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Age of Sigmar Realms of Ruin channels Dawn of War, but isn’t there yet

We went hands-on with Frontier's newest RTS game, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin, ahead of its open beta and, sadly, were left wanting.

Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin preview: A man in golden armor without his helmet looks up as another offers him a hand

In the world of Warhammer games, Age of Sigmar has stood in the shadow of its father, Warhammer Fantasy, and its overachieving brother, Warhammer 40k. The dev team at Frontier hopes to receive Sigmar’s blessings with the all-new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin. But will this “realm-shattering real-time strategy” game shine bright or fall into the darkness? After attending an online hands-on preview on behalf of PCGamesN, I have a good idea of what you should expect when the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin open beta releases on July 7.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is set in Ghur, the Realm of Beasts. In the campaign, you play as the Stormcast Eternals, a group of superhumans who have been reforged and given great powers by the God-King Sigmar. They’re also immortal, by the way.

Your objective as commander is to establish a stronghold in this inhospitable realm. One of the groups that are trying to stop you is the Orruk Kruleboyz, who act as the antagonists in this first mission. Native to this realm, they are cunning and brutal, a faction that prides itself on acts of cruelty and stands as a stark contrast to our golden-gilded warriors of light.

The hands-on preview I attended was a great chance to get a feel for the current state of the game. I played the first mission from the Stormcast Eternal campaign, and a number of 1v1 multiplayer matches.

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The “work-in-progress” mission acted as a tutorial on how to use the controls and how in-game systems like unique abilities and retreating/charging work. Slowly the challenge increased as I went from fighting one unit of Gutrippaz, then two units of hound beasts, culminating in an overwhelming force of Kruleboyz. Eventually, I was given control of hero characters, and even a dragon! I continued my mission through the decaying swamp and made it to the end, where I destroyed the Kruleboyz camp and was greeted with a triumphant victory screen. Overall the tutorial is an enjoyable experience that feels well-paced, guided, and balanced, allowing me to make mistakes and try different things.

It didn’t go off without a hitch, though. Both the Charge and Retreat abilities are mapped to the same key, with the game swapping between the two depending on whether you’re inside or outside combat. So, on multiple occasions I would attack, aggro the enemy, and when I went to Charge the ability would switch to Retreat and my hero would run away with their cloak between their legs. It’s pretty embarrassing first time round, but after the second it was just straight-up annoying – especially as you can’t cancel a retreat action.

Stormcast Eternal Stormdrake Guard flying low on a dragon and breathing fire on Hobgrots.

Stepping out of my bloodstained tutorial boots and into the mantle of a real Stormcast Eternal, it was ready to test my mettle in a series of multiplayer 1v1s against actual players. I will openly admit that I lost every game and took quite the knock to my ego, but getting to play both the Stormcast Eternals and the Orruk Kruleboyz was incredibly enjoyable. There’s a wide range of units and characters; some of my favorites being the unstoppable Annihilators for Stormcast Eternals and the Killaboss for Orruk Kruleboyz. When everything worked it reminded me of time spent with friends on Dawn of War, a great experience with lots of fun to be had – but only when it worked.

With each passing match, the game seemed to grow more unstable. These problems ranged from minimap mishaps, units getting stuck in terrain, to outright crashes. In total, the game crashed three times over five games. Thankfully, Frontier has confirmed that these bugs have been patched ahead of the beta’s launch, and the build has been “polished” up, too, so hopefully you won’t be stuck staring at the screen like me.

Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin preview: Group of Orruk Kruleboyz; ranging from Gutrippaz to Murknob, are charging an objective point toward Stormcast Eternals.

Crashes aside, my main concern is the ‘Combat Triangle,’ the core to all combat in Realms of Ruin. To simplify the system: Assault beats Heavy, Heavy beats Ranged, and Ranged beats Assault. It’s essentially rock, paper, scissors. While it’s approachable for new players looking for consistency, it fails in two major areas that cause the system to be nothing but frustrating.

When your unit is engaged in combat with an enemy, you’re unable to change the target until either one is destroyed, meaning if you choose the wrong target you’re doomed to lose with no options. On its own, this could have been an interesting mechanic that punishes players for sending a wall of units to attack-move the enemy position. That’s where things get even more dicey (pun entirely intended). Selecting specific enemy units is awful, hitboxes range from too small to click to being completely off-target, overlapping one another so that, even when you try to micromanage combat, you still end up selecting incorrectly.

Screenshot from a multiplayer game, three separate fights are taking place with a range of units.

All in all, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin looks beautiful and does a great job of bringing the player into its world. The environment feels familiar with a splash of unique fantasy, the character design is faithful to its tabletop counterparts, and voice lines faithfully portray the feeling of the setting. But as an RTS game, it lacks the focus needed to make a memorable game and fails to live up to the standards set by the likes of Dawn of War, Starcraft, and Command and Conquer.