Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is the latest release of tactical titles licensed by Games Workshop and focuses on the grimdark fantasy setting, Age of Sigmar and is a step away from the more common 40k universe. With three separate campaigns where you lead the Stormcast Eternals, the Nighthaunt, and the Maggotkin, Storm Ground offers 25 to 30 hours of grind through small battlemaps with outrageously over-the-top voice acting, poor optimization, and a boring slog at times. Though interesting on paper, in practice it’s clear that Storm Ground needed more time for Gasket Games to work on pacing and balance and bug-squashing. Though an interesting setting and graphically attractive, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground isn’t without its share of problems, many of which completely overshadow some of its more interesting mechanics. As of the time of this article’s writing, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
It is no secret that I am quite critical of the Warhammer franchise- for a setting that is so rich with lore, full of mechanics that would fit so well within the video game universe, the titles released in the last 30 years have almost unilaterally been sub-par at best, with only a few standout titles. Storm Ground joins that massive pantheon within the franchise’s video game offerings and true to form, is a bland and uninspired turn-based tactical roguelite that becomes more and more frustrating as you run into repetitive, simple environments, a horrific grind-wall, and an unabalanced AI. Where there could have been great potential as a multi-dimensional chess game, instead we’re served with a method of gameplay that feels more like Gasket Games was simply adding obstacles for the sake of obstacles rather than for any real gameplay or narrative purposes.
The first few hours of each individual campaign feel truly unique between each faction, but as each campaign wears on, nearly every aspect of its tactical gameplay begins to feel reused and uninspired, and if you couple that with bugs that would ultimately see the PlayStation 4 crashing to desktop, AI simply stuck during their turns (where on their turn they simply refuse to move or take an action, resulting in having to close the game then reopen and replay the level), or it’s poor performance on last gen’s hardware. On my PlayStation 4 Pro, which is connected to a 4k television, I found that panning the camera, most of the attack animations in both the Stormcast Eternals and Maggotkin races, and the death animations caused regular frame drops (with panning being closer to 20 FPS, so movement was choppy and unpleasant), odd sound bugs, and the occasional lock-up. However, if you’re one of the lucky few that managed to snag themselves a PlayStation 5, you will see smoother performance throughout. (Editor’s Note: Can confirm)
Beyond the poor optimization and plethora of bugs, Storm Ground’s biggest failings fall in line with the absolutely ridiculous voice acting, shallow story, and lack of respect for player time and strategy. Once you’re about three or four missions in, the voice acting begins to feel like one of those over-the-top children’s shows that were churned out in the late 90s, early 00s by the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon- some players may enjoy it, but for me it wrenched me out of the grimdark atmosphere that is lazily created with small, uninspired battlemaps, and had me thinking to myself, “Is this parody?” However, if you’re viewing the various Lore Cards, the narration is extremely well done- the hokiest voice acting was almost unilaterally found in the small tidbits of conversation made by characters while on a mission. I was quite impressed with the narration made between missions on these lore cards (which will expand on the universe and in-game plot points) were some of the best I’ve experienced since the original Mass Effect’s narration of the Codex and is very well done. Add to it the sweeping scores in the soundtrack that all have this dark yet fantastical appeal, and there are some real memorable elements throughout the campaign- I for one would like to see a soundtrack released (possibly even on vinyl!), as I can see myself painting untold amounts of Warhammer minis to the rich music found in Storm Ground.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground isn’t all bad, though- far from it if viewed from the right frame of mind. While it may be a shallow slog of an experience, Storm Ground has plenty here that lay the foundation and framework for a potentially great game. Each faction feels uniquely different, from the hard-hitting Stormcast Eternals to the speedy swarms of the Nighthaunt to the corrupting presence of the Maggotkin, each offered their own unique feeling to the game. If Gasket Games spends the next few months improving on Storm Grounds’ AI, balancing out each of the factions’ unique traits, and offering more variety in battlemaps, the Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground could be an excellent title- as it stands, it’s one that simply exists; not inherently bad, nor overwhelmingly good- if anything, the verdict would stand closer to “a title with great potential that trips over itself throughout.”
While I am not much one for roguelike/roguelite titles, there is just enough character to the way Gasket Games melded the turn-based tactical gameplay with roguelite elements that it sits squarely in between titles like X-Com and Hades and if you think about it, is a style of gameplay that could work out incredibly well, especially with factions as unique as those found in Storm Ground, and the exceptionally lore-rich universe of Age of Sigmar- it’s just a shame that many missions simply feel repetitive and that they are brutally difficult (or annoying) just for the sake of killing the player with no real benefit. Character progression and squad makeup are important, but to gain access to skills, new units, and equipment to help buff your team or debuff the enemy, you will spend hours playing the same missions over and over again in the hopes that you can land some decent loot; unfortunately that’s not always the case. With Storm Ground it feels like the grind is there simply to elongate a player’s time in game without any true benefit to the overall experience; sure, the purpose of the grind is to get better loot, but decent drops feel too far in between, and that it’s simply there to punish the player.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is another Warhammer title that sits firmly in the “almost there, but not quite” camp that many recent Warhammer titles fall into- so much wasted potential and after another year or two, assuming the developers continue to support the game, and we may see Storm Ground as one of the better tactical experiences in the Warhammer pantheon. As it stands, the best way to explain it is, “it just exists.” It isn’t inherently bad like some previous Warhammer titles, but nor is it as rich and in-depth as some of the better games in the Games Workshop umbrella.