Warhammer 40K: Regicide bounced my feelings and expectations all over the place for a while. I saw the first videos showcasing the cinematic kills and was totally on board. Then I hit a login screen right after opening the game, and the familiar feeling of early onset disappointment set in. After that it was on to the tutorial, where I discovered that Regicide is basically Warhammer 40K Chess. There was some significant shoulder droopage after that.
The thing is, it’s not simply Chess with Warhammer 40K pieces (though it does have an optional mode which is exactly that). It’s Battle Chess with Warhammer 40K pieces and a healthy dose of tactical/strategy game elements. Regicide is basically the Warhammer 40K strategy game I didn’t know I wanted.
Much (i.e. most) of the gameplay is reminiscent of other turn-based strategy games. There are several different types of units – both for the Orks as well as the Space Marines – each with their own set of abilities. Many of these skills overlap, such as the simple ranged attack option, but there’s usually at least one thing a given unit can do that no other type can. The factions are also slightly different, with the Orks having more health but less armor while the marines are pretty much the opposite.
Then there’s the management of ability points, which is extremely important if you don’t want to get slaughtered. Ability points are your only way to use skills, and some of the more powerful abilities cost more to use than others. Every turn your team will generate three ability points, and whatever you don’t use before ending your turn will carry over into the next – with a maximum of five. You can certainly get by on burning through your points each turn during the first few rounds, but things can get quite dicey when your opponent starts activating four or five skills on their own turn.
The way all of this overlaps with chess is quite clever. For starters, only one unit can be moved during a turn, and they can only move in accordance to chess rules. So your pawn stand-ins can only move straight forward and attack diagonally, bishops can only move and attack diagonally, etc. The most interesting aspect of this crossover, however, is how the usual chess rules of pieces being able to “take” pieces during movement is still in effect. This means that a knight on the brink of death, after a few turns of being shot up by everyone in range, can still insta-kill an enemy by moving on to their space. The armor, health, and attack power of the target don’t matter – so long as you can move onto their space, they’re toast.
It’s this mixture of more modern strategy games and one of the oldest strategy games that has me adoring Regicide so much. As with chess the turns can feel a bit slow and plodding, but there are so many different strategies you can employ. You can use special abilities to make your vanguard tougher to kill. You can use pawns to whittle away at the health of a much stronger enemy from a distance. You can completely turn the tide of a match by exploiting vulnerable enemy positions. Heck, you can literally fight your way out of a checkmate.
I’m also a fan of the cinematic angles the camera will take during most attacks. About the only thing that stinks is that some units have special point-blank attack abilities – only useable when adjacent to an enemy – that are exactly the same as their regular shooting attack. Having them get physical would’ve been so much cooler. The instant kills made by pulling off chess moves, much like Battle Chess, also have some pretty cool (and kinda gruesome) animations. There’s not quite as much variety as I’d have liked, and it’s disappointing that long distance kills (i.e. from a rook, bishop, etc) usually favor a simple gunning down rather than having the unit move within striking distance before switching to a more cinematic angle, but I’m also not sure I’ll ever get tired of using a knight to jetpack in and cut down an enemy with a chainsword.
The downside to having a chess board populated with Space Marines and Orks is that many of the mechanically distinct units look incredibly similar – both at the default camera distance and even after zooming in. Some are a little easier to tell apart than others, but for the most part it can be tough to figure out who’s standing where at any given time. Thankfully there’s an incredibly handy option that will display the icon of each unit’s chess piece equivalent over their heads (super-useful for when you don’t want to accidentally get your king killed by leaving an open path for bishop or rook you thought was a pawn). Unfortunately this icon display option seems to want to turn itself off between turns, so I keep having to go back and switch it on over and over again.
As for the multiplayer, well it’s pretty much just like playing a skirmish against the computer, only you’re playing against another person. Which is to say it doesn’t suffer from any noticeable stuttering or connection issues. It’s easy to set up, easy to get into, can be played asynchronously or in real-time (and is even cross-platform). Honestly, the only complaint I have with the multiplayer is that the turn timer settings are either too short or too long, with the sole options being either three minutes or 24 hours. Three minutes is so short it makes the asynchronous option seem superfluous, and 24 hours is so ridiculously long it encourages trolling via players refusing to take their turns rather than simply resigning. Having more timer options is kind of a necessity.
In all honesty, I’d probably have been okay with something that was just Warhammer 40K Battle Chess (and the Classic Mode skirmish option is exactly that). Chances are I’d have been left wanting more, but overall it would’ve been okay. Instead, Warhammer 40K: Regicide provides something unexpected and, dare I say, refreshing. Either of its mechanically distinct parts (strategy game and chess) is entertaining in its own way, but the combination of the two creates something that feels well and truly special.