It seems like Warhammer is everywhere. 40K or otherwise, the franchise has seen its share of movies, shows, real time strategy, turn based strategy, shooters, ARPGs, and everything in between. Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister, Warhammer Vermintide VR, and The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth brought us into the world of Warhammer in VR, and once again it’s time to don our headset and battle the Chaos Gods. The Stormcast Eternals posted in Dreadheim have died, and yet their souls are not returned to Azyr. You are charged by the Celestant Prime to investigate a monstrous Necroquake that has unleashed the Nighthaunt on the world. As leader of the Stormcast Eternals, you are charged with driving them back to whence they came, restoring the order to the Mortal Realm. While the enemies of the Emperor still draw breath, there can be no peace, so let’s stomp some virtual skulls.
Developer Carbon Studios wanted to capture what it’s like to be Lord-Arcanum of the Stormcast Eternals, and that means making the player the most dangerous thing on the field. Clad in Sigmarite Aegis armor, you’ll stomp forward to crush every creature in front of you, dispatching them with brutal efficiency. Sound like every Warhammer power fantasy you’ve ever had? Read on.
Being Lord-Arcanum brings with it some privileges — namely three magical weapons that can unleash devastation on your foes. A sword (Tempest Blade), a short mace (Aetherstave), and a long staff (Stormstave) are your tools of purification, with each being able to be dual-wielded to slay your foes. Each has three castable spells performed with simple gestures. For example, lifting your sword in the air causes a blistering bolt of lightning to cascade down from the skies, electrifying your enemies. Thrusting it forward rushes you forward to engage at point blank range where you can do extensive damage. Holding your mace aloft brings a swirl of wind that stuns your foes, leaving them open to attack. You’ll be able to upgrade these powers, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The hallmark of any good melee combat-focused VR game is an emphasis on reactive swordplay. The ebb and flow of back and forth where you feel pressed, and then you can counter and react, pressing your advantage. Games like Until You Fall have absolutely mastered this, making a compelling gameplay experience. Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall aims for the same target, but comes up just short. The long staff is great for sweeping foes at a distance, the sword can parry and counter, and the mace is good at midrange, but the fighting never feels dangerous. Foes run towards you mindlessly, which I’d expect out of the Deathrattle Skeletons, but seeing Nighthaunt or more dangerous foes adhere to the same doctrine is disappointing. Still, that’s not the big gaping hole here.
I mentioned that each of your weapons can be upgraded. Once you reach a specific point in the story you’ll meet up with the other Stormcast Eternals (clad in their own Sigmarite Aegis armor, complete with Mask Impassive) where you’ll gain access to what I can only assume is one of the Forge of the Six Smiths. Here you can transform your weapons via collected chunks of Sigmarite and Storm Scrolls (which you often pull out of the sarcophagi of fallen heroes — rude!) and Celestium for the later upgrades. Placing them on the anvil, you’ll hammer them in specific places, committing your resources to your upgrades. It’s a tactile experience, but I quickly discovered that once you upgrade the Aetherstave, the game is essentially in easy mode. Thrusting it forward causes damage to every enemy in front of you, stunning them in the process. Sure, it requires time to charge up, but you can easily do that in the time enemies are standing there defenseless. It means you’ll never really feel threatened as you can resort to this cheesy attack, or the charged Aetherstaff attack that whips tornadoes at your foes. Either one will stop them dead in their tracks, if not kill them outright. It’s a gap, but not a fatal one as you can still get overwhelmed with sheer numbers, and it’s still fun being a hulking magic-slinging murder machine.
Once you bang out your upgrades, the game will start sending you into the various haunts of the city to explore. These are still linear, but can offer up shortcuts for when you might want to go back and explore for more Sigmarite or Storm Scrolls. In terms of level design, Tempestfall is a bit on the nose. There’s little in the way of surprises once you see the pattern. Wide open spaces means you’ll be facing another wave of enemies, so you are never really caught unprepared. That said, there are a ton of little spaces to explore throughout the levels. Sometimes you’ll be rewarded with some additional loot, and sometimes you’ll be rewarded with a smack to the face by another battalion of angry skeletons. Heading back to the anvil can be a bit of a hassle, but that’s what shortcuts are for, right?
I do want to say that Tempestfall is a real looker. Games that can be run standalone on the Oculus aren’t usually all that detailed, but as more developers get the hang of that platform, that’s starting to change. The enemies are detailed, as is the world. Weapons and armor looks like burnished steel with a coppery patina, and weapons look careworn and dangerous. The city itself has scale that videos just can’t convey, and despite the mindless AI it feels lived in.
If I had one complaint that made me growl more than a little bit, it’s the weapon selection. It feels simultaneously too responsive and not responsive enough. I’d select the Aetherstave only to end up with the Stormstave in hand. I’d try to reach for the Tempest Blade and end up with the Aetherstave again. These moments are fine outside of combat, but it’s fully busted when it happens in a fight. It causes you to resort to the cheesy tactics mentioned above just to keep your head attached to your shoulders.
All in all, the game takes about 8 hours to complete, and it’s enjoyable enough. It may not be the power fantasy it could be with a little more polish, but it’s another solid entry in the virtual reality world of Warhammer.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall VR
While the combat may have some holes in it, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall gives us a taste of the battle against the Nighthaunt. It could use a little more polish, but it should scratch the power fantasy itch. Sigmar preserves those who fight, and now you can jump directly into the battle.