In my life, I am surrounded by turn-based strategy experts. My wife has finished and beaten every Fire Emblem game ever made, and my 10-year old son is fast becoming an expert in them as well. As you can imagine, taking on a game from this genre is like playing in front of Waldorf and Statler from the Muppet Show: “Don’t move them there! Why did you do that, Daddy?”.
What this rambling introduction is leading to is to build in to a new turn-based strategy game from Focus Home Interactive, based around the Age of Sigmar dark fantasy universe from Warhammer. With the chance to play as three different factions, and the chance to test our skills against other players online, this looks like it should be good. So come with me to a world of ghosts, Chaos creatures and armoured knights…
When you first come in to Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground, you have access to only one of the factions, that of the Stormcast. Led by Freya Skyhelm, a mighty captain who has a grudge against the Nighthaunt faction, the Stormcast are the Human faction in this game. Luckily, Freya is unable to die, which is handy in a war, and if you lose a battle she is reforged as the campaign run that you were on is wiped and you have to begin again.
Of course, reforging takes time, and each run you attempt is different from the one before, so this is a good way of extending the lifespan of Storm Ground. This mechanic is reused for the leader of each of the three factions. As you go through the campaign, finding lore caches and treasure chests unlocks not only new gear for your warband, but also new types of units that can be added. My personal favourites are the Stormcast Castigators, a ranged unit that uses bows to bring the pain from a distance, but that are all squishy close up.
The other two factions are the Nighthaunts, a group of ghosts and undead creatures led by Pellighast, and the Maggotkin, a bunch of Chaos twisted creatures who are led by a Rotbringer. As you go through the campaign for each faction, the storylines do intertwine, so it turns out that Pelighast, the Knight of Shrouds, killed Freya’s favourite dragon, and so the scene is set for revenge. And more.
However when you are playing Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground it looks pretty good, with the ability to zoom right into the battlefield should you so desire. The units you command and face are well-designed and look great too, and the ability to paint the Stormcast’s armour, for instance, adds a nice level of customisation, as does equipping them with different weapons which changes the way they look. Honestly, the sound is great as well, with battle sounds being as you’d expect, but a special shout out has to go to the voice acting. With an amazing amount of both ham and cheese, the way the characters talk to each other can’t help but draw you in. Freya’s booming confidence in her superiority, the weedling, almost slimy sound of the Maggotkin and the deathly wipers of the Nighthaunt faction, all really drag you in to what Storm Ground has to offer.
The storytelling is another big draw, especially as Warhammer has such a strong backstory to draw on. I’d like to think I know my stuff, but researching this review made my head spin with the amount of detail that the universe’s designers have gone into.
Gameplay-wise and things are pretty much business as usual. The battleground is made up of a series of hexagonal spaces, and when the characters are spawned into the battlefield, they can move a certain amount of hexes, and then, depending on the character, either attack or use an ability. Tanky folk can use a basic attack called Charge, which allows them to move and attack, while others can be set to channel an attack on a particular hex at the end of the next turn, or can be set to Overwatch, attacking anything that comes into their view.
Each map has a series of objectives to achieve, such as destroying an idol to make a boss vulnerable, or even capturing a control point to open a Realm Gate, for instance. Strategy is your friend here, ranging from basic options like keeping your weaker ranged units behind your tanks, to using abilities to draw aggro away from wounded allies, to drawing enemies into traps that you placed.
I have no complaints about the way that Storm Ground is supposed to work, but the execution can be a little ropy sometimes. There are times when the enemies refuse to spawn, making “Defeating Wave 1” as an objective, impossible. These are thankfully rare, and crashing out to the Xbox dashboard will allow you to continue your run from the same point. Multiplayer also seems to work pretty well, and there is no trouble finding a match; mainly with PC players it has to be said, but the cross-play works well. The matchmaking is a little dim-witted mind, and my very first match had me facing a level 10 player. That went about as well as you’d expect.
So, it’s all pretty rosy so far, but nothing is perfect and there must be issues. Well, yes there are a few. First off and it’s weird that the campaign mode only allows for one save game and it seems ridiculous that if you fancy playing as the Maggotkin, you’ll need to throw away a saved Stormcast run and start from the beginning again. And secondly, why do the items that are unlocked in the campaign remain unavailable in multiplayer mode, and vice versa? Surely if a player unlocks a sword, they should have that sword, but Storm Ground seems intent on locking campaign gear to the campaign, and multiplayer gear to the multiplayer section. It’s just bonkers. The aforementioned glitches with some levels is annoying too, but thankfully that doesn’t happen all the time.
On the whole Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is a good game with some issues. The new unlockable units, the story line, and the whole setup of the universe happily draws you in. Yet some strange design decisions only come together to push you away again. With a little tweaking, this could be a great game, but the way things are set up does it no favours.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is now available for purchase on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One