Now THIS is how you make a top-down dungeon-crawler.
When you get right down to it, Warhammer Quest is a fairly straightforward action-RPG that’s set in a generic fantasy world. This is actually good news though, because despite taking place in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, familiarity with that setting – which many potential players, myself included, completely lack – isn’t necessary to enjoy it. The better news is that you will enjoy it, because while it may not be particularly revolutionary, it is extremely well-refined.
In the game, you control an adventuring party of four different characters (the usual mix of fighter, mage and rogue types), leading them on a top-down crawl through grid-based, two-dimensional dungeons. A thorough tutorial explains the basic concepts while a built-in player’s guide is available for more detailed, on-demand reference; and although the introductory hack-and-slash scenario may initially seem like a thin basis for the game, that impression is very likely to go out the window the first time you visit a town. Presented as a detailed and beautifully-rendered animated fold-out, the towns serve as hubs where you can buy new equipment or sell your found loot, pray for divine favor in temples, raise character levels, and even run into the occasional random encounter. The in-town portion of the game is entirely menu-driven, but each location is unique, and the supporting visuals and music are impressively rich and attractive.
Once you’re all geared up, you may embark upon different types of quests: some associated in one way or another with the town you’re currently in, and others which will open up access to new regions of the map. Each quest takes place in a nearby dungeon and they’re all about combat. You won’t be searching for traps or hidden doors, solving twisted puzzles, or engaging in long conversations with well-realized NPCs as you work your way through these underground labyrinths, so if you’re looking for deep, meaningful role-playing opportunities, you’re likely going to come away disappointed.
What you will be doing is hitting things – a lot of things. Combat in Warhammer Quest is turn-based but still relatively fast and furious, and it’s also simple and very satisfyingly violent. Moving through dungeons is a matter of touching the character you wish to move and then double-tapping the highlighted grid to coordinate where you want him to move; attacks are very similar, except you’ll double-tap on the enemy you want to clobber instead. You can deploy your characters in whatever order you like, and you may even leave and come back to them later in the turn to finish their actions. Some classes can use ranged weapons, and of course the magical types can cast spells; but when things get up close and personal, everyone – even the mages – can swing a sword. And when weapons land, they do so viscerally, staining the floors of the dungeon with blood.
Characters can equip items like bandages, scrolls, and potions for use in battle, and the limited number of slots available mandates some forethought because you can’t access your inventory when you’re in a fight. Magic is tricky, too; spells are powered by the fickle “Winds of Magic,” which changes from turn to turn and can sometimes leave your mage without the power to cast a spell when he most desperately needs it. Your characters will also acquire certain special abilities as they go up in level, giving them access to class-specific powers that function very similarly to magic.
It’s all good stuff, spiced up by random encounters and unexpected twists, but what makes it outstanding is the attention to detail and absolutely top-notch production quality. Warhammer Quest is a gorgeous game with a fantastic soundtrack and a simple yet very effective interface. Quests may be a matter of simply killing everything you see, but the fiction that drives them is well-written and interesting, and the occasional surprises, like a collapsing ceiling that leaves you with just a few turns to clear out a room and escape, keeps it all exciting.
But alas, for as good as it is, there are still a few chinks in the armor. Warhammer Quest carries a relatively high price tag but functions like a free-to-play game, with plenty of content, including three powerful character classes, available only as separate purchases. Gold is also available for purchase, and given that you have to pay for virtually everything – even raising your character’s levels once they’ve accumulated sufficient experience – and how relatively stingy the game is with it at that, you can probably expect to do some grinding now and then if you don’t want to pay. The game does allow quests to be reset so you won’t end up broke and stuck, but the incentive to fork over real cash is obvious, and it’s not cheap.
The more immediate problem, however, is that this is a game very clearly designed to be played on the relatively large screen of the iPad. That’s not an issue if you own one, but on an iPhone the text is incredibly small and difficult to read, and while dungeon maps can be zoomed in and out at will, menus and messages cannot. It’s perfectly legible, just really tiny, and I often found myself squinting as I struggled to make out numbers.
The dungeon controls could use a little tweaking as well. The game is turn-based even outside of combat, which can make moving four characters, each of which must be controlled separately, a bit of a hassle: especially when you’re doubling back over (relatively) long stretches of dungeons that you’ve already cleared out. The need to manually deselect your current character and then end your turn, even after everyone has exhausted their movement points, also feels unnecessarily cumbersome. And despite the different character classes, combat is most usually a matter of squaring off with a bad guy and busting his head open, which – as much fun as that is – is bound to get a little repetitive after a while.
But the bottom line here is that you’re just not going to find many top-down dungeon crawlers better than this one. Warhammer Quest is an outstanding example of the genre, and proof that you don’t always need a new trick to impress the crowd if you can perform your old trick really, really well.