Early access hands-on – Warhammer 40,000: Regicide
Self-styling as “a brutal take on one the greatest turned based strategy games of all time,” Warhammer 40,000: Regicide is nothing if not ambitious. While you may be forgiven in thinking that the strategy game being referred to is one of the suburb entries in the Dawn of War series, you would still be wrong. Instead, when I ventured again into the grim darkness of the far future, I found myself playing chess. At its heart, Regicide is a chess simulator. The game has been dressed up with slick animations and a polished aesthetic, but the underlying ruleset remains the same, for the most part.
The game has two play styles, Classic and Regicide. Classic is just chess (minus the black and white pieces and plus Space Marines and Orks). However, Regicide mode deviates from the original ruleset and borrows heavily from the Warhammer 40k tabletop game. Each piece now has stats (such as Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill and Toughness) that influences their ability to attack and do damage to other pieces. Yes, pieces can now shoot and rend each other from across the board, reliant that they are three squares or less apart. This adds a new dimension to the game as capturing pieces are no longer bound by the movement rules of chess.
Introducing these rules makes playing a game of Regicide feel like a high speed collision between chess and a Warhammer real-time strategy, but the resulting product is less than the sum of its parts. Abilities reliant on luck and character stats detract from the purity of chess while restricting movement to diagonals and columns reduces the scope of strategy found in Warhammer.
To make room for all these new rules, the length of turns has significantly grown. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if you had a variety of tactics to implement, but so much of new tactics in Regicide comes down to advancing a piece and slowly whittling down the health the nearest target. I found that most games could be played as if you were just using the rules of chess and the outcome wouldn’t change.
While the core gameplay has many faults, Hammerfall Publishing nails what is unique about the license. The traditional chess pieces all get grim dark makeovers in the style of Warhammer 40k. In early access your choices are limited to Space Marines or Orks, but the personality of each unit and army comes across thanks to the use of the series’ iconic character designs. Visceral death animations initially added a certain satisfaction to capturing pieces, but there was only one per unit type, so I found myself repeatedly skipping them after my first game. Thankfully, a suitably epic orchestral soundtrack (which is a necessity for any Warhammer 40k property) brings a much needed feeling of grandeur to each match.
There is also a fair amount of content within the game. Standard skirmish and training modes allow you to hone your skill against computer opponents before taking other players in the game’s online multiplayer and a full campaign will be available with the full release.
However, in the end I was left wondering as to who was the intended audience for this game. As an avid fan of chess and Warhammer, I thought I was an ideal candidate, but the deviations from the games that inspired Regicide only detracted from the final product. While the aesthetic of the game is well crafted and true to the license, and there is enough content to justify the price tag, it is hard to reconcile the problems with the gameplay. If these problems are dealt with, I could see myself returning to Regicide, but until then my war is over.