When it comes to the overall Warhammer IP, the setting has always seemed oddly suited to real-time strategy games. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of games exploring other genres as well. For example, we saw the Vermintide series going the co-op action game route. The success of the older Dawn of War games would indicate that strategy is the genre that best manages to capture the general vibe of Warhammer, regardless of whether it’s Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy, or the relatively younger Warhammer Age of Sigmar setting.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is essentially the second major video game that makes use of the newer setting, following 2021’s lackluster Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground. Where the older title opted for a unique take on the setting with a roguelite structure, however, Realms of Ruin instead opts for a much more traditional approach to real-time strategy games. The game features four distinct playable factions, each with their own pros and cons, as well as a full-fledged campaign with an epic story that involves all four factions, filled with twists and turns.
The gameplay in Realms of Ruin, rather than opting for a fast-paced clash between massive forces on opposing sides, instead focuses more on tactics. At any given time, you’ll have far fewer units on the field, and while you’re free to split them up to pull off all the fancy tactics you can think of, the meat of the combat lies in the fact that just about every unit you can control has some special abilities. Rather than identifying units purely by the type of weapon they might use, you are instead incentivized to think up more creative squad compositions and search for weaknesses with other units’ strengths. For example, you might want to keep your melee units close to a healer to essentially negate any damage that might have been incurred in a battle. At the same time, letting your ranged units get too close to enemy forces will likely end up with you losing the squad altogether.
"The combat in Realms of Ruin follows a rock-paper-scissors format to its mechanics."
Sure, a lot of what I’ve just said might sound like basic tactics when it comes to strategy games, but Realms of Ruin takes it quite a bit further thanks to special abilities. For example, the Knight Vexillor unit available to the Stormcast Eternals faction has the ability to throw out healing waves around it, making it an excellent unit to lead your frontline. On the other hand, the Vanguard Hunters have the ability to go invisible, or to fire their ranged attacks in a rapid barrage get a lot more versatility in how you might use them, whether it be to set up an ambush, or as support from behind the mighty shields of the Liberators.
The combat in Realms of Ruin follows a rock-paper-scissors format to its mechanics, with different types of units (defined with an icon) being strong and weak against other units. For example, Tank units that have the shield symbol on them are strong against Ranged units with a bow symbol, but are weak against Assault units, which are marked with a sword symbol. The only exceptions to the rule are Hero units, marked with a star symbol, which are powerful enough to sit outside of the strength-weakness triangle. While it might feel rather simplistic, this mechanic ends up incentivizing players to field their armies with a variety of units, rather than sticking to one or two throughout the match.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is a slow-paced game. While the genre has typically featured games that play at a much faster pace, Realms of Ruin slows things down by quite a bit—a design decision that has its pros and cons. On the plus side, the slower pace of the game works really well with a controller where it is easier to switch between different units to use the right ability. On the other hand, the slower pace also presents a major issue. Considering the game’s emphasis on micromanagement-based gameplay, the slower pace certainly makes it harder to accurately manage your forces. For example, sure it’s easy to use a healing ability quickly, but on the other hand, you can’t really move your units out of the way of a big fireball in time.
Ultimately, the biggest problem in Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is its lack of any real depth. While the rock-paper-scissors weakness system is present in most strategy games out there, it tends to be just about the only real thing you have to worry about in a typical battle. The game’s slow speed also doesn’t really reward too much micromanagement, since you don’t really have the speed needed to move out of an enemy dragon’s gigantic flame breath attack, for example. The game just doesn’t provide enough interesting options for it to be any fun in the long term. Aside from the story mode itself, a real-time strategy game often lives and dies by how much of a competitive community it can foster, and that’s an area where Realms of Ruin is sorely lacking.
"The biggest problem in Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is its lack of any real depth."
When it comes to content, however, Realms of Ruin does have quite a bit to offer. Its main campaign is a relatively lengthy affair, and essentially acts as a tutorial for the game’s core systems. It starts off by putting you in command of the Stormcast Eternals faction, as they battle against the Kruleboyz faction of the Orruks. Things quickly take a turn, however, with the presence of the Chaos forces represented by the Disciples of Tzeentch, as well as the ghostly Nighthaunt faction. The campaign can certainly be a lot of fun, and definitely has its moments of epic heroism and villainy, but ultimately, it’s really cartoony. Just about every character feels like a caricature, with the loud and boisterous Stormcast Eternals, and the comically evil Orruks, but don’t really expect things to get much deeper than that. The story is essentially just good versus evil, and there isn’t really much else to read into.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is a strange case of extremes. On one hand, the game is an incredibly simplistic take on the real-time strategy genre, taking inspiration from all sorts of other titles, from Dawn of War games to MOBAs. But on the other hand, the game layers on all of its complexity into the myriad of abilities just about every unit in the game comes equipped with. It promotes a micromanagement heavy play style but doesn’t really support it since the game’s speed is too slow to actually pull off an effective change in tactics.
More than anything, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin feels like it was meant specifically for newcomers to the RTS genre. It allows for players to take things slowly, while still offering quite a few options to tinker around with. Unfortunately, when it comes to multiplayer, I don’t think Realms of Ruin will see much of a sustained player base, since there just aren’t enough allowances for new strategies or tactics to come about, regardless of the fact that it features four completely distinct factions. Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is a fine title if you’re looking to explore the world of real time strategy games, but for players more experienced with the genre, there isn’t really anything new here.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.
The playable factions are unique enough to be fun; The campaign is fun; Newcomers to the genre should be able to dive right in.
The gameplay lacks depth; Not enough options for more advanced play and strategies.