Warmachine is one of the tabletop games I played before I finally kicked the habit for good. Warhammer, Warmachine, Malifaux, hell, I even collected LOTR models just to paint them. For me, tabletop gaming is worse than heroin. Drained my wallet, killed my social life, and left me rocking hurriedly back and forth beneath a table weeping into back issues of White Dwarf because my girlfriend had changed the locks and wouldn’t return any of my calls.
That’s why I’ve always liked seeing tabletop games make a transition to PC gaming. It allows me to play in the colourful, expansive universes that usually accompany them for a humble one-off fee as opposed to years of ongoing financial assault. Warmachine is an excellent franchise. It’s easy to get into, Privateer Press’ headquarters isn’t based in the depths of hell, the models are fantastic and best of all, they don’t put a huge drain on your wallet. Even so – the smell of plastic glue and tiny pots of paints are something of a gateway drug for me, and when I saw Warmachine: Tactics on the horizon, I knew I was going to be able to stave off the lure of tiny paintbrushes for just a little while longer.
The source material WhiteMoon Dreams have to draw upon is vast and varied. There are four factions to choose between, and they’re all both visually and statistically different. Khador – imagine steampunk Imperialist Russia – the fanatical Protectorate of Menoth, lavished in white and gold religious imagery that sort of evokes the idea of a Pope gone to war. The lightning-wielding Cygnar bring the thunder with cutting-edge technology and the undead Cryx empire add a gloomy, gothic element that still pulses with ominous, sickly green light.
This is no Dawn of War. You won’t be commanding masses of uniform marines and winning with grace by simply having more guns. It’s an intricate, turn based strategy game that demands you make decisions on the fly – one you can configure to your exact playstyle. It’d be long-winded to sit here and explain the rules of Warmachine to you, but it has an excellent, energetic flow to it that Tactics replicates excellently. Characters have a certain amount of actions per turn. They can move within a zone or sacrifice their entire turn to run further. Warcasters get an amount of Focus to spend each turn which they can attribute to Warjacks, and it comes down to allowing you to move further, cast spells, buy extra attacks and deal extra damage. There’s no tip-toeing around having to plan moves hours in advance. Everything moves along at a solid pace but strategy is just as prevalent.
Tactics allow you to build your own squad from a selection of options. It’s important to get this bit right because your squad is a synergetic team that works best in combination. Warcasters have a mental link with their Warjacks who they can augment and support with spells. It’s a great game system and the level of customisation involved, just ramps up the fun. The multiplayer component is arguably where the most joy will be found – comprehensive, detailed, and well made. The obvious bonus is not having to spend hours painting and setting up models, too. It’s a great way to experiment with different model configurations and the factions in their entirety.
Your squad is comprised of three components – the hulking Warjacks, walking tanks packing slam attacks and mass amounts of firepower, sorcerous Warcasters and Warriors who are going to make up the majority of your cannon fodder. Warmachine’s models – especially the Warjacks, which are nothing short of incredible – are what initially compelled me to pick it up, and it’s good to see that they’ve been rendered faithfully in Tactics. It completely blew me away the first time I loaded up the single player campaign. It’s gorgeous. Characters are intensely detailed and environments, lush and bursting with colour. The voice acting is the only thing that occasionally jars – but who cares? Everything else is so top notch, even in early access that it just seems like nitpicking to moan about a few minor details.
The game is still in heavy development so there’s no dedicated tutorial just yet – instead, you’re met with an option in the main menu which takes you out to YouTube to watch a series of updated video tutorials. In the single player campaign you’re offered the option to play through a guided tutorial which does an excellent job of giving you the basic knowledge you need to control your battlegroup. It’s just the right amount of hand-holding.
Should you get into Tactics? Hell yes. It’s a faithful translation of the tabletop game and WhiteMoon Dream are delivering a game more than good enough to stand on its own two feet. Down to the tiny details, and packs gorgeous visuals and extremely promising multiplayer into a game that will undoubtedly be a definitive Warmachine experience. I don’t usually play games in early access consistently, especially not during such an intense release season, but I’m going to be playing Tactics to release and beyond. You can expect regular updates on this preview as the game progresses.
Now I have to go sit on the Privateer Press website and teeter on the edge of relapse for a few days.