Warmachine Tactics Preview – MOUSE n JOYPAD

Warmachine Tactics Preview



Warmachine Tactics is Privateer Press’s foray into electronic gaming. They have taken one of Privateer Press’s most popular tabletop games, and translated the core gameplay on to PC with a fair amount of success. By translating core gameplay I don’t mean bringing the tabletop game in its exact form onto a virtual board. There are simply a different set of dynamics at play when you sit down at your computer to play a video game vs. sitting around a table with friends.

This is something Full Control Studios admittedly did not manage with their take on Space Hulk in 2013. That team is now working on a new version of Space Hulk to appeal more to the video gamers among us, than to tabletop gamers with PC’s and iPads. I know it’s not easy to please both sides. I wish Full Control Studios the best of luck, and I’m thankful Privateer Press Interactive has managed to avoid some of the same pitfalls even at this early stage in development.

The basic layout of Warmachine Tactics should be familiar to anyone who has played X-Com Enemy Unknown or Final Fantasy Tactics. Players take turns placing their units on a square grid, using each unit’s abilities and there are a lot of conditional abilities, more than in most PC strategy games. The game slows down as a result. It’s deep, but especially in the beginning of a “Skirmish Mode” turns last a long time. I’m somewhat used to the pace of tabletop games, but I can see this bothering some players who are entirely new to the franchise.

For the uninitiated, Warmachine differs from other unit based games in some key ways. Each army requires a Warcaster, a hardy hero unit. Once your Warcaster dies, you lose. You might think that would make keeping your Warcaster in the back a good idea, but it really isn’t. Warcasters can cast powerful spells and instil a resource called focus onto lumbering steampunk mecha called Warjacks. Focus allows units to make additional attacks, boost the likelihood of a hit and boost the damage of a successful attack. It’s a clever dynamic that keeps battles from stagnating.

Players have access to a variety of melee, ranged, and spell focused units that vary based on the faction, there are five to choose from. Given the amount of options available, making an army can be a fun experience in and of itself. After completing the available single player mission, I jumped into Skirmish and Multiplayer modes. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but the single player missions had taught me enough that I could start experimenting.

There is a narrative in Warmachine Tactics, but it’s drowned in poorly introduced lore. Characters aren’t well introduced, and the dynamics between the most prominent characters feel clique at times and creepy at others. Jakes, the Warcaster you will be taking the role of in the single player component of the game, is a naive young woman. She and her commander have a father / daughter dynamic that comes across as a little creepy in this early draft. Their language is simplistic, and it often feels like these characters aren’t having the exact same conversation.

Warmachine Tactics is a sharp looking game. Units and environments are very detailed, HDR and bloom effects rarely get in the way, and when animations are working they look good. The frame rate can drop significantly for unknown reasons, animations do break at times, the camera can get caught behind buildings, and usually you have to give regular units special commands twice before they take. The whole package feels un-optimized and unfinished, but not unpleasant or unplayable. This is the good kind of Early Access game. Yeah it isn’t done, but the core gameplay is enjoyable and none of these issues mar the experience.

The interface itself is click based, with very few hotkeys to speak of. With so many abilities and units at my disposal it seems like a missed opportunity. Warmachine Tactics’ interface actually feels like it was designed for touch devices or consoles. Controls are simple, buttons are large and players have free control over the camera at all times. If Privateer Press has other target platforms in mind, that’s not a bad thing, I would love to play this game on my iPad or on my TV, but I would like to see more intuitive PC controls in the game’s final version. Games can take a little while, and the interface can feel sluggish at times.

The music leaves a lot to be desired. Warmachine’s score is so blaringly triumphant it all just melts together. Turn based strategy games aren’t particularly known for their music, but I found the offerings here less enjoyable than X-Com’s mellow but tense score or Warhammer 40k’s triumphant but changing fair. It’s all heroic all the time on Warmachine’s battlefield, and battles do go on for some time. By the end of my time with Warmachine I had turned my volume down and settled on playing music from my own collection. However I haven’t heard the full soundtrack, and I’m hopeful more variety will keep me engaged in the final release.

Right now it’s difficult to recommend Warmachine Tactics due to its price of $35 US, which is a lot to ask for this somewhat limited gaming experience. If you are interested, and you are willing to help Privateer Press Interactive by providing suggestions on how the game could be improved it can be a lot of fun, especially if they implement any of your suggestions. With Early Access you are buying the opportunity to participate in development more than you are buying a product. These games won’t be as fun as it will be when they are finished, but active members of the Warmachine community will probably get akick out of seeing their game realized as a videogame.