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Cracked LCD- Warhammer Quest IOS in Review

Warhammer Quest shot 1I’m not the one to ask if Rodeo Games’ Warhammer Quest adequately simulates or replicates the out-of-print and outrageously expensive board game upon which the app is based. Confessional, I never got a chance to play it. By the time I had caught up with wanting to play the widely beloved and venerated dungeoncrawl- regarded by many to be the best of the genre- it was already priced out of my willing-to-spend range and most of my owning friends had moved on to other games. But I also wouldn’t be able to tell you because Rodeo Games willfully back-ended all of the board gamey stuff and turned out a video game based on a board game, most definitely not a “port”. Thankfully, that means there are no silly animations of clattering dice or digital card decks flippity-flapping around. But that also means that the game is often maddeningly opaque and mechanically obscure.

The good news, however, is that Warhammer Quest is an awesome board game-influenced video game. It’s also a perfect fit for the iPad or iPhone because it isn’t nearly as hardcore as you may be inclined to think it is. A dungeon-delve is a ten minute affair, tops. It’s easy to jump in, slaughter some Snotlings, and then go back to your day job. It’s also tremendously addictive. Looking at my save game file, I’ve put in 12 hours toward the game in a week, and that’s about 12 times what you might spend with lesser apps. Heck, it’s twice as long as I spent with Bioshock: Infinite.

It’s compellingly uncluttered, straightforward, and it never bogs down like even the best turn-based strategy games often do. Although some of the finer mechanical details are shuffled away behind a curtain of accessibility and immediacy, it remains a simple game about moving warriors in a dungeon and attacking bad guys. As a reward, you might get a new piece of equipment or money to spend in one of the towns dotting an overworld map. The dungeons themselves are simplistic and even repetitive, although there are also narrative events that occasionally happen in both the dungeons and towns that add some much-needed world-building and story.

It starts off fairly easy, even on the harder difficulty settings, and you may think your warriors are overpowered. But give it time, and suddenly you’ll realize that the game was just saving up for you to hit level three or four. This is primo hack-and-slash, with your team often facing random appearances of ten or eleven enemies at once. It’s totally badass, in classic Warhammer style, to watch your Archmage just melt a room full of guys with Arcane Unforgiving or to see your Trollslayer Deathblow every enemy he’s adjacent to. But get cocky and rush into a room when your Mage has a low Winds of Magic draw or when your Warrior Priest’s prayers are weak, and you might find your guys downed or dead. There is a permadeath option if you want to ramp up the sense of risk.

What strikes me the most about Warhammer Quest, which is itself a very influential game in the lineage that extends from Magic Realm to Heroquest to Descent, is how well it acquits itself as both a video game and as an example of the best qualities of a tabletop dungeoncrawl. It never denigrates into the kind of tactical number-crunching that a game of Descent always seems to, and it’s much less niche (or abusive) as a typical Roguelike. It’s like this kind of twilight zone game, existing between tabletop and video game, but definitely skewing toward the latter.

That said, it’s a shame that Rodeo seems so hell-bent on hiding the more board gamey parts. There should have been an option to see the die rolls, target numbers, and effects. I still have no idea what actually triggers a random event or what determines when a Deathblow occurs. I have no idea if the enemies operate on an AI or if they are on a triage system that would likely be in the GM-less board game version. There should be an option to bring all of these elements to the forward for those who want to know why things are happening.

But in a video game, you usually don’t care about things like that and so I don’t find myself complaining too much about it, in the long run. 12 hours invested into the game indicates that it doesn’t bother me that much. So here again, it totally works as a video game- not just as a port of a popular game. That’s pretty important, I think, to the success of the app.

By now, 781 words into the review, I’m sure you’re asking yourself “when is Barnes going to mention the IAPs”. Here it is. The base game is $4.99. You can buy two additional characters at $2.99 a piece and an additional campaign area that also adds Skaven for $4.99. This parceling out of content is a huge mistake because each constituent piece is, by App Store standards and not in comparison to AAA video games, overpriced. None of the IAP is really essential, but anyone that plays and enjoys this game- which I think is going to be just about anyone with the wherewithal to download it- is going to want the additional content. And the game definitely has hooks to get you interested- that awesome armor you just found? Oh yeah, only the Archmage can use it.

Rodeo should have had the confidence to either reduce the base game to 99 cents, reduce the IAPs to 99 cents, or to sell the IAPs as a bundle for a discount. As it stands, I recommend you view your purchase of Warhammer Quest as a $20 one, not a $5. I’m not saying that you won’t have hours of fun at the $5 price, but you will be missing some neat things that are worthwhile, including the ability to field a more dynamic and varied team and additional enemies.

Finally, to address a common complaint, rotating the screen to see the inventory menu is great. It’s unobtrusive and it leverages a feature of the iDevice not commonly used for this kind of purpose. But there again, Rodeo should have given players an option to do so with an on-screen button. There are a lot of minor oversights like that throughout the app. For example, I can’t stand that there is no comparison of new versus old equipment and there are a couple of areas where the UI could be improved- but there’s nothing that’s an unfixable deal-breaker, and nothing that ultimately sullies an otherwise terrific game.