I think I can tell most of you what you want from Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin in just a few words: it’s about micromanagement. Victory depends on issuing orders to move, attack, and power quickly to multiple small squads of soldiers, and you pay the price if your units are distracted from them for more than a few moments.
If that’s not your thing, move on. If so, Realms Of Ruin is a solid, concise war game and one you should read.
Based on the setting of the Warhammer fantasy sequel Age of Sigmar, Realms of Ruin lets you play as four factions: the Stormcast Eternals, the Auruk Kruleboys, the Nighthunt, and the Disciples of Tozench. Within this group, the Human Stormcast Eternals are a possible starting point, as they are medieval knights with predominantly human units that are easily recognizable.
Identification is important because Realms of Ruin divides all of its units into four classes and fights according to a rock-paper-scissors system. Melee shield hit, shield hit ranged hit, and melee hit ranged hit. Each team has icons above their heads to let you know which is which, but it doesn’t hurt if you see a ranged Stormcast soldier carrying a bow. Famous characters like Sigrun and Demechrios are heroes and belong to the fourth unit on the battlefield. They’re not part of each other’s war triangle — which would make it a battleground, techies — but they have special powers, including special abilities that can turn the tide of battle.
Stormcast Eternals is a prequel to the Realms Of Ruin campaign. In cutscenes and dialogue during quests, you’ll meet Sigrun and Eden, the flaming gold soldiers, as well as Demekrios, the magical boy. Or at least you’ll hear them talk a lot. They have little personality in common, and their arrogant talk about omens and prophecies makes them difficult.
Unfortunately, this is difficult throughout the campaign, as many of the missions in which you control the Aruk Kruleboys and Chainch’s disciples are similarly monotonous, with “flamboyant” and “speech” replaced by “rage” and “shouting”. . . That might seem like an odd complaint – it’s Warhammer, it’s Orrooks, etc. – but the parts of fantasy or 40K that I love tend to have at least some humor, and that’s completely missing here. Additionally, clarity of character motivation and purpose are key tenets of good writing, and this holds true whether or not your characters are wearing Ferrero Rocher shoes.
In addition to typing and rushing, victory in multiplayer games and many campaign missions is achieved by holding more capture points than the opponent until the ticket runs out. You need to capture and hold building points where you can place structures that will provide you with resources to train new units, use special abilities, and unlock buildings and unit upgrades.
This is where Micro makes the difference. As you upgrade your headquarters, you can only have up to six squads of soldiers – hero units are a squad in themselves – and so victory depends on using the battle triangle and manually activating unit abilities. Sending an armored unit against a melee unit is a surefire way to wipe them out, sending replacement units to your base and bringing them back is a costly and slow process.
Units do almost nothing unless they are called directly. If a melee fighter shoots a guy with a bow, he will stand up and take it until he dies or until you tell him to move or fight. This is perfectly reasonable, but your attention will be spread over multiple capture points, building points and units during skirmishes, special abilities, buildings and more. I found it confusing at times, especially in the fifth campaign when all these systems worked at the same time for the first time. I’ve been playing real-time strategy games for 30 years, which means that while I’m experienced, I’m also tired. I had a better time when I lowered the difficulty from medium to easy, but honestly all I wanted was a pause button during which I could issue commands and scan the battlefield.
Some of the best missions in the campaign are the ones that break free from the capture-and-hold system. In one of them, you control the Na’vi’s twisted cousins, the Xentouch, a community of mutant wizards who form a merry army and must quickly devise a way to defend the tower. In another, you lead Sigrun on a killing spree behind enemy lines, with no soldiers to protect those you rescue as they go into battle against Orruk, alone.
Other important transformations are less successful. In one case, you’re tasked with leading the Orruks on a covert mission that involves burning three Stormcast granaries, if the immediate mission fails if the Orruk who started the fire dies. Your unit has some stealth capabilities, but I failed this mission twice because the Aruk ship it was firing on automatically attacked a nearby enemy and alerted everyone, and once my squad was discovered to be from a watchtower when a no-miss. Such weapons took away control. From me. – Mission scenes. Even if I was responsible for these mistakes, it would be bad to send me back to the beginning of the mission to repeat the process.
The success of the capture-and-hold system is to create an exciting standoff where you control one half of the map and your enemy controls the other, and have a clearly contested chokepoint around which to focus the fight. At this point, combat isn’t about clicking which one is the fastest, but about making the right decisions, like how to focus your fighters on the right enemy, or making it efficient to manage the economy and upgrades so that you emerge with superior power in the end. I especially like the ending. As you lose man after man against Orruk’s mixed factions to defend a capture point, you appear with the Stormdrake Guard, a fire-breathing dragon, and set them ablaze.
I hope the campaign will allow me to experience this pleasurable excitement more often. I only got to play two multiplayer matches – both against the game’s developers, who are underrepresented – but even in the campaign I felt that Realms Of Ruin was a well-balanced multiplayer strategy game. Powerful endgame units are therefore limited by the upgrades required to unlock them, the resources and time you save using them, and the war triangle that encourages you to always have a mix of units in your army. I would have had more fun if it allowed me to have a flock of giant birds to destroy a few enemies a few times.
Hopefully at this point you understand the true meaning of the above paragraph: This is me, the person who doesn’t care about micromanagement. Some of my favorite real-time strategy games involve careful base building and economic management, like a Supreme Commander, or building large, diverse armies that you then happily unleash against the enemy in a swarm. Flock Flock Flock Flock Flock Flock Flock Flock Flock. Realms of Ruin isn’t about such things, and I found the reliance on battle triangles and melee special abilities to be limiting, overwhelming, and somewhat unsettling.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you. Leave these personal grievances behind and Realms Of Ruin is a solid RTS with some entertaining units and quests. Although I still think you’ll find Stormcast Eternals boring.
This review is based on a game build review from Frontier Developments.