to identify which command is selected, which can be frustrating. Originally a mobile title, I could see how touch controls might circumvent this issue, but button commands don’t make things any easier.
There’s a great deal of customization to be found in Warhammer Quest. Upon starting a campaign, one can select their level of difficulty and turn permadeath on or off, and upon completing (or skipping) the in-game tutorial, the player can create a party of almost any composition from the impressive collection of playable characters. Although the iOS version of the game is much cheaper than this Switch port, this is because the original version packaged these characters separately.
WarhammerQuest_20161213074957Their inclusion is welcome – should you lose a party member in a dungeon on permadeath mode, you’ll need to replace them with someone new. Unfortunately, the matter of power-leveling a new party member is a precarious proposition, especially due to how EXP is granted to the character who kills a mob, and not evenly distributed across the party. Likewise, the method of gaining more experience for other party members is by resetting all of the quests in a certain region, as the number of unique, highly rewarding quests is sadly low. Even on a playthrough without permadeath, the player will find themselves grinding these missions over and over if they wish to have a well-balanced party.
While the idea of having a strategy-oriented dungeon crawler might sound like there is plenty of variety to be had, most battles boil down to “turtling” in a doorway in order to force choke points and maximize the abilities of certain characters. Those with bloodlust need adjacent enemies to mow down, so players need to set up moments where they are surrounded. Mages regain MP every turn in small amounts, so they’ll need to stay protected if they don’t want to be weighed down by consumable items. While more enemies can enter the fray if a battle takes too long, there doesn’t seem to be much ebb and flow to battles because of how claustrophobic the game’s environments are. Considering dungeons are more or less a series of hallways leading into rooms, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
This is a shame, because there are a number of very neat systems present in the game. In particular, the way party members have inventories limited to specific amounts of items and equipment of a certain rarity is neat – you equip your party member with all high-tier armor, but your recovery items will have to be less potent – or, you can take something of a middle ground instead, with medium-tier equipment. The idea of having party members level up in towns alone is contextual and clever, heightening the level of attention towards who receives kills while dungeon crawling.
Unfortunately, outside of its colorful cast of characters (who sadly don’t have any personality to speak of outside of a portrait) and above-average writing, there isn’t all that much that’s compelling about Warhammer Quest. If you have an affinity for the games it is based upon, or you enjoy taking a variety of characters out for a spin and investing a great deal of time in them, you may find that the title succeeds in capturing and holding your attention.
The most engaging Warhammer Quest can be is when the player has placed a variety of limitations upon themselves, with parties that lack synergy, high difficulty, and permanent death. Otherwise, there are more nuanced strategy games out there, with more unified and compelling narratives. As an endless supply of dungeon-crawling and fantasy archetypes, it’s worth a look, but don’t expect much more than that.