Oftentimes, when we look at a game, we focus on its mechanics and how it fits within the parameters of its genre. Has this first-person shooter managed to get the controls right, is this platformer too bouncy, or is this endless runner just too twitchy? Yet, sometimes what makes a game stand out is not so much its mechanics but, rather, its theme, and Slitherine’s Warhammer 40K: Armageddon‘s ($19.99) theme raises what would otherwise be a relatively-traditional Panzer Corps re-skin into a pretty good strategy game in its own right. Slitherine uses its strategy gaming expertise along with the fantastic Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K universe to create a game that’s so much more fun to play than any WWII game – and this comes from someone who loves WWII and Vietnam strategy games. In Warhammer 40K: Armageddon, Slitherine delivers a strong wargame that acts as a great introduction to the universe for the uninitiated while also being a treat for the Warhammer 40K faithful. However, as I’ve mentioned in my review of another Slitherine game, Space Program Manager, while the Play by Email (PBEM) probably works well for multiplayer games on the PC, it doesn’t take advantage of what the mobile platform has to offer and even hampers the multiplayer side of the game, which should actually be Warhammer 40K: Armageddon‘s highlight.
Warhammer 40K: Armageddon‘s gameplay roots reach all the way back to Panzer General in the 1990s and to its successor, Panzer Corps. Just like its predecessors, Warhammer 40K: Armageddon is a hex-based, turn-based strategy game, but this game offers a long campaign where no Nazi can be seen anywhere: instead, you control the Imperial forces of the Armageddon Steel Legion and various Chapters of Space Marines in their fight against the Ork invasion. The game delivers its narrative in great-quality voice-overs that help to some degree create a sense that you are guiding people to war rather than just a collection of zeros and ones. Most wargames provide a pre-battle briefing that includes a map and the objectives, which removes the human element from the upcoming battle. Warhammer 40K: Armageddon coats this otherwise dry information in the Warhammer lore and the interesting – if predictable – characters, which bestows to what would otherwise be a dry wargame a sense of personality that makes the game much more interesting to play. It’s a shame, then, that such a great lore is distilled into very predictable mission objectives that are mostly either capture or hold X number of Victory Hexes. Some of the DLCs have more interesting mission objectives, but I wish those were also in the base game. What I did enjoy, though, was the way many scenarios will often change mid-way with new objectives coming in that force you to quickly relocate units and adjust your strategy, which can offer some moments of real strategic tension.
When you are ready to go to war, you’ll have to pick which units to deploy from a large selection that can make for a variety of strategies and also really change each battle’s flavor. The game offers a variety of unit types such as infantry, walkers, light vehicles, tanks, artillery, aircrafts, and even the humongous Titans, and most units can be equipped with different weapons that can be more effective against armor or infantry. Going with armored units and huge artillery makes for a very different battle than going with numerous agile light vehicles. I was glad that the game offers a comparison system that clearly displays the benefits of one unit over the other because otherwise I would have been totally lost. The units are also drawn very well, which helps the Warhammer flavor of the game even more.
I did have an issue with the unit information, though, as the game’s tooltips fail to work most of the times. Since the game’s manual includes very little information about all these icons, the tooltips were essential, but, unfortunately, they don’t work as they should. Speaking of manuals, as a gamer who loves a good, hefty manual (stems from my days of buying boxed games I suppose), I was disappointed by the game’s manual as it feels hastily put together and doesn’t provide all the necessary information about the game’s UI, which will definitely make this game less accessible to those not willing to spend the time uncovering the game’s secrets. Also, the indicator of whether a unit has moved or attacked in a turn are very small and quite hard to see without zooming. The good news, though, is that the in-battle sprites are very detailed and colorful, and even though they aren’t animated, all their firing actions are, including flying missiles and tiny mushroom clouds. The UI sideboard provides all the necessary information about the battlefield, and with the game’s maps being very well-drawn, the whole battle comes to life nicely. Yes, some in the forums will and do complain about the lack of unit animation, but, personally, I’m used to my strategy games being on the inanimate side, so I didn’t have an issue with that at all.
