In the world of Warhammer video games, the lion's share occupy either the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy or the grim-darkness of 40k. With Warhammer: Realms of Ruin, however, Frontier Developments is aiming to tip the balance towards the Age of Sigmar. This newly announced real-time strategy game is headed "soon" to not just PC (via Steam and the Epic Games Store), but also PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, with two open multiplayer betas planned.
As GameSpot's resident Warhammer nerd, I got a brief taste of what Frontier described as a "modern take" on the real-time strategy genre in a hands-off preview. And at the risk of putting both my strategy gaming and Warhammer fanatic reputations on the line, I left that preview feeling rather optimistic.
This isn't the place for lengthy Warhammer lore, and there are already folks who have done it more justice than I could, but for anyone unfamiliar--or for those who mostly consume Warhammer via the games--the Age of Sigmar (AoS) setting was laid out by Games Workshop before it threw a twin-tailed apocalypse at The Old World (Total War: Warhammer's setting) in order to create a new, more mystical story to layer on top of the Warhammer Fantasy material that came before.
Thankfully, there will be a single-player campaign in Warhammer: Realms of Ruin, which may give players a story primer to ease them into AoS. The story--co-written by Gav Thorpe, a top-tier Black Library author--follows a group of Stormcast Eternals. These superhuman, gold-clad warriors are forged from worthy mortal souls and celestial energies, and they are the poster faction for AoS. In Realms of Ruin, the Stormcast Eternals embark on a "Dawnbringer Crusade," which takes them into the beastly realm of Ghur to face the forces of the Orruk Kruleboyz, a kunnin' but brutal, swamp-dwelling Ork-like faction.
Realms of Ruin will feature four factions at release, and while only two have been revealed, we can make a pretty sensible guess as to who the others could be. Age of Sigmar forces are split into one of four Grand Alliances: Order, Destruction, Chaos, and Death. The Stormcast and Kruleboyz are already present and representing Order and Destruction, so I'd be willing to bet a set of paints that the remaining as-yet-unannounced factions will feature a force of Chaos troops and daemons, as well as either a bone-rattlin' or ghostly army of the undead.
The bulk of the gameplay shown was from a 1v1 multiplayer skirmish, where we were able to get a sense of how the RTS will play, as well as how Frontier is building it with both PC and console players in mind.
Both the units and environments struck me as visually impressive from a purely graphical standpoint, but also in how much of the detail of the miniatures and world has been faithfully recreated in the units of the game. These units fall into one of three archetypes that act as a representation of their broad strengths and weaknesses and denote their standing within Realms of Ruin's rock-paper-scissors flavor of combat.
Damage-focused melee units (identified by a sword symbol) will be taken out by ranged units (bow and arrow symbol), while ranged units will struggle against tankier units (shield icon). The shielded units will in turn struggle against the punishment of the sword units--and so the combat triangle goes.
Each faction will feature equivalent units to each other but with the aim to still showcase the individual flair and flavor of the factions, which could create the opportunity for unique playstyles. Where I'm most excited to see how gameplay changes, though, is with the hero units. Considering how hero-centric the world of AoS is, these characters will no doubt have a meaningful impact on battles, employing their unique abilities to change the tides of battle.
Since units also each have their own set of active abilities such as barrages of arrows, and others enter the battlefield on flying mounts or appear as monstrous beasts, I am sure the combat and strategy will be a little more nuanced than rock beating scissors. This does, however, create the potential of a "low floor, high ceiling" difficulty spectrum, which is something that I think will be important when it comes to attracting new fans or giving console players a fighting chance against those on keyboard and mouse.
As Realms of Ruin has been developed for PC and console simultaneously, we got to see what other steps Frontier is taking to try to level the playing field between systems, most notably how an RTS controls on console. DirectStep is a new control scheme that Frontier says will create more flexibility and responsiveness when using a controller. Orders can be strung together by using the analog sticks to draw waypoints, and applying passive attack or hold-and-defend commands to those movements will ensure your troops stick to their path, defend their positions, or crush anything standing in their way.
Viewing the battlefield and swapping between units has also been made easier, as with the flick of a stick, console commanders can jump to whichever unit or group they need, rather than having the frustrating tedium of cycling through troops one by one like many other console RTS games often force players to do.
Everything I've talked about so far is where I think the "modern take on RTS" line that Frontier Developments emphasized comes from. Even though these are very early impressions, and I remain impressed by a lot of what it's doing within the world and genre, there were still plenty of elements that were recognizable from older RTS titles--for better or worse.
Realm of Ruin is another RTS that seemingly pulls the focus away from base-building (at least, there wasn't any on display from the preview I saw), with more emphasis being put on the units and the dynamics of the arenas. It is aiming to be a game about capturing points for an array of resources (Command and Realmstone), fortifying those points with bastions, summoning units from a single point (the Realmgate), bringing in impactful heroes to be the backbone of an army, and controlling the battlefield using units that have their own abilities.
As a result, I couldn't help but be reminded of Dawn of War 2's multiplayer. DoW 2 was my favorite of the series, and if Realm of Ruin is able to tap into some of that DNA while also working to expand upon what's familiar and building around recognizable elements in the genre and franchise, Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin becomes an exciting prospect for both RTS fans and Warhammer fanatics.
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