The wide world of Games Workshop’s Warhammer has forged a furrowed path across tabletops around the globe. In doing so it’s cemented its fantastical world alongside the likes of Middle-earth and Narnia, and so it’s little surprise that it’s also made regular forays into digital landscapes as well. While games like Warhammer: Chaosbane and the Vermintide series taking a more action-orientated approach, the iconic Total War: Warhammer trilogy has sewn up the tactical side of things. But there’s always space for a new challenger. Enter Frontier, who with Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin, take on the newest and brightest Warhammer timeline.
Realm of Ruin’s central campaign follows a Dawnbringer Crusade that is waging war in Ghur, the savage Realm of Beasts. You’re introduced to Sigrun, leader of the Stormcast Eternals contingent, who’s been tasked with engaging the Orruks out in the wastelands. They’ve certainly captured the gritty and hard-fought reality that makes the Warhammer world so beguiling, and the northern voices of the Stormcasts and Orruks bring a realism that used to be missing from our fantasy settings. Thanks, Game of Thrones.
Frontier hasn’t really attempted to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the RTS action, and anyone that’s enjoyed the genre before, and the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes games in particular, will find that moving units and commanding them to attack, defend or use their special abilities all feels thoroughly natural. In a nod to the Fire Emblem series, there’s a neat and clear weapons triangle at play here, so assault types overcome shield types, shields defeat ranged weaponry and ranged weaponry beats assault types. It gives you something tangible to consider when you’re heading into battle and partially avoids the standard ‘throw everything at them’ strategy that most RTS games still suffer from.
Similarly, special units have their own unique skills and strengths, and they each require learning in order to work out the best way to utilise them. These units are integral to your battle strategy as a lone unit can turn the tide of battle. Some skills, like Demechrios’ Chained Lighting offer powerful AOE attacks, while others may rally your troops or heal them. You can grow your army while you’re in the field as well, using your muster points to recruit new units. You have to have enough resources to do so – that’s Command points here – and room in your Population, while you can use Realmstone to purchase upgrades and special units.
Each battlefield plays host to a main muster point which acts as your army’s base, and then a batch of lesser capture points called Arcane Conduits. Each Arcane Conduit allows you to build a Bastion upon it. These can be defensive, protecting the Conduit from enemy attack, enhancements that give you an advantage on the battlefield such as removing fog of war, or they can offer boosts to your resource production. Each unit, base and Bastion also has an upgrade tree that you have to juggle in the midst of battle as well, and overall Realms of Ruin does a fantastic job of keeping you moving, forcing you to fight on multiple fronts with limited units, and maximising your resources while using them to their best effect. It’s not an easy task, even on the standard difficulty in the campaign.
These fundamentals carry over to the multiplayer as well, with the blend of attack and defence to control and maximise your territory and could lead to a great competitive scene in multiplayer. There’s full cross-play across PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, which could see console players at a disadvantage for how many commands they can issue – even with the optional new control scheme Frontier has cooked up – though we’ll obviously have to wait and see how things play out with the public release.
The array of units available for each faction will delight Games Workshop fans, and while the campaign focuses on the ‘not-just-fantasy-Space-Marines’ Stormcast Eternals, you’ll find a selection of the most well-known Age of Sigmar armies lurking in the Multiplayer and Conquest modes. You have access to the hordes of the Orruck Kruleboyz, the Chaos-worshipping Disciples of Tzeentch, and my personal favourite, the tattered cloaks of the spectral Nighthaunt. You’d expect that more will be added as Frontier doubtless plan on plenty of post-release DLC, but one or two more at launch wouldn’t have gone amiss.
While there’s limitations here, they don’t apply to the customisation and creation tools, and Realm of Ruin allows players to emphatically take control of the action themselves. The Map Editor will likely be the first stop for budding level designers, and once you’ve chosen from the preset primary and secondary biome, and surrounded it with whatever mountainous or cavernous barrier you want, you can set to laying things out with as much meticulous care as you can muster.
There’s an approachable set of tools here, clearly influenced by Frontier’s efforts with games like Jurassic World Evolution 2 and Planet Coaster, and there’s a bunch of assets for you to decorate your map with, whether you’re looking to publish them and let other players battle across them, or you just want to create dioramas to use with the photo mode.
You can also edit the look of your army, with a series of official colour schemes from each army then giving way to your own custom choices. Your control is fairly simplistic, with four layers of colour to apply to each army, and then one for tertiary units, but you can also drop down into individual unit types so that they can have their own colour scheme to set them apart. It’s a long way from the true painting controls you’ll find in something like Moonbreaker, but there’s satisfaction to be had tailoring your own design.
In a lot of ways, that’s the story of Age of Sigmar: Realm of Ruin. It is a good RTS, with enjoyable, well-balanced gameplay, but one that does little to explore the genre in a way we haven’t seen before. There’s a feeling that Frontier could have gone further, but what is here is solid, entertaining, and the perfect way for fans of Age of Sigmar to experience more of the fantasy world, or for old hands at Warhammer to acquaint themselves with the rebooted setting.