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Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin – campaign hands-on preview

Realms of Ruins looks to offer a strong single-player experience
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When I first started playing RTS games, the standard mode for progressing the story was a bunch of portraits talking to each other during missions or on a briefing screen before the start of the next level with the occasional cinematic cutscene coming in at crucial moments. That would honestly still work for me, but I realize that I’m probably in the vast minority. In any case, things have changed a lot since those days and movie-like cutscenes to move the story forward and get a better connection with the characters have become the standard in RTS games as well. That doesn’t always work out great and in the worst case can feel like a waste of budget and time.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin, fortunately, is one of the examples where that money was invested wisely – what I’ve seen from its cutscenes so far is of all-around great quality: The facial animations look good, the voice acting sounds on point, and the script has been surprisingly funny at times, using the chemistry and different personalities of the cast to create some levity. Far from feeling like a waste of time, they’ve been very enjoyable to watch and added to my experience.

We’re back with our band of Stormcast Eternals, who traverse the dangerous Realm of Ghur in the search for a powerful artifact that could help them in their war against the Orruk Kruleboyz native to this plane.

Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin Orruk.

Relentless ambushes by the Orruks are the biggest challenge while traversing the swamps.

Our first mission during this hands-on opportunity is the second overall mission of the campaign and is still a bit of a tutorial, teaching us basics like building units and constructing bastions at Arcane Conduits. We’re marching deeper into the swamps, harassed by Orruks using their knowledge of the land to assault us from hidden paths. Aside from advancing through the valley before us, we have an optional goal of freeing prisoners that add to our troops. Being a tutorial area, the map is somewhat linear, but not without its challenges, as Orruks continue to infiltrate areas we secured earlier, cutting off your supply lines if you’re not careful. It’s always good to be kept on your toes and the constant aggression definitely makes you think twice before going on the offensive – however, some technical problems were apparent.

Demechrios, the Stormcast Eternal mage under my command, got stuck after I ordered him to cast his Chain Lightning spell. He could no longer be moved or attacked, but also couldn’t attack himself – it’s like he was ported to another dimension and only his shadow stuck around. The Orruks infiltrating my territory from behind also didn’t act very smart. Thanks to the bugged Demechrios giving me vision, I could clearly follow how the Orruks entered the map and approached one of my points before stopping there and doing… well, nothing. A few made their way in the direction of my main base, but most just stood there instead of doing anything of note. Frontier has been made aware of this and will look into it, so I hope it’s not going to be an issue once everyone gets their hands on the game.

Where things really pick up – in terms of plot and gameplay – is the next mission. Our way through the swamps led to some ruins, which ominously show no signs of Orruks at all despite being smack in the middle of their territory. This is where we get a fun exchange between all our protagonists and meet the newly announced bad guys, the Nighthaunt. These undead servants of Nagash are guarding the artifact we are looking for and the mission gives us a taste of their swarm tactics.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin Nighthaunt undead fighting a dragon rider.

The Nighthaunt are going to be Realms of Ruin's swarm faction.

We need to protect Demechrios as he works on unchaining the artifact from its spot in the ruins, deflecting assaults by the undead from all directions. Once the mage has made his way into the barrier around the mysterious object, we’re tasked with winning a tug-of-war with the Nighthaunt revolving around three capture points. Holding the majority or all of them for some time will help Demechrios break the chains, but the undead are everywhere – they not only defend and assault the capture points, but will also go after your Arcane Conduits. At a certain point, they even send a huge wave of enemies against your HQ, making you scramble your forces to defend it in time. There is also the issue of an enemy hero you need to deal with amidst this chaos. Plenty of work for our blades.

From its atmosphere to its gameplay intensity, this felt like an all-around awesome mission – you really have to jump around from one crisis to the next, plugging holes everywhere as you direct your forces, sacrifice some of them if need be, and make sure to keep your unit production up to compensate for the losses. This is exactly the kind of stuff I hope to see more of throughout the campaign. I beat the mission on the standard and second-to-highest difficulties, feeling appropriately challenged both times.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin campaign battle against the Nighthaunt.

Assaulted from all sides, you need to take and hold several objectives to win this mission.

There were some weird and needless camera rotations going on between the different phases of the mission, which confused a few of us attending the preview, but Frontier is looking into that as well.

Speaking of looking into things and accepting feedback, the developers have implemented some improvements and suggestions players asked for during the first open beta weekend, especially when it comes to mouse and keyboard controls. It’s not quite where it needs to be at launch just yet, but it’s definitely going in the right direction and it’s great to see them being active on this front.

Frontier is doing lots of things right with Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin – and with another faction plus multiplayer content to be revealed before its release on November 17, 2023, there is plenty to still be excited about.