Product Review: Warhammer Underworlds Online
Welcome to my first video game review ever! I am beyond excited to share with you my review of the hotly anticipated, online adaptation of the game we all love - Warhammer Underworlds Online.
In this article, I will detail my time playing the game, discuss the UI, sound, graphics, gameplay, and share my overall thoughts.
I would like to thank Steel Sky Productions and Big Games Machine for providing me with a review copy of the game as well a couple game codes! Check out the bottom of the article on how you can win a free copy of the game.
Warhammer Underworlds Online is essentially a digital reflection of the fan-favorite tabletop game, Warhammer Underworlds by Games Workshop. I wouldn't say it's a 1:1 port, but it is probably as close as you can get. The game focuses on the first season of the game, Shadespire. What that means is that players will have access to the 8 warbands that defined that season plus a plethora of faction specific and universal cards unique to that season.
While officially released quite recently, players from all over the world have been playing it for some time via the Early Access. If you were lucky enough to get it during that time, you were rewarded with the original four warbands: Steelheart's Champion, Magore's Fiends, Sepulchral Guard, and Ironskull's Boyz plus two additional ones: Spiteclaw's Swarm and the Farstriders. Each warband also came with an additional skin - usually a variation of them wearing black armor.
Shadespire was once a jewel of city located in the Realm of Death , known for its ability to refine shadeglass, a material that allowed the ruling Katophranes to store their spirits in them enabling them to live indefinitely.
Nagash, the Lord of Undeath, was enraged when he learned he was being denied the souls of the fallen. Ever the petty and cruel being, the Lord of Undeath wove a ritual that twisted the powers of the shadeglass, leaving the city a husk of its former glory. Trapped between the realms of Light and Shadow, no soul could ever escape or experience the release of death.
Despite these terrible events, explorers, wanderers, and agents travel to the city in order to unlock the secrets of shadeglass. What they don't realize, is that once they enter - they cannot leave. They are doomed to fight in an endless cycle of violence and death.
So, I've been playing Underworlds Online for quite some time now. I was honored to be a part of the closed beta and provided feedback through till the open beta as well. I've seen it go through a lot of changes and I've been pleasantly surprised with how responsive the Steel Sky Productions team was. The game has grown a lot and while it is on a different medium, it is a pretty faithful representation of the original game.
When you first login and you get through the tutorial, I reccomened that you play a bot game to familiarize yourself with the game. Steel Sky has done a great job with programming the AI to function quite quickly and in a way that makes tactical sense. It's not perfect but that is perhaps a good thing as it feels as if you are playing against someone who understands the game but may not be as skilled.
Each warband comes with a pre-made deck so you can get straight into rolling crits. The decks themselves are pretty basic, but they do give you a feel for the faction/warband. Once you get a couple reps in, I highly reccomened you jump to the deck editor in order to refine your deck to match your intended play style and temperament.
For those of you unfamiliar with how Warhammer Underworlds plays, the game follows a pretty simple sequence. Once you get into any game, you and your opponent will roll off for the board. Once the winner is determined, each player will help create the landscape upon which they battle upon via determining hex layout and/or placing objectives. Once that has been finalized, players will then roll-off again and alternate placing their individual fighters. Upon completion, players will then have the opportunity to draw cards and either keep them or discard and them draw replacements. After that, you and your opponent will take 3 turns consisting of 4 alternating actions (12 in total per player) in which you can duke it for glory points. The winner with the most glory points wins the game.
Note: For those of you who play the tabletop version, you will notice that the board setup is slightly different to the way Beastgrave (season three) is played. This is intended as the game is meant to be a faithful recreation of the original game.
Glory points can be scored via eliminating enemy fighters and completing unique requirements on cards within your 12 card objective deck. You can't have any more or any less. Your other deck is called your power deck and consists of a minimum of 20 cards. There are two types of cards: ploys (cannot be more than half your deck) and upgrades. Ploys can provide fighters with cool effects that can manipulate characteristics like attack, defense, and speed as well as provide inconveniences to your opponent. Fighters can also be equipped with powerful upgrades that bring their own unique bonuses as well. Those upgrades can only be equipped though if you have the glory to spend so make sure you are scoring your glory often and consistently!
As an aside, the way cards are played does a feel a bit unwieldy at times. Players must drag and drop cards in order to play them. While that isn't a bad thing, I do prefer the option to click cards and then confirm my choice by clicking it again. Games like Hearthstone have these features that feel smoother and can ensure you don't accidentally drag and drop the wrong card.
Due to the finite number of turns in the game, Underworlds has always been an easy game to play. As you play more games you will understand the subtleties and nuances between deck building and board placement which can improve your win-rate. This make the game extremely rewarding for players who take the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their matchups - perfect for multiplayer matchmaking.
Speaking of matchmaking, players have options to two different types of online play: Casual and Ranked. Casual, in theory, should be a place where you can play against other live players but not necessarily worry about losing the games. It should be the perfect place to refine decks while still playing some tactically stimulating games. Sadly, most people do not play in Casual mode. I've queued up numerous times and have only been able to play 3 games. Granted, all 3 of those games were fun but the wait times were rough.
The game does feel a bit slower than usual. Maybe it's because I am used to playing with people who make decisions pretty quickly but it is something I hope Steel Sky visits in the future. I understand having built in timers is important for decision making processes but ideally I'd like things to speed up.
