Lost in translation.
I recently reviewed Talisman Prologue HD, a game that successfully translated a light role-playing experience from its board game origins to the iPad. Warhammer Quest does the same, but forgets quite a bit of its board game predecessor, or perhaps intentionally masks it in an attempt to streamline the experience for iOS users.
The effect of this streamlining is an obfuscation of the game’s mechanics. Whereas Talisman laid bare the nuts and bolts of the game’s rules and progression, Warhammer Quest feeds the player as little information as possible. While the result is certainly a more fast-paced and cinematic experience than Talisman, players also suffer the loss of awareness in what can be a dense game.
Warhammer Quest is a riff on Dungeons and Dragons, giving players a party of heroes to guide through towns, dungeons, and story scenarios. The meat of the game is within dungeons, and players can move a set amount of squares, execute attacks or spells, and use various items. This is your standard turn-based dungeon crawling gameplay, and it plays out like a mix between D&D and Fire Emblem. Movement, attacks, and item use all work quite well but the game fails to properly inform players of their tactical options and restrictions.
Upon entering a room filled with goblins, giant spiders, etc. I will typically rush forward with a warrior type to bash the nearest living thing. When choosing to attack, though, I don’t have a concrete way to measure my chances of success. If you dig deep enough the game’s menus reveal that the hit chances of a melee weapon are based on the difference of the levels of the attacker and defender, but that isn’t descriptive enough for me to make a rational decision. Just how much of a chance do I have, what kind of relationship does my percent chance to hit and relative level have? Similarly, the player cannot exactly determine the chance of being pinned or berserk. The mana level of mages is re-rolled at the start of each turn, and once again I don’t have a concrete way of knowing what chance I have to have enough mana at the start of my next turn. This is the difference between luck, and blind luck.
Talisman didn’t shove its board game paraphernalia under the bed. Players literally see a set of die rolled against a list of numerical outcomes. While one cannot directly influence the result of a roll, they can decide what the most rational option is for the character based on their current health, attack, and most importantly their percent chance of success in a situation. In combat situations Talisman became more complex, but there is still a concrete and visible reason for success or failure.
Warhammer’s beautifully rendered dungeons begin to feel bland as the player trudges through each room. I don’t feel as if I have space for creativity, or the means to outmaneuver my enemy. Even the weight of crucial decisions is lessened because they are so ill-informed.
Outside of the dungeons, the developer has made an effort to polish the presentation of towns. Unfortunately the main interaction in an RPG’s town, shopping, isn’t what it should be. The shopping menu doesn’t facilitate comparison to the player’s current inventory (an action that requires players to physically rotate the device). Not being able to quickly compare equipped items side by side against items in a shop, or at least not in a way that I could find, puts a damper on gameplay.
Am I trying to say that a game cannot be relevant or fair without presenting the player with all background data at all times? No. I don’t need to know just how much of a chance I have to hit an enemy if I hit the overwhelming majority of the time. A small element of chance can feel natural, but in a gameplay system that pits the player against poor odds it becomes important to have an idea of one’s potential for success.
So what did I enjoy about Warhammer Quest? I think the game was a visual treat. I think that the combat, while opaque, has the potential to be enjoyable simply by keeping the player more informed and involved with the process. I think that the atmosphere is engaging, and that quests have great premises and writing.
I didn’t like having the odds hidden from me, and I didn’t like being pitched downloadable content and coins around every corner.
Warhammer Quest is available as a Universal download for $4.99