Note: This game was played on the final beta build of the game before the Early Access release on January 28th.
Games Workshop has used their universe to spawn a number of video games to compliment their tabletop ones. On January 28th, the digital version of their Underworlds game hits Steam Early Access. As this is a digital version of a pre-existing tabletop game, this review will be split into a basic introduction and critique for those who might be new to the game, followed by information for those who are already Underworlds veterans who want to see if the digital version is worth picking up.
Underworlds is a turn based game in which you select from a choice of 4 (currently) warbands and square off against your opponent. The battlefield is littered with objective markers, and you must make use of positioning, planning, and the unique abilities of your chosen warband to earn more glory than your opponent. What becomes apparently very quickly is how important objectives are to achieving victory. Whilst combat and positioning is a key part of the game, you can’t rely purely on offense to win the day. Underworlds uses both cards and dice in its gameplay. Objective cards will win you glory points at the end of each phase if you achieve them, and power cards will augment your team. Both of these types of cards are chosen for your warband before the battle takes place, adding another layer of out of combat depth to the title. Having the correct objective and power cards at the right time can swing the game heavily, so make use of the opportunities the game gives you to switch them out.
The amount of options you have is quite nice, and Underworlds continues the theme that many Games Workshop titles have in regards to having pre-combat decisions to make, in a similar vein to Blood Bowl or the various tabletop games they are known for. Whilst the breadth of customization is nice, I did find that objectives tended to swