Warhammer 40,000: Regicide: Check, Mate

Games Reviews
Warhammer 40,000: Regicide: Check, Mate

Games Workshop is in something of a golden era of videogames. Not necessarily in terms of quality, though there’s good stuff out there, but absolutely in terms of the sheer number of games set in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes. There’s a lot of games out there now, from gang fighting sims to rugby-football hybrids played by fantasy creatures who try to kill each other. And there’s more coming, with the next Total War game being set in the venerable, just departed Warhammer World.

Into this crowded backdrop comes Warhammer 40,000: Regicide, by Hammerfall Publishing. Regicide aims to mix chess with Warhammer 40,000, a task which is admirable in its attempt, creative in its conception, but sadly feels a bit average in its execution.

In brief terms, Regicide places you in the role of a commander, moving troops across a chessboard. Each type of chess piece is transformed into a flavor of 40K soldier; pawns become Tactical Space Marines, knights become Assault Space Marines, and so on. You move like your chess analogue, but have various stats like combat ability, hit points, and the like. So you move like chess, shoot or whatever like 40K. Your opponent in the single player game has the same sort of transmogrification going on, except the AI plays Orks.

There are some fairly cool powers you can invoke based on an initiative system. You’re allowed to move one piece on your turn, followed by spending a number of initiative points on fighting or activating powers across as many different pieces as you have the resources for. This leads to some interesting tactical tradeoffs, eg if I move this Space Marine closer to that Ork, can the rest of my Marines crank out enough firepower to kill the enemy before they get to that now close-to-the-frontline piece? This is pretty neat in actual practice, though it has to be said that I found the AI pretty difficult on some missions. Coupled with a pretty punishing setup for some missions, it can be a pretty frustrating game for some folks looking for a casual experience.

Campaign mode has you taking on various scenarios which vary from the standard chess endgame of taking your opponent’s king. The early scenarios revolve around wiping out the enemy, something which can be quite difficult, while later scenarios ramp up the complexity. Those different scenarios link up to form a pretty mammoth campaign: 50 missions at the end, a big enough challenge that I didn’t actually have time to finish the whole thing.

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It’s not bad. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that it’s good, either. It feels as though there are rather large swings of randomness in the combat system, something that would feel better in a game that isn’t based on the decidedly not random chess. I’ll find myself with solid positioning and good hit chances, only to miss with all of my fire. Then the Orks swarm me and that’s it; I’m dead, the game is finished, and I have to start again.

The game is also, as I said, long. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a fair number of missions feel very similar. I’m not sure if I need more than one mission that involves killing a bunch of pawn level Orks. A chessboard only allows for so much variability in how things are played.

The length of the campaign is assuaged quite a bit by some thoroughly enjoyable voice acting and graphics. Orks roar and yell, Marines praise the Emperor, heads explode, guns boom. It’s good. It feels extremely 40K in the best ways. Fans of the universe will rightly let that carry them quite a long way through the game; it’s fan service and may be lost on newbies, but I’m not sure that the game is meant for the novice strategy gamer or 40K fan.

There are other modes, but they feel very secondary. There’s an actual chess mode, where you play a full game of chess, just with Marines and Orks operating in all ways as normal pieces. No randomness here, and you get the full range of animations and sounds, but it just feels as though this isn’t what you should be buying the game for.

Multiplayer is also present, but I wasn’t able to find a game for love or money. There just weren’t any, though this was also before full release. Still, with the game having been in early access for so long, I expected to get a game in. So I can’t comment on that, other than to say that I think the game’s future will be in the multiplayer; it seems really well-suited to late night sessions between friends.

I was left, then, with a game that I wanted to like more than I did. The animations and “feel” of the game is right. The actual mechanics seem a little swingy to me and the AI, while it certainly doesn’t cheat, is a little too unforgiving. Can that be tweaked? Absolutely, and I hope it is. While I find the game fairly average, the attempt is novel and worthy of praise, something that I hope Hammerfall can capitalize on.

Warhammer 40,000: Regicide was developed and published by Hammerfall Publishing. We played it on PC. It is also available for iOS and Android.

Ian Williams has written for Salon, Jacobin, The Guardian and more.

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