I admit, I have quite the little collection of painted miniatures in my closet. And while mine are mostly lizardmen from the Warhammer universe, I was no less excited to see another miniatures game make the leap into virtual reality. Though Privateer Press’ tabletop Warmachine game has no ties to GamesWorkshop’s efforts, unfortunately for all involved it seems as though the results will be the same: as avid as fans are, Warmachine: Tactics isn’t quite reaching the point of mass appeal.
With the beginning levels of the single player campaign now available on Early Access (complementing three multiplayer maps), there’s enough here to get the genuine sense that the Iron Kingdoms universe is one that I very much want to lose myself in. You can sense the rich history of the diverse factions and there’s enough distinction between each race’s units to cause players to favor one over another, if for nothing more than cosmetic reasons. But as a gaming experience, this turn based tactical fantasy RPG requires significant patience and understanding to overcome its flaws.
While the unit models are tried and true to the source material, the color schemes are just a little too vibrant, to the point where they are almost cartoon-like, belying the gritty steam-punk nature of the core game. You expect your giant mechanized units (called Warjacks) to be covered in dirt and grime, with fire and steam belching out the chimney stacks on their backs. But they’re bright blue, red, or green and unsullied not only by their nature but unphased by combat.
If these giant machines had more than personalities but fell apart, took damage or dents before your eyes, then even the uninitiated could become immersed in this world. And perhaps those dreams are something Privateer Press had envisioned when creating this game. But at the moment Warmachine lacks the technical expertise to overcome some of the most basic hiccups and hurdles that keep gamers from enjoying any game. The combat has some great ideas, but when you can’t end the turn of a unit and skip to the next one without pointlessly throwing smoke bombs, there’s a problem. Each unit has unique abilities and spells, but you can’t not use them. Literally.
The camera does a few funny things when moving over terrain of different heights, as do the units themselves, and even the fonts of the dialogue (delivered by characters with completely motionless faces) has quirks and strange marks that ought not to be in there. The game is clearly unpolished and I know, I know, I ought to expect that from an Early Access title. But the trouble is that the game is something I really want to love; I have Blood Bowl on both the PC and Xbox 360! I bought Battlemarch! I still have a copy of Shadow of the Horned Rat on PSX! And chances are I’m going to play through this miniatures-board-game-cum-videogame once the campaign is completely fleshed out, too. But unless you already love the source material, are aware of the game and even own a few miniatures yourself, I can’t honestly recommend that you buy-in at this point.
I wish I could make bigger the niche games like this belong to, to the point where these games I love become huge financial successes and one day I’m playing Gears of Warmachine 5. Realistically though, it’s going to take a lot more for that to happen than what Warmachine: Tactics thus far is showing me it can muster. I’m more than open to being proven wrong there (in fact I genuinely hope I will be), but when I look back on the storied history of games and see other stronger entries into the genre still having failed, it’s hard to have a positive outlook here.
I just can’t shake the thought that I’m seeing things through lenses colored rose by my own biases in favor of giant mechanized troops and tactical combat. Hopefully you see the world that way too, and you’ll buy this game and mutually share that fantasy with me. But failing that, hopefully the venture will be profitable enough and receive enough fan support that Privateer Press can continue making bigger and better games.
Warmachine: Tactics is in a stage of creation comparable to infancy, where perhaps one day the developers can take what they’ve learned here, build upon that and make something more broadly appealing. After all, I’m sure the first time Cliffy B doodled a chainsaw-gun all the other gradeschoolers laughed and pointed out its flaws too. And there is still time before final release where Warmachine: Tactics can correct its mistakes and become something remarkable. So until then I’ll keep my fingers crossed, right up until the last sentence of our final review.
A code for Warmachine: Tactics was provided to Pixel Related for preview.