Why The Time Is Right For a New Warhammer Game

Despite reigning supreme in the world of fantasy wargaming, Warhammer has only made the transition from tabletop to television screen on a handful of occasions. It’s quite a surprise when you consider just how much it has contributed to modern fantasy literature over the span of three decades, inspiring myriad settings, stories, and characters. Unlike its sci-fi themed counterpart, which has enjoyed numerous video game adaptations, Warhammer has only made a few, often muted, appearances that undersell just what the license has to offer.

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Ignoring non-canon instalments and spin offs such as Heroquest and Blood Bowl, the first Warhammer video game to be released was Shadow of the Horned Rat way back in ‘95 on both PC and the original PlayStation. Even now, almost twenty years after launch, it’s the closest we’ve come to playing a virtual representation of the popular tabletop game. Teetering between XCOM and traditional RTS territory, Shadow of Horned Rat puts players in command of a mercenary force over a series of consecutive pitched battles.

In terms of gameplay it was a fairly simple affair, offering a basic pool of actions that could be assigned to characters and individual units. From what I remember, having played the PS1 version extensively, the game held up surprisingly well despite the lack of a precise mouse and keyboard input. The actual mechanics and systems themselves, however, were somewhat finicky in design, making the player feel more like a commander bellowing orders rather than having direct control over their army. With everything else on the battlefield constantly moving in real time, it made for intense yet sometimes chaotic skirmishes.

What some found particularly divisive was Warhammer’s punishing progression system. Even if you did manage to pull yourself through a particularly harrowing battle, you’d still feel the consequences, using a very limited gold supply in order to replenish fallen troops. On one hand the game could often feel too challenging yet, at the same time, grounded and strangely rewarding. Three years later a sequel was published by EA titled Warhammer: Dark Omen. Aside from a few cosmetic tweaks as well as various new characters and units, it was fundamentally the same game, complete with all its predecessor’s merits and caveats.

Following the release of Dark Omen, the Warhammer license was put back on the shelf where it lingered for almost a decade. Then, in 2006, Namco Bandai launched an adaptation of the Warhammer card game for the PSP dubbed Battle for Atluma. This was followed by Black Hole Entertainment’s Mark of Chaos, a fairly unremarkable strategy game that later came to the Xbox 360.

Soon after the landmark success of Blizzard’s powerhouse MMORPG, World of Wacraft, it wasn’t long before we saw other gamemakers flock to a once sparse genre. Warhammer Online came as a direct result from this movement and, unlike many of its competitors, it actually brought something new to the table while also serving up an enriching fantasy universe. EA continued to show its support for the license with the launch of ill-fated MOBA, Wrath of Heroes. Whenever that four-letter acronym comes to mind its easy to think that they all follow the same exact template yet Mythic offered something unique and refreshing. Both Warhammer Online games would ultimately meet their end when EA decided to shutter them in 2013.

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Since then there has been a patchwork of games loosely tying themselves to the fantasy license including Rodeo’s Warhammer Quest for PC and upcoming turn-based strategy, Mordheim: City of the Damned. With SEGA now officially holding the rights, however, all eyes have turned to its Horsham-based studio, Creative Assembly. Although primarily known for its Total War strategy series, the UK developer has deviated in recent years, having made last year’s stunning Alien: Isolation. Looking further back, Creative Assembly also released Viking: Battle for Asgard on last-gen systems, an ambitious open world action game that still has its merits even today.

The new team at Creative Assembly seem to be playing it safe, with “Total War: WARHAMMER” having been leaked earlier this week. In truth we’re a little bummed that we won’t be seeing a Shadow of Mordor style title set in Games Workshop’s fantasy universe (at least not yet). With that said, however, Warhammer and Total War really are a perfect match for each other. On one side of this dynamic partnership we have an established fictional setting while on the other side there is an existing network of polished strategy game mechanics.

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Without even seeing one screenshot or piece of concept art, it’s easy to imagine just how the crossover will pan out, unless Creative Assembly are taking a dramatic change in direction. The Warhammer world plays host to numerous factions, characters, and landmarks that can be combined to produce a spread of iconic set piece battles. From the Empire and Knights of Bretonnia to Dwarfs, Elves, Orcs, Ogres, and even Lizardmen, there is so much lore to mess around with. However, we would probably be a little too demanding to expect each and every race to feature as playable armies. What’s more likely is a game centred around a handful of factions as in Shadow of the Horned Rat and, more recently, Mark of Chaos.

As for setting, Creative Assembly could go in one of many directions considering the sheer depth of Warhammer lore. Although the conflict between humans and their corrupted counterparts is a usual go-to there’s no stopping the game from going further afield, tapping into the myriad novels and short stories published by Games Workshop. One thing we aren’t likely to see, however, is a game based on The End Times. It’s the first major “event” the tabletop has seen in quite a while, shaking the very foundations of the Warhammer world. Acting as a doorway into this year’s ninth edition, factions are being merged and the entire armies wiped out as GW look to give Warhammer a semi reboot.

Whatever the studio are working on, as long as it is anything like its recent Total efforts, PC gamers are surely in for a treat. Who knows, with a bit of success, we may see SEGA take the license even further. What is certain though is how deserving Warhammer is of a new video game adaptation, bringing the fantasy icon to a much wider audience.

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3 Comments

  1. Shadow of the Horned Rat is one of my favourite PSone games (Dark Omen was pretty good too), really enjoyed it and played through it several times, superb fun. Really wish they would release it as a PSone classic so I can play it again on my Vita. But with the Warhammer licence always comes complications it seems.

  2. I had one of the PS1 games and all I remember is it was flipping difficult!

  3. “MY MEN FEAR THE BEASTS!!”

    *RUNS*

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