Warhammer Quest is a port of a tablet adaptation of a tabletop game originally released by Games Workshop in the mid-nineties. Its problems include a stack of day one DLC, an in-game gold shop and an interface that hasn't made the transition from touchscreen quite as smoothly as you might hope. Despite all of that, it's simple turn-based tactical combat is weirdly compelling and sundering skaven and snotlings can be a fine way to while away a few lazy evenings.
My first impression is that Warhammer Quest doesn't want to be on my screen. It's like a painting forced into an ill-fitting frame and the top-down camera is zoomed in so close that I can see every speck of dandruff on Kurt Swartzhand's head.
Kurt is a wizard. A gray wizard, to be precise. I tend to keep him at the back of my four-person party, so that he can lob shadow bolts and other mystical missiles at the forces of evil from the relative safety of a berserker's rear end. That's about as complex as my tactical approach to Warhammer Questing gets during most dungeon runs. Archer and wizard at the back, ironbreaker and berserker at the front.
Ported from the iOS apaptation of Games Workshop's mid-nineties tabletop tactical RPG, Warhammer Quest isn't the most involving game you'll play this year - it's probably not even the most involving game you'll play in the first fortnight of this year - but once you've fought through the worst elements of the UI, there's a compelling rhyhthm and pace to proceedings. The whole thing has the depth of a ditch rather than a dungeon, but it's the perfect accompaniment to a late night podcast catchup session. Not distracting or wordy enough to prevent the brain from engaging with something else simultaneously, nor dull enough to fade entirely into the background.
The RPG side of the game is as simple as can be. Party management involves levelling, equipping and occasionally switching and swapping for a different class. Tactical combat forms the bulk of the game and, similar to the rest, the appeal is in the simplicity of the setup.
As you travel through a dungeon, seeking an objective room the hunt for which may or may not involve some backtracking and dead-ends, each new room may be populated by a collection of enemies. There are snotlings, there are gigantic spiders, there are orcs and goblins aplenty. If you buy the right DLC you might run into Skaven and Undead as well. The base game is just under a tenner at the moment and the deluxe edition, containing all of the (current) content is £17.99. I wish there was no base game edition because the DLC adds the variety that keeps me interested in quest after quest - WQ deserves to be a complete thing but perhaps the separation into bits and pieces is an authentic part of the Games Workshop experience.
It's also worth nothing that some of the DLC is in the form of legendary weapons, which are in your inventory from the start of the game, destroying the balance and making the first few levels pathetically easy. If you do buy the deluxe edition, trash those weapons immediately so they don't break the game. If you're willing to pay £50, perhaps there could be an option to not play the game at all and simply skip to the end.
Combat, which is the entirety of the game, is a mixture of basic tactics and chance. The digital dice don't control your fate - clever positioning of units does - but spellcasters in particular are at the mercy of random number generators, relying on the flux of random energies to fall in their favour. There's a neat risk-reward mechanic at play though because while you can't know how beneficial the state of play will be at the start of any given turn, choosing to linger can improve your chances of charging a healing spell while also increasing the possibility of fresh enemy spawns.
Dice rolls influence events outside of dungeons as well as within, and a random roll might see one of your warriors getting a knock on the head from some falling rocks while travelling. Wounds negatively influence specific stats and last for a number of quests - they add colour to the world and it's in that colour and flavour that the game's better qualities lurk.
Unlocking journal entries and reading about the beasties and clans has been as much of a carrot to chase as levelling up and finding treasure troves. It's not that the entries are particularly well-written, it's more to do with what seems like an inherited cultural memory that makes me pleased by Warhammer things. I smiled when I saw a puddle of snotlings and I don't really know why.
But the interface is an intrusive annoyance. It's as if the tablet version of the game has simply been glued to the middle of my monitor. There's no menu option for fullscreen, although alt-enter will force the game to swell. As soon as it does, the lack of an in-built fullscreen option seems entirely sensible. Stretched to the borders of the monitor, Warhammer Quest looks like somebody sneezed a great gobbet of snot and fantasy RPG into their hanky, then wiped it across the screen. It's smeared.
Back in the safety of its window seat, Warhammer Quest looks fine. There are some pleasant lighting effects and atmospheric tombs. The biggest annoyance is an occasional lack of legibility, when alternate colour schemes within one unit type makes it tricky to differentiate between melee and ranged variants. All the information is available underneath the hood but I always like to be able to pick out enemy types and placements with a quick glance in this sort of tight, tactical game.
And then there's the process of removing the hood to look underneath. It'd make sense to left click for action and right click for assistance, but interaction and information are tied to one button. To bring up information about any element of the game, you must perform a long-click, holding down the left button with the cursor in place. It isn't a particularly arduous task but even after a couple of evenings with the game, I found myself totting up all the wasted seconds. I could have made several cups of coffee with those seconds.
The long-click isn't just there to take away our coffee, it's also telling us something about the port. The right click doesn't open up the journal because you're effectively tapping on a tablet, using a cursor instead of your finger. It's a touchscreen game that has been dragged across to my defiantly un-touchy monitor and dumped there, having been cursorily introduced to a cursor. The right mouse button has been given a job but, weirdly, it emulates the pinch-rotation of the map, a feature that I've only ever used by mistake and have always regretted immediately.
The controls are fine. Slightly cumbersome but fine. Warhammer Quest has also brought other elements of the new handheld marketplace to PC, however, and one in particular is much more distasteful than a thousand control-quibbles. "Purchasable Gold" is available, with a bumper pack of 60,000 coins priced at £20.99. I find its existence gross, even though it's tucked away in the 'Additional Content' menu and I wouldn't even have spotted its existence if I hadn't been looking for it.
I never had to buy gold - and I've completed almost all of the base game and expansion content - and as its purpose is to accelerate progression by allowing for consumable and higher tier weapon purchases ahead of time, I can only see stacks of gold interfering with my enjoyment of the game. The pacing is fine and while I've had to grind from time to time in order to level up or find a stash of treasure, there's no direct repetition. The game has enough dungeon tiles and monsters to make even a third or fourth rat-killing adventure pleasant enough.
And that's just about the level it works at - 'pleasant enough'. Given the porting issues, the in-game purchases and the stack of release day DLC, there is an unpleasant side that I've found myself surprisingly tolerant of, but the actual process of exploring, positioning and pummelling is gently entertaining.
I played the tabletop version of Warhammer Quest way back when and adored it. I remember it as a cooperative game, with one person controlling each warrior, and we'd make up stories to fill in the blanks of every new room.
"A necromancer and three skellingtons, eh? Must be the reanimated corpses of the last adventurers who came down here. Bound to have some good loot and we'll be ending their suffering by killing them. YES!"
I'd be lying if I pretended that playing on my own prevents me from telling stories. I've got a daft voice that I do for my dwarf and everything. I only do the voices in my head though, obviously - I'm not completely barmy.
It does feel a little bit lonely and lifeless though, doing all the voices myself, even when necromancers and their mouldy mates aren't involved. I reckon if I sat three people around my computer and asked them to do some Warhammer Quest with me they'd think I had gone completely barmy, and then they'd ask why I'd wiped snot all over my screen.
But I'll carry on questing, at least for a while. Warhammer Quest fits snugly onto a very specific shelf in my gaming library. It's not a game I'd miss if it were gone but, like a crossword puzzle or a Peggle, it's a perfectly acceptable side dish while my mind is multitasking. It's advantage over a crossword is that it doesn't require the attention of my linguistic lobes so I can more easily listen to people talking on a podcast while I'm playing.
Warhammer Quest is available now.