“To WAAAGH!” he thunders. Ghazghkull Thraka, a warlord in Games Workshop’s® Warhammer 40,0000™ universe, exhorts the player “To War” (in a British accent). That’s pretty much all the ‘lore’ I will share in this review, as it’s not relevant to enjoy the just-released WARHAMMER 40,000: Armageddon – Da Orks (WDO). Brought to you by the folks at Lordz/Flashback/Slitherine, who gave us Panzer Corps (PC), one could thus be forgiven for having certain expectations – which can often be good and bad – but in WDO’s case, it’s pretty much all good.
For a n00b to the Warhammer™ milieu like me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I had heard of the original tabletop miniatures version(s), and was aware that myriad Warhammer computer games exist, I assumed most were in the ‘shooter’ genre and/or RTS, neither of which gets my pulse up from its normal Barely Conscious setting.
Imagine my surprise, then, to discover a game along the lines of the aforementioned PC, with actual tactical intricacies and even an entertaining backstory to enhance one’s appreciation of the campaign game. A few difficulties aside, I had quite a time playing WDO.
Similar to PC, the player gets an expandable core force for the campaign game – as the Orks only, although either side can be chosen for scenarios – this time to lead through an invasion of the planet Armageddon against the Imperial Space Marines and the Steel Legion. Maps consist of incredibly detailed and varied terrain, from more or less terrestrial Grass and Jungle, to desert-like Ash, Toxic (green) Water/Rivers, plus Lava and Craters, as well as Settlements and Fortifications, Roads and Monorails. Terrain has a number of effects beyond the usual movement restrictions or defence bonuses for certain unit types: For example, LOS and Cover are considered as percentages affecting Spotting and Defence, respectively. Units have a number of other attributes in addition to the expected Attack rating and Range, such as Armour Piercing and Accuracy. They can also carry an assortment of weapons with different ranges; however, all must target a single enemy per turn – and some are not effective against certain types of defences. All is explained fairly well in the decent, 39-page .pdf manual, but experimentation will doubtless behoove most players; see below.
While unit types are fairly standard except for certain ‘fantasy’ varieties such as Walkers and Titans, the sheer number of units in some classes is almost overwhelming; more ‘unlock’ every two or three scenarios as the player (referred to as “Uber Nob”) progresses through the campaign. As mentioned, troopers can be equipped with a bewildering diversity of weapons such as killsaws, shootas, zappas, and rokkit launchas, although not all are interchangeable amongst all units. (Before a reader unfamiliar with the milieu questions my spell-checker, those are all [sic]!) Some also have special abilities, including Assault, which is used at a range of 0, or mêlée only, and allows the unit to ignore terrain’s Cover rating; Support will defend adjacent units from attack; Leadership similarly boosts adjacent units’ Morale each turn, something I found almost indispensable for brittle Squigs and Ard Boyz. A right-click on a unit brings up its Unit Details screen, whence all is explained with tooltips.
I’m certain all this is readily understood and even keenly anticipated by fans of the series – whom I can picture hovering over their miniatures battlefields consulting all kinds of charts and tables – but to the rest of us wargamers, perhaps we should be thankful the computer takes care of all that data. Which is not to say it is simple; I spent a great deal of time just ‘testing’ various encounters by moving units and targeting different enemies at varied ranges. One does, eventually, get the proverbial hang of it, but in perhaps no other game I’ve played have I seen quite so many variables in play, while at the same time being so entertained.
The player receives direction from a number of nicely voice-acted Ork characters, who deliver briefs in a heavily accented, rumbly British patois rife with mispronunciations and slang. For example, I had to look up “well chuffed”: Urban Dictionary translates the phrase as, “To be very pleased, proud or happy with yourself”. There are also milieu-specific words such as ‘dakka’; said Urban Dictionary defines it as, “A word or sound a Warhammer 40k Ork says when referring to fire power, or actually firing an automatic weapon”. Despite these quirks, briefs are also captioned, and although badly spelled (doubtless properly spelled in in Orkish!), I didn’t find them difficult to understand – just keep your Urban Dictionary handy if you happen to be from outside the milieu or the U.K. They are also quite amusing; your briefer will sometimes feel the need to ‘slap something’, or on occasion express admiration for an enemy before admonishing, “Now go kill ’em!”
In another immersive touch, players can additionally find ‘loot’ – usually a strong, if not unique, captured unit – by taking certain objectives. While other ‘supplies’ might be discovered as well, some of them will have questionable value to an Ork; when I turned over some medicine to ‘da Dok’, he berated me for offering something good only for ‘puny humies’; less useful than, say, screws and metal plates (for patching holes in Ork heads).
Setting notwithstanding, similarities between PC and Da Orks begin to diverge with the system of objectives and ‘Resource Points’ (RP), which are like Prestige in that they are used to buy, upgrade, and heal units. Unlike the former, though, RP aren’t instantly earned when a unit captures an objective; the AI has one turn to take it back, but if it remains in the player’s hands at the start of their next turn, RP are awarded. More akin to Prestige, the player earns Glory, which is apparently not used for anything except, well, prestige (as a comparative value to judge one’s own victories, or in multi-player, perhaps; see later on for more about multi-). In another departure, upon scenario conclusion all units are ‘healed’ automatically, with, it appears, commensurate deductions from one’s RP total. As this isn’t documented, however, I am only deducing what’s going on in the background. The manual does disclose that RP are not awarded for performance but instead according to the difficulty of the upcoming battle, so there are no ‘decisive’ or ‘marginal’ victories; Orks must win or die.
In WDO, neither do units retreat or advance as a result of combat; they’ll fight until dead or the enemy runs out of ammo. Speaking of which, there is also no ‘supply’ system; troops are only limited in the number of shots they can take per turn. Morale, on the other hand – indicated by the unit’s Strength plate changing from white to yellow to red – is quite important. As mentioned previously, most Orks are quite fragile, emotionally speaking, and will benefit a great deal from Leadership buffs, especially seeing that many lose Morale even if they are not attacked. Artillery, for example, slough Morale steadily as they fire turn after turn – perhaps modelling the effects of exhaustion. Additionally, the AI for some reason mercilessly targets Squigs in particular, whom will rapidly lose cohesion well before their 100 Strength points dissipate (by far the highest of all Ork units; representing their sheer numbers, presumably).
MO’ POWAH TO YA!
Unlike other games I have thus far encountered in the genre – doubtless owing, in part, to superior computer graphics power – battles in WDO are wonderfully animated, showing mushroom clouds billowing, lasers flashing blue and red, autogun projectiles kicking up dirt, green plasma gushing, smoke rising… Even though some of the animations appear occasionally to be off-target, and some stutter (albeit this could be my computer), combined with the terrain graphics the effect is quite impressive, especially zoomed up close.
Multi-player is PBEM rather than ‘live’, but unfortunately wasn’t ready in time to test. I can only say that one can log into the server and Accept a Challenge and/or Issue one from the few pre-made scenarios; alternatively, one can use those custom-made by oneself or others’. Players are notified by email when a challenge is accepted and a turn pending.
On the downside, there are no customisable hotkeys for Da Orks, so I found myself trying to use the same ones from Panzer Corps, such as Next/Previous Unit. Perhaps a little awkward at first, albeit easily overcome – or a non-issue for those not familiar with a comparable system anyway. I also found battles during the AI turn a little hard to follow; even though Combat Speed is adjustable in the Options menu, the action is not automatically centred in the screen, so I often missed some of the action. (ACK! Where did that shot come from?)
However, the lowlight came when I encountered a huge difficulty spike. After completing the first five-or-so scenarios with little hardship on ‘Normal’ difficulty – I lost only two, both won on my second try – I ran into one I could not come close to beating even after four attempts. I admit I was about to <gasp!> use a cheat just to get on with it (I have a deadline, you know!), but my saved game got broken by an update anyway, so I had to start a new campaign. This time I did so on ‘Easy’, and I have to say it was really easy; I won almost every scenario with at least 5-6 turns to spare, hardly losing any units. Nonetheless, it seems that even with tens of thousands of RP to spend, it does one little good if no more core slots are available when the player is sorely outnumbered and/or there is simply too little time to complete one’s objectives.
This is unfortunate because, for me, it marred what is otherwise a great game, reminiscent of Fantasy General (an epic ‘sequel’ to Panzer General, the acknowledged predecessor to the aforementioned Panzer Corps). Regardless, I will likely be returning to Warhammer – Da Orks, and will possibly even check out others, such as its progenitor Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon. Oh, look, there’s also a Collector’s Edition, and all kinds of DLC… To Waaagh!
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