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Frank Streva

Warmachine: Tactics First Impressions

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It has been almost a year since WhiteMoon Dreams took to Kickstarter with their pitch for Warmachine: Tactics, the first PC game set in the steampunk Iron Kingdoms setting popularized by the Warmachine and Hordes miniature games by Privateer Press. The crowd funding campaign soared past the initial goal of $550,000, during a time when many were prophesying the collapse of big video game Kickstarters. The early beta build has been in the hands of backers for about a week, and as I write this article the game is now open to anyone willing to drop the rather cringe-inducing $65 price tag on Steam Early Access.

 

To the uninitiated, Warmachine is set in a post-industrial revolution fantasy world, where gunpowder and large steam-powered robots called Warjacks are just as common as more standard fantasy trappings like swords, sorcery, and mythical beasts. As with the miniature game that it is based on, the center of your army in the turn-based battles of Warmachine: Tactics is your Warcaster (a sort of mage-commander in steam-powered armor) and the Warjacks under their command. Each Warcaster has a pool of Focus points that they replenish at the start of your turn. Occupying a role somewhere between mana and action points in other fantasy games, Warcasters can use Focus to cast and upkeep spells, enhance the effectiveness of their attacks by spending a point to "boost," purchase additional attacks, distribute it to their Warjacks to enhance their standard attacks or perform special power attack moves, or keep it to themselves to increase their resilience. However, Warjacks can only be allocated Focus while in their Warcaster's Control Area, a sort of aura around them equal to double their Focus stat.

 

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Beyond that, gameplay is based around a two action system. Besides your Warcaster and Warjacks you'll usually have a small group of infantry that round out your force. Units can choose to move and attack, or forfeit their attack to run double their base movement. To put it in terms that PC gamers would be familiar with, think the Firaxis XCOM reboot and you have a good idea of what combat is like in Warmachine: Tactics. To my fellow Warmachine fans, I can tell you that Tactics is about 70% faithful to the tabletop game. You heard about the Focus mechanics, which work pretty much exactly as they do in the miniatures game. The biggest difference is that the tape measure-based distance and movement systems of the wargame have been replaced with a grid-based system. Warjacks also don't have any systems in Tactics, something that I really, really hope they add soon because currently you can reduce a Warjack to one health and it is still fully functional. Anyone interested in learning all the big differences between Tactics and the tabletop game can read this guide.

 

While a decent amount of the core mechanics from the tabletop game are here and functional, Tactics is still incredibly barebones. It feels like more of a proof of concept than an actual game at the moment. The UI and menus are very clunky and full of placeholders, only a single map with a tiny selection of units are available for multiplayer alongside a highly unfinished single player scenario, many units are missing abilities, and many animations and sound effects aren't implemented or don't work quite right. The game is also highly unstable. Getting into a multiplayer match can be hit or miss, the game will often crash or freeze, and the framerate is extremely poor even on pretty high-end systems.

 

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I'll just say it as it is: Warmachine: Tactics is in very early beta and it shows. Unless you are a really hardcore Warmachine fan who missed the Kickstarter (which, by the way, is the reason for the game's abnormally high price) or are really passionate about playtesting then you shouldn't get the game yet. I definitely see the foundation of a solid adaptation of Warmachine here, but it is nowhere near finished and I have serious doubts about it hitting the projected August release date. As much as I just hammered on the game, I want to stress again: I'm not saying that Warmachine: Tactics is bad and you should totally avoid it. Rather, you should keep an eye on the game and wait until it is done. I do like the basics I've played so far, it just isn't anywhere near finished or worth the $65 price tag.

 

Once the game is finished you can expect four playable factions in both multiplayer and skirmish, a 21 mission campaign, and a steady stream of updates and new content post-release in the form of new units and factions. Back when I did my interview with Lyle Lowery during the Kickstarter campaign, WhiteMoon Dreams was shooting for a late August 2014 release with a $20-$25 price tag. I look forward to revisiting Warmachine: Tactics once it is finished and will write a full review then.

 

Frank Streva is an aspiring game designer that currently just rambles about indie games.

 

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