Realms of Ruin is a Warhammer game for people who don't play Warhammer
I've always found Warhammer to be a bit of an enigma: it's absolutely everywhere, with new games and miniatures seemingly releasing all the time. Despite Warhammer stores, board game cafes that host games for it, and Warhammer World itself residing within my city, it's always felt like a difficult franchise to break into, regardless of which medium your interest lies within.
My own limited experience with Warhammer comes from family members who would paint models during my childhood or Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning - an MMO from the mid-noughties that lives incredibly fondly within my memory that I spent many an hour in exploring the world as a Blood Witch or Shadow Hunter.
So when I was invited to a press event at Warhammer World in Nottingham, where I was given a tour of the thousands of models on display and the intricately staged, mind-bending dioramas alongside a miniature painting class before getting the chance to talk about the upcoming Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin with Game Designer, Daniel Saunders, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
That being said, I came away with the impression that Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin may be a brilliant entry point for those unfamiliar with the expansive franchise.
A game for any crowd
In a room that was a hop, skip, and a jump away from the vast displays of Warhammer World, Daniel Saunders and I sat down and chatted about what gamers can expect to see in the upcoming Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin.
I've already posited that I think Warhammer can feel a little overwhelming to get into, but Saunders made it quite clear that Realms of Ruin will be great, regardless of how well you know the lore.
"It’s definitely something that’s trying to appeal to both crowds," he told me. "For fans of Age of Sigmar, they’ll be right at home - they see the things that they like, they get the miniatures that they love, they get to entwine themselves within the story.
"For players who are new to Warhammer and Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, the campaign will be a great introduction to the layout of the different forces of Age of Sigmar. It’s also a great introduction to how the different Realms work - in this case, we’ve got the Realm of Ghur, and we show to players how that works."
If you are considering using Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin as a way to dip your toes into the vastness of Warhammer, Saunders suggests diving into the campaign first as a way to get to grips with everything.
"Make sure that you’re getting into the tutorial, learning the ropes," he said. "That’s the perfect introduction for how the game works. It’s especially covered in the first two missions - we go through a lot of the details.
"On top of that, there are little niches that you can pick up as you’re playing, so things like making sure you’re using abilities is quite important, and something that might feel quite at home to those that play games in other genres as well.
"There’s also things like making sure you’re keeping on top of your unit structure. So if I’ve got units that are about to die, I’m making sure I'm retreating them, because at the end of the day, you’re taking control of an army, and your army is only as strong as your leadership, right? So you want to make sure that everyone’s healthy and safe - that’s the best way to look at it.
"[Players] can go in and refine their skills in the single-player modes, as well. So if they want to jump into an AI skirmish, they can pick the different difficulties - so they can be like, ‘ok, well I’m going to wean myself in’ and play an easy mode AI."
An easy-mode AI? Sign me up. The same can be said when it comes to the narrative setup, with Saunders making it clear that newbies can dive right in and learn about the lore as they play - taking off some of that pressure of being overwhelmed by what everything is.
"We give [players] the story, telling you about these different factions as we go along. You definitely get an introduction to each of them. There will be points in the game’s story where we go, ‘Okay, cool, tell us more about the Kruleboyz’ leadership’. ‘Alright, cool, we’re going into a bit of a Tzeentch-y time, we’re going to start learning about them a lot.’
"So these different beats as we’re playing through the story, players don’t need to know much, they can just jump right in and go ‘Okay, I understand these guys as the forces of order’. Shiny and gold? They look like the good guys, and it sort of moves up that chain."
In the game, there are four factions shipping with it at launch: The Stormcast Eternals, Disciples of Tzeentch, Nighthaunt, and the Orruk Kruleboyz - and each was chosen for a very specific reason: "What we wanted to create was a distinct roster that players can pick from where picking each of the factions would feel unique. The Stormcast, the Kruleboyz, the Nighthaunt, and Tzeentch - all provide different play experiences.
"So for the Stormcast, they’re a very well-rounded, heavy-armoured-focused faction that very much likes going in and having big brawls. The Orruk Kruleboyz, they’re more sneaky, they’re focused on tricks and traps and very large monsters when you get to the top tiers in order to outwit their opponents.
"The Nighthaunt are a horde-based faction, and they’re much more focused on overwhelming enemies. So you can create a larger number of them at the start of the game, and that will allow you to get a foothold at the start, and as you progress, you’ll be able to get bigger and stronger units to build up that horde.
