Platforms: PC, iOS
Reviewed On: PC
Disclaimer; this game was provided free of charge by the publisher for review.
The warhammer 40K universe promises nought but endless war and rivers of blood, thus managing to gather legions of fans to whom this greatly appeals, myself happily included. Alongside the wealth of expensive tabletop miniatures used to represent this eternal carnage numerous videogames have been released under the Warhammer license, such as the fairly recent Space Marine and the brilliant Dawn of War – which remains, in my view, one of the best RTS titles ever – each capturing the thrilling promise of destruction in their own way.
And then there’s this.
Warhammer 40K: Storm of Vengeance attempts to provide fans with the very essence of what Warhammer is by having a couple of Space Marines trundle slowly toward some Orks, occasionally stopping to fire their guns half-heartedly, before meandering past each other, because they’re locked into lanes. Sure, painted pieces of plastic and handfuls of dice on a table could never replicate the sheer pandemonium of true war, leaving all the blood and guts to the imagination, but somehow even that still manages to be more exciting than this game. There’s no war here, there’s just some minor tiffs between hulking dudes in armor and green-skinned brutes. It has a hastily thrown together Warhammer aesthetic, but underneath it lies Eutechnyx’s 2013 release Ninja Cats vs Samurai Dogs. There are some differences, but never enough to shake the feeling that this is merely a reskin with the bare minimum of change implemented to be able to vaguely tie it into the Warhammer license.
Warhammer 40K: Storm of Vengeance fails miserably. Not just in capturing the brutality of the Warhammer license, but also in being an actual game. It’s sheer crap. Worse, it’s crap that has the audacity to abuse a beloved license in order to sell said crappiness. I wish I could simply stop the review right here and leave you with these damning words, but I can’t, so let me explain exactly why you should disavow any so-called gamer caught playing this travesty.
This is a lane “strategy” game so the battlefield is split neatly into five different horizontal paths, in which you and your opposition place down one of three troop types who slowly amble toward each other. The Dark Angels, for example. can field standard Tactical Marines, who act as all-round grunts; Assault Marines, who can go toe-to-toe with almost anything; Devastators, who offer serious long-range firepower. Should opposing units collide they’ll become locked in mortal combat until one or the other is dead. Melee based units naturally just attack whatever is in their lane, while ranged troops are capable of firing into the adjacent paths but will struggle to go directly up against a skilled close quarters foe, and thus we have a basic rock/paper/scissors system at work, somewhat spiced up by the inclusion of special abilities which utilise a secondary resource and unit upgrades.
At the end of each lane are plots on which you can construct buildings that either produce one of the two resources (Redemption for the Marines, and Teef for the Orks) available or new units, which are inexplicably referred to as cards when not in play. When a unit is produced you can either deploy it immediately to any of the five lanes, assuming you have enough resources to do so, or store the “card” in one of the available slots at the bottom of the screen for use later on. The ultimate goal is to capture a total of three lanes, done by crushing whatever building lies at the end of it, at which point your units will march proudly off-screen, presumably toward a setting sun, never to be seen again. Yes, this is a game in which the proud Dark Angels will walk past enemy Orks, and even leave the battle entirely.
When it comes to constructing buildings you have exactly four options: resource generation, or one of the three troop types available.Considering that at least two of your plots will be taken up by Comm Towers that create the resources needed to field your tiny army, there’s not exactly much room for experimentation. With such limited building space losing just one lane to the enemy can be a massive blow, and while it’s possible to claw a victory back, most times you’ll find defeat will follow soon. This means that either in singleplayer or multiplayer matches can often feel like a foregone conclusion as soon as a single lane is captured.
Units can deployed with optional upgrades such as grenades or plasma weapons that are unlocked through a limited progression system in, but doing so costs extra resources and extends their build time. While this presents an opportunity for some flexibility on the battlefield, the truth is that most upgrades – except for a few – feel largely pointless, and the extra time and resources it costs to utilise them can leave you vulnerable to the enemy. Sending out my Devastator with a plasma weapon doesn’t offer enough benefit to offset the time and effort that went into creating. Upgrades can be purchased that allow you to send out troops with multiple abilities, but once again there’s not enough reason to do so, the extra time and resources that you spend being put to better use churning out vanilla Marines or Orks. And that’s ultimately because the best tactic in Storm of Vengeance is to simply throw units onto the field as fast as you can while your opponent does the same, only the briefest split-second of thought required behind each placement and building decision. Nothing ever feels as effective as simply sticking with the three basic unit types under your command.
