DLC. IAPs. The notion of the “full game” ain’t what it used to be, folks. We may as well learn to live with it, if we haven’t already. I don’t have a problem with most of it, but it makes me sad when a game’s design is so clearly handicapped by it.
Warhammer Quest could be an awesome game. It could be one of the best tactical games on iOS. It is a big, gorgeous game that will keep you occupied for hours and hours, it boasts genuinely fun mechanics, captures the spirit of a good old boardgame and takes advantage of a tested piece of intellectual property — the ingredients are all there.
But those In-App Purchases. Those blasted In-App Purchases.
Warhammer Quest is the latest tactical RPG from critically acclaimed studio Rodeo Games. These guys made the Hunter series of games, which are among the most highly regarded tactical games on the platform (both of them are Apple Store Hall of Fame products). While the Hunter games have a decidedly sci-fi feel, Warhammer Quest is orcs and wizards and elves and dwarves all the way. You will crawl many dungeons and kill many, many orcs. And it is when all of that is actually happening that this game really works.
You start with the classic setup. You have a warrior guy (called a marauder), a dwarf (basically another warrior), a wizard, and an elf that has a bow. You go from town to town in the Warhammer universe, embarking on quests in various dungeons, killing the foes and plundering the treasure therein. The game does a decent enough job of giving everything context — there are lovely videos of a storybook opening to the name of the town you are visiting when you tap to travel to them, and there is dialogue with the townsfolk that establishes just what it is you are doing.
But this game isn’t about talking. It’s about turn-based strategy. It’s about tapping your guys, moving them around a grid that looks like a dungeon, and killing stuff on that grid. It’s all stuff we’ve seen before — you can only move so far in a turn, you can only attack so many times, etc. — but it’s all so well polished and wonderfully executed that it feels completely natural. If you have questions about what is triggering certain game mechanics, there is a “journal” you can look at that is well indexed and pops up whenever a new rule or mechanic is invoked for the first time. Examples of these rules: the Marauder will, once in a while, go berserk and gain an extra attack. Starting a turn next to a foe means there is a chance you will be “pinned” to the spot and unable to move away that turn. It all becomes second nature, but all of the digital “dice rolling” for these things is hidden from you. The board gamer and the guy who loves to try to master game systems in me wish there was an option to see these rolls, but I suspect most folks will not care.
When you’re killing and looting, things are great. But the progression… well, the progression is not very satisfying. You hardly ever get enough gold to purchase anything substantial when you go to the Market — heck, it costs gold to level up your characters once you have enough experience, and I found myself short on that by level 3. It seems like such an obvious oversight; the feeling of satisfying progression is what RPGs like this thrive on, right? How can it go so wrong? How can it take such a disproportional amount of grinding and questing to actually get anywhere in this game?
The answer is simple. You COULD spend another hour taking 10 more trips to the dungeon, OR you could just spend a couple of bucks and get enough gold to level up right now.
The In-App Purchases don’t stop there. You have 4 characters that are the staple of the game, but there are 3 more on offer for the low price of a few bucks each. And they have cooler powers than your guys.
Here’s where it gets really tricky to me. I get offering day one DLC as extra stuff for people who want it. But when your progression model is messed up due to trying to sell gold, you have a problem. This is the same problem a game like Diablo 3 so clearly has due to the Auction House multiplied by 10 degrees of obviousness. When you literally can’t level up because you are hundreds of gold pieces short, and you can actually lose gold due to events in the game, I think you’ve got a problem.
It sucks because Warhammer Quest is an awesome game. There are 3 difficulty settings, and this game is a MODEL of how you do difficulty well. The Casual difficulty means you basically can’t get killed — if your character goes down, he will get back up with 1 hit point next turn. As long as you don’t get your whole party wiped out at once (which is still a very real possibility), you’ll survive. The Normal difficulty setting will mess up even experienced gamers. And the Hardcore setting means that if you lose a character, he’s gone — you have to start all over with him.
The controls are lovely — the game is tough to play on the iPhone simply because I don’t think there is enough screen real estate to play it very effectively, but on the iPad, this game looks beautiful, and you can tap on screen locations with confidence. Attacks and moves need to be confirmed with an extra tap in case of mistake, and the visual cues are very clear (bright screen spaces saying “here’s where you’re gonna move,” red spaces saying “this is the guy you want to hit, right?”). The music and sound is equally lovely, with the sound effects themselves deserving special mention for being visceral and satisfying.
But this game is hamstrung needlessly by the need to sell gold. The whole game problem could be easily fixed by scaling back the costs of equipment and leveling up. It’s so blatantly obvious that it makes me sad.
It’s difficult to know whether to recommend it or not. The core mechanics of the game are all there, and they are fantastic — good enough that if I didn’t have to grind the same darn dungeons over and over again just to get enough gold to use my experience points, this would be Editor’s Choice stuff. But the design decision to cater to In-App Purchases simply has to be taken into account, and it hurts this game — hurts it badly, in my opinion.
I guess the best I can say is that you will probably get your basic purchase price’s worth of fun out of this. Everything you spend after that is on you.
Editor’s Note: A patch was released after this review was written that addresses some of the game balance issues, especially at 1st level. This review reflects the initial release of the game.