"And then the Disciples of Tzeentch, these are a very magically inclined faction. They are very focused on abilities and casting, trying to outplay their opponents by casting the right abilities at the right time."
Choices, choices, choices...
As someone who's spent countless hours in games like The Sims and Second Life that set you loose with a multitude of customisation options, features that encourage player creativity always pique my interest, and Realms of Ruin seems to have this in a way that feels like a natural fit for people who are also intrigued by the miniature side of Warhammer, but may just want to dip their toes into it all.
You're able to customise your in-game units just as you would be able to when using paints in real life, and the Map Editor tool lets you create breathtaking maps or diorama scenes that can be shared with the community for use in play via the Frontier Workshop.
For Saunders, it's the Disciples of Tzeentch that takes the cake as his personal favourite of the four factions, with the Screamer of Tzeentch as his top unit: "I just love the weird, horribly wacky sort of manta ray demons that fly around and scream at people. There’s just something about them that is insanely cool, and I can’t put my finger on it."
Creativity is at the core of Warhammer, and Frontier are inherently aware of this when it comes to giving players those same options.
"Being able to capture the creativity that Games Workshop already provides within the miniature hobby, you can sit down and paint your miniatures, you can do that within the game as well," Saunders explained. "But also for Frontier, we have a history of creating very creatively driven games, so that’s something that Frontier has a lot of expertise in.
"So we get to sit down and say, ‘Okay, players will want to be able to sit down and customise their armies - can we provide them all of the options that they would expect from the already existing Citadel range of paints’, as well as saying, ‘You can customise all of them, whatever colours you want, it doesn’t matter, as long as it fits within the range that we’ve provided.’"
If you've seen the Map Editor video shared on the Realms of Ruin YouTube channel, you'll probably already be as excited as I am for the tool. With options to manipulate the terrain, mirror changes you make, and add VFX such as water to the terrain as you go, creating maps and making scenes with these tools are surely set to be a creative's dream - or as Saunders put it, a way to "scratch [that] level design itch".
He continued: "Within game design, I do a lot, so it tends to float around level design and mission design. So I definitely get a kick out of being like, ‘Okay, cool, these are the dev editor tools, but much more player-friendly, they’ve got a proper UX/UI pass that we can sit down and be like, ‘Oh, it’s not as difficult to use these, that’s cool’.
"On top of that, the Scene Editor is really cool. I already liked creating little dioramas and stuff myself, so it’s nice to be able to sit down, and I’ve already made a few in-house. I’m sitting down going, ‘What if I pose the Lord of Change like this and have him flying in the air, and then I’ve got my little Demechrios here who’s casting a spell at him’, that kind of stuff. It’s fun."
Honing the fundamentals
It's not just all of the lore, story, and faction details that Frontier is presenting in an easily digestible way, either - as the gameplay itself seems to be intuitive. In our preview of Realms of Ruin back in the Summer, we noted that the size of your army seems less of a focusing factor than how you best use it to defeat your foe and that there are a lot of things to manage overall.
From a new player perspective, that in itself as a real-time strategy game could be overwhelming, but there are a few different things that Saunders suggests getting down pat first.
"The first thing you want to hit depends on what control scheme you’re playing on, because players on controller may want to sit down and learn a bit more about Direct Step, because that’s going to give them more control over their army," he said.
"So they’ve got things like jump select which allows them to select individual squads and jump between them, which means if you’ve got a dude in combat on one side of the map, you can send your cursor over there by dragging your heading indicator across and hitting your select button - and that will literally jump you across the map and you can see what’s going on and come back.
"It’s very snappy, but if you’re generally learning a bit more about the game, things like making sure you’re keeping on top of tiering up so you can select your Command Post and upgrade it through the different tiers.
"This will unlock more population cap, it will provide you new units to play around with, it will open up more tech that you can research, so it’s definitely something that the players need to keep on top of - especially outside of the campaign where everything is open.
"Playing through the campaign, it’s quite linear, you get your progression of how the tech and tier systems work. So I’d say that’s probably the biggest - keep on top of that."
Regardless of whether you're interested in the game's real-time strategy elements, its lore, the creative options on offer, or a culmination of all of these things, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin looks primed to be a game for people who don't play Warhammer.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin launches November 17, 2023.