Ranked is the more popular mode and it's where you will find a vast majority of the player base. This the place where you will be going head to head with other players who are actively trying to win the game with some pretty powerful, or at least refined, strategies and decks.
Wait times in this mode are significantly less when compares to casual, but they still feel longer when compared to other games. To be fair, I played most of these games during Early Access so I'm sure the player base was much smaller than it is now, but it is something to note. Still, when the games do start, they've been a ton of fun. It's been some nostalgic fun as I am revisiting the original game through an online setting.
I do wish there was a way to communicate with your opponent in-game. One of my favorite aspects of Warhammer Underworlds are the people. Being able to talk to your opponent is a lot of fun and would generally improve the experience as sometimes, it feels as if I am playing against a computer, despite the fact that my brain knows there is another human opponent on the other end.
Ironically, I've read online that many players are experiencing matches where players concede often - which reinforces someone is there as they are actively forfeiting the game. I can understand why a sudden concession can feel jarring for veterans of the tabletop version as most in-person competitive events usually discourage that. However, if you're going to be grinding the ranked ladder, it makes sense to forfeit a game you know you are already going to lose and move onto the next one. It's a time saver for sure and something that people will have to adapt to as they continue their online experience.
Overall, the gameplay experience for Warhammer Underworlds Online is great and much better than I probably could have imagined. I also like the idea of having ranked leaderboards so players can work towards competing for that top spot, and the bragging rights associated with it. It helps scratch that competitive itch we're all known to indulge in more often than not.
I had read somewhere online that it was a passion project for the studio and honestly I couldn't agree more. It's evident in way they've portrayed the city of Shadespire. It's exactly how I would have imagined it - glittering shards of shadeglass scattered through the grounds were overwhelming tones of greens, grays, and blacks. It's honestly beautiful in a very dark and twisted Warhammer way.
The crazy thing is that it's not even the best part. My fellow tabletop gamers will agree with me here: the best part about the game are the models - they're some of the best Games Workshop have ever produced. Which is why I am hyped to finally see my beloved fighters actually moving and breathing (or not in the case of the Sepulchral Guard). I've spent many (read: too many) moments just marveling at the fighters on my monitor.
Getting to see the stoicism and composure of Steelheart's Champions or the ticks and unnatural movements of the Sepulchral Guard or the aggressively hunched over, heavy breathing of Magore's Fiends have been a joy to view. Plus, watching the Boyz waaagh! in real time as they go swinging in for an attack never gets tiring.
Additionally, the user interface for the game is pretty clean. It displays all relevant information without being bogged down by unnecessary elements. It really doesn't distract you either which is important when watching Gurzag Ironskull rip through a pesky little skaven for the umpteenth time. My favorite though, are the Farstriders and I'm very happy they are in the game.
The progression system is pretty neat too, being able to unlock cosmetic items for your warbands is pretty cool and allows you to flex a bit when it comes to showing your warband pride.
The game looks drop-dead gorgeous but surprisingly, it doesn't need much in terms of what you've got running under the hood. Here are the official System Requirements recommended by Steel Sky Studios on Steam:
OS: Windows 7, 8(8.1), 10 (64-bit)
Processor: Intel Core i5 / AMD FX-4350
Memory: 8GB of RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 / Radeon HD 5870
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 10GB of space
You can tell that the Steel Sky team were truly excited about creating a faithful representation of the beloved tabletop version of Warhammer Underworlds and it's quite evident as you click through the many games modes and features present.
Sure, the game can be buggy at times but that's not abnormal nowadays in the ways in which game are released. As the game continues to live on, I'm confident we will see it improve and refine to provide an even better experience. I'm sure the wait times will lessen as well as more people join the community. The developer team has been extremely involved in the community so please provide them feedback if you want. Here is the link to their discord server.
Now, if you're a current tabletop wargamer and are looking to find a 1:1 port, then I am afraid you'll be disappointed. As mentioned previously, the game focuses on season one: Shadespire, and will most likely emulate the release schedule of the current game. Quite frankly, I don't think the game will ever be current with the tabletop version - it doesn't make sense from a business perspective. Despite that, it's a great starting point for newer players, and those who are seeking to scratch that Underworlds itch from the comfort of their homes.
You'll get a great sense of nostalgia with the game as you revisit the Shadespire glory days. Furthermore, most of us current players already kind of know what worked and what didn't so the game will be a great way to sharpen your decision making skills and core competencies while still playing something visually different and striking.
So, would I recommend you buy Warhammer Underworlds Online?
Absolutely. The game isn't perfect, but it's still a great gaming venture that allows you to immerse yourself in the Mirrored City and command your warband of choice to claim as much glory as you can. The game looks great, sounds great, and has a pretty tight core rule systems that essentially is the same as the original season of Warhammer Underworlds.
You can buy the game here via Steam. Keep in mind, it is only available on PC.
For me, it's been a great trip down memory lane and I am hoping that the alternate release schedule keeps things fresh. I've been dabbling online from time to time and may even start streaming if there is enough interest. Please let me know if you'd like to see that.
Steam Code Giveaway:
To enter for your chance to win a free game code to simply, follow me on Twitter @hexesnwarbands, like this tweet, and retweet it.
Thank you again to Steel Sky Productions and Big Games Machines for allowing me the privilege to be able to give away a copy of the game!