Once you enter a battle, you make your strategic decisions primarily based on unit capabilities and terrain cover. The game includes numerous terrain types that offer varying degrees of cover and line of sight, which in turn dictate your units’ strategic positioning. The battles can get quite strategic, and I enjoyed that in most clashes my units didn’t have to act as battering rams, simply smashing into an enemy unit until it perished. Instead, I would carefully situate my artillery so as to use the terrain to protect it, then move my aircraft just close to enough to fire without being fired upon while using my tanks to force my way through the enemy’s defenses. As the game has a carry-over system, which allows a core group of units to gain experience, upgrade, and stick by your side throughout the campaign, you have to make tough decisions regarding when to risk an experienced unit or when to save it for a future battle if it has taken a battering. The relatively-limited movement range of most units doesn’t allow for grand sweeping maneuvers, and there’s no bonus for flank or rear attack, so your strategic options are somewhat limited. Overall, the battle mechanics aren’t the most complicated, but that is fine because not all games need to be accessible only by the very few supremely-motivated players. That said, even though it’s not part of the traditional Panzer Corps mechanics, I would have liked unit facing to be a factor in the battles.
What I do wish was different, and this is the core issue that many wargamers have with the Panzer Corps game and its likes, is how the game often feels like a puzzle. Often, especially in the higher difficulties, the first couple of times you play a scenario become scouting missions in order to get a sense of where all the units are because the game can get so difficult that you have no chance of winning if you don’t know where some units are situated. As the enemy’s units always start at the same location and since this is a hex-based game with units that have relatively short movement ranges, the scenarios often feel a bit too similar in each replay. A randomized unit placement (always within specific parameters, of course), would have done wonders in terms of replayability. However, as this game is quite huge with a branching campaign (you can choose which battles to fight at certain points in the story), five difficulty settings, and, of course, a multiplayer mode, Warhammer 40K: Armageddon offers many hours of gameplay that somewhat remedy the unit positioning issue. The game has a huge amount of content even without the three DLC campaigns that offer a total of thirty extra missions and some new, fascinating mechanics, like the way eliminating certain units in a battle can change the flow of subsequent encounters.
Speaking of the multiplayer mode, I consider it the most entertaining part of wargames like Warhammer 40K: Armaggedon because no AI opponent can come close to how a human opponent plays. Slitherine’s game lets you construct a challenge map and play either as the Orks or the Imperial troops. However, the game, again, lacks a bit of flexibility in the multiplayer side of things as it doesn’t allow you to set specific mission goals. Even without that flexibility, the multiplayer mode is very entertaining and will offer many hours of entertainment. Yet, I increasingly get the feeling that Slitherine needs to take advantage of what the iOS platform has to offer because as it stands now, Slitherine’s ports have much less to offer in terms of a mutiplayer experience when compared to other iOS games. For instance, Slitherine uses its Play By Email mode where the game emails you when it’s your turn to play. However, in most of my multiplayer games I wouldn’t receive any email announcing my turn (which has happened to me in other Slitherine games too). When iOS offers a built-in notification system, developers should take advantage of it because getting notified the moment your turn is up can make the difference between a multiplayer game taking a day or half a week. Also, the multiplayer mode currently doesn’t offer a way to add friends, which is a pity.
Despite the multiplayer mode feeling slightly obsolete in the age of iOS 8 (and almost iOS 9), some UI issues and the relatively-simple battle mechanics, Warhammer 40K: Armageddon is a lot of fun to play primarily because of its fun story, great units, and the fascinating lore that makes playing Warhammer 40K: Armageddon more fun that it probably should have been. This has been the most enjoyable turn-based strategy game I’ve played in quite a while and that comes down mostly to the incredibly fun theme. In a sea of stale WWII (or, in the odd occasion, WWI) strategy games on PC and iOS, Warhammer 40K: Armageddon is a breath of fresh air that will definitely keep you killing Orks or Imperial Troops for many, many hours. The game, though, does suffer a bit in its iOS translation. I hope with Slitherine’s acquisition of Shenahdoah Studio, the multiplayer features of its future wargames will improve. If Slitherine improves its multiplayer modes, it will really help raise its already good iOS ports to a whole different level. The base game (with the free Untold Battles DLC) is $19.99 and each of the three DLC costs $4.99 (with a Triple Pack saving you $4.99), so with thirty dollars you can get an ungodly amount of content on your iPad. And no, the game isn’t expensive at this price because it’s cheaper than the PC game and offers many hours of entertainment and a quality package. If you like your Warhammer, then, or you’re just itching for a good turn-based strategy game on your iPad, give Warhammer 40K: Armaggedon a try.