Games Workshop’s Warhammer Age of Sigmar is a complex beast. There’s the full-fat tabletop experience, with dozens of intricate miniatures making war on massive tabletops. There’s also two smaller format experiences, including Warcry’s skirmish combat and Underworlds’ more formalized competitive framework. Now a new PC and console video game is on the way: Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One on May 27.
Polygon had a chance to go hands-on with an early version of the game’s Stormcast Eternal campaign in April. The final game will include three factions — the Stormcast Eternals, Nighthaunt, and Maggotkin — as well as a competitive online multiplayer mode. But the base game is more of a narrative campaign, with abstract turn-based action and a roguelike format. Players progress across a hex-based map, making ranged and melee attacks and casting spells.
The experience feels a bit like a blend of all three existing tabletop games. There’s the rich body of lore being drawn from the base tabletop game; the adaptive, evolving style of narrative play from Warcry; and the taught, almost Chess-like competitive feel of Underworlds. Gasket Games CEO Jeff Lydell said the goal all along was to use the many aspects of the Age of Sigmar to make something entirely new.
The objective, Lydell said, is to draw players into Games Workshop’s universe and set them to task unlocking new and exciting characters inside their game.
“We chew through the scenery,” Lydell said. “We take you through multiple different realms from the Age of Sigmar and introduce you to different characters that we’ve set in that, and introduce you to different characters that we’ve set in that as well as different aspects of the lore that you can explore.”
Each of the game’s units and hero characters is upgradeable, with options for alternate weapons, armor, and spells. Lydell said that his team has created more than 500 different unlocks for the game. In the single-player campaign that we played, unlocks carried over from game to game, lending the experience a kind of Rogue Legacy-style progression. Each time I came back to play another round, I had more and different options to choose from for outfitting my forces.
“Your hero is the anchor hero that continues to progress,” said Ian Christy, design director at Gasket Games. “It takes a long time to unlock all the [upgrade] slots on the hero, but holy moly, are they tough once they’ve got all those slots unlocked.”
Each time I played through the Storm Cast campaign, unlocks (in the form of in-game cards) appeared as loot in a certain hex on the map. Much as in Firaxis’ reinvention of the XCOM franchise, especially XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, those loot containers became an optional objective. The risk was damaging or even killing off a minor unit, but the reward was discovering a powerful piece of random gear or, sometimes, another unit entirely.
Another treat for fans of the Age of Sigmar is that Gasket Games isn’t drawing on any existing parts of the canon from the Black Library. The developer has been given the purview to explore a new part of the universe, and expand the storyline of the franchise on its own.
“Obviously Games Workshop has the last say,” said Christy. “We’ve worked closely [with them] and added to the Black Library. So, rather than deriving from the existing [lore], we’ve tried to build it out. The beautiful thing with the Age of Sigmar […] is that there’s a lot of open territory to explore.”
When the game launches later this month, players will be able to tackle the single-player experience at their own pace or jump right into the multiplayer game and create their own warbands from scratch. Lydell was quick to note that there are no microtransactions built in “at the moment,” but the team is still exploring ways to add content to the $39.99 game for dedicated fans.
“There’s something like 26 factions in [the full-fledged tabletop wargame],” Lydell said. “Ultimately, our goal with this was [to] make a really good Age of Sigmar game, and our long term goals are [to] make as much of it as we can.”