More problems reveal themselves within the extra abilities that can be used throughout a battle. Browsing the limited list of unlockable abilities shows some interesting stuff; as the Space Marines, for example, you can bring forth a Ravenwing Bike or even a Dreadnought, an exciting prospect, or at least it should be. However, in order to use these abilities one must generate Resolve (or Psychic, as the Orks), which can only be done by changing one of your buildings into the appropriate mode, at which point it will no longer create new troops. That’s right, you need to sacrifice the production capabilities of a Drop Pod, Raven or Rhino in order to unleash special abilities, a daunting prospect given how little you have to spare, and the results simply don’t warrant doing so. Once again simply spamming Marines or Orks proves a far more viable tactic, as halting production to summon up a Ravenwing, for instance, leaves you open to being swarmed and feels pointless when said unit isn’t very effective.
Perhaps the best example of these problems is the mighty Dreadnought, a hulking metal beast whose mere presence on the battlefield should be a thrill. To actually summon up a Dreadnought, though, requires a hefty chunk of both Redemption and Resolve, and once in play it continues to be a drain on your economy until it’s destroyed or you simply can’t support it any more. Due to its insane cost actually fielding a Dreadnought is a chore and utterly impractical, as the amount of resources it requires forces you to halt production of other troops, and once in battle the huge mech doesn’t manage to justify its own price tag. It stomps onto the battlefield with a range of shoddy animations, and proceeds to idly shoot a few things. It’s a unit that can only really be effectively put into play when you’re already dominating the game and can afford to spare the resources, and even then it feels like the effort would have been better spend producing ordinary troops who would likely have won you the game 30-seconds ago.
What’s the point in attempting to deviate and experiment with upgrades and abilities when none of them feel as effective as pumping put soldiers as quickly as you can? Storm of Vengeance quickly falls into a formulaic pattern, where every match feels exactly the same. Attempts to try something new are beaten down by poor design. There should be a satisfying risk vs reward mechanic behind every ability and upgrade, a tactical decision that must be made regarding whether it’s worth sinking resources into the creation of a specific item, power or troop type at a certain time, but here it’s all risk and no reward. It’ll take you a few rounds to discover the magic formula which grants victory at almost every turn, unless the AI suddenly decides it can produce an army at a terrifyingly unfair rate, and there’s never any reason or incentive to deviate from that strategy.
Other frustrations mar the already heavily flawed action. The AI is idiotic, with the enemy forces often failing to react to assaults and throwing troops away in already captured rows, while your own soldiers frequently fail to prioritize their targets, leaving you to yell helplessly at the screen as your Devastator blankly ignores the real threat in favor of murdering a Gretchin. Being able to manually command your minions to attack specific targets would have been far nicer, but Storm of Vengeance firmly believes in having as little player interaction as it possibly can.
During the campaign there came a time when my Ork enemy somehow managed to gain the ability to spam large Trukks at an alarming rate, all while still producing normal troops at a steady pace. While these trucks were largely ineffective as offensive units their sheer size could block an entire lane, and a hefty chunk of health meant taking them down was an arduous process. Further on my opponent seemed to gain an ability to produce and deploy troops faster than previous, creating an artificial difficulty spike that felt frustrating.
In a brief foray into the world of tactics I decided to employ the two most obvious strategies available to me. First, I struck out at the enemy’s resource production, figuring that like myself they would be unable to field new units if I wrecked their economy. As it turns out, I was wrong because upon destroying appropriate buildings new Orks kept getting produced at a normal rate, the computer seemingly oblivious to my onslaught. Okay. And so I moved onto strategy two; destroying the buildings that produced new units. Again, I was shocked to discover that even with these structures blown to little pieces new Orks just kept coming. Look, Storm of Vengeance, at least play by your own fucking rules, here. I must assume that the developers did this because they quickly realised that players would almost automatically target resource generation or unit production, but it’s a cheap way of combating the problem.
Perhaps some of the hefty flaws I’ve talked about could possibly be forgiven if the game managed to spin a fun yarn using the vast lore of the Warhammer universe, but once again all that awaits is disappointment. Storm of Vengeance’s meagre tale of the Dark Angels fighting against a horde of Orks is told entire through static character portraits and text. There’s barely anything that can be called a plot, and what little there is talks about grand defenses, vicious assaults and brutal ambushes, none of which you’ll ever get to experience when watching a couple of Space Marines trudge down a dreary lane, only occasionally remembering that they’re supposed to be fierce warriors.
Interestingly, the story here is very loosely based upon one of the many Warhammer books, and in all fairness to the developers they have ensured that each character’s name is true to the book. But quite frankly you’d be far better off simply buying the book, as the game does a poor job of bringing the story onto the screen.
However, credit must be given when it’s due. The campaign offers up plenty of missions for those looking for pure content for their money, and does at least attempt to mix things up with special missions in which you’re given a preset selection of troops with which to tackle the oncoming enemy horde, creating small puzzles that are far more enjoyable than the main battles. Sadly they don’t pop up as often as one might like. Apart from that the campaign is simply a series of battles split-up across “days”, with optional fights giving you a chance to earn some extra XP, although you’ll have unlocked all the useful abilities and most of the useless ones two after just a short while, making the optional tussles feel pointless. You’re sure not going to be playing them just for fun.
The Orks get their own campaign, but while it’s initially nice to step into their dirty shoes the sense of freshness doesn’t last long as they’re essentially the same as the Marines, although their abilities are arguably a little more interesting, albeit just as useless most of the time. If nothing else their general style of throwing large numbers of fodder at the foe suits the design of the game far more than the more methodical Marines.
You can take the fight online in a mini-campaign of sorts, choosing to do battle as either the Marines or the Orks, but any upgrades you’ve unlocked during the singleplayer campaign don’t carry over, leaving you to fumble around with the initial single troop type and resource building. Playing against a real player should, at least in theory, open up a little more strategy, but in truth I can’t comment on how true this is with any degree of certainty as I was unable to find more than a couple of people to play against. The matches I found were marginally more interesting than playing against the computer, but that’s still not saying very much.
The final nails in the metaphorical coffin come in the form of the game’s lackluster presentation. The music is about as generic as it comes, while what little voice acting exists within the game is poor. Space Marines and Orks are stiffly animated with low quality textures, and the developers have the audacity to reuse the same handful of boring background environments over and over. Given the limited scope of the game is it really too much to ask for a wider variety of backdrops that at least attempt to tie in with the plot?
But more than anything else Warhammer: Storm of Vengeance is crushingly dull. Much of the time is spent simply waiting for units to be produced before mindlessly tossing them onto the field of battle where you then watch health bars slowly deplete. With no strategy to concentrate on, decent visuals to admire or story to follow there’s simply waiting around for some stuff to happen, occasionally clicking on something to make a bit more stuff happen before you get back to waiting. Grand strategy games often have buttons that allow you to fast forward time so that you can see your masterful plan unfold, but in Storm of Vengeance you’ll be using it simply to get the damn match over with quicker, which is saying something when they only last a few minutes anyway.
Look, I’m more than happy to admit that on a tablet or phone this game could very well work, after all that’s what it’s designed for. I’m not a mobile gamer, and thus have limited knowledge of what mobile gamers are looking for. The simplicity and general lack of depth would certainly make it an easy game to pick up and play a game or two of when you’re sitting on the bus, and the interface seems like it would suit a tablet. But the problem is Storm of Vengeance has been released on Steam as a fully fledged PC title, and that brings with it a certain set of expectations of which this game is utterly incapable of meeting. If you’re going to develop a game like this for mobile platforms and tablets then great, but don’t try to port it over to Steam as well. With a wider range of units, more upgrades and double the amount of lanes this could have possibly been a fun little game. I’d be lying if I said I had absolutely zero fun; the first few matches were mildly enjoyable.
If I’m to be completely honest with you I struggled to write this review. Talking about a game that makes you passionate, whether it’s through enjoyment or hatred, is incredibly easy. But I simply have no desire to talk about Storm of Vengeance. I don’t want to talk about it, and I sure as hell didn’t want to play it, which explains why this review has taken so long to arrive. I’ve spent entire days blankly staring at the screen, trying to bring forth some meagre words, until finally I managed to produce something. It’s far from my best work. In fact, it’s awkward, poorly put together and pretty badly written, but I suppose that’s a reflection of the game.
+ It functions.
+ Gets the names right.
– Utterly boring.
– Terrible use of the license.
– Same backgrounds over and over.
– No strategy whatsoever.
– Crap story.
The Verdict: 1/5 – Terrible.
If you’re a Warhammer fan, steer well clear. If you’re a videogamer lover, steer well clear. If you’re a human being, steer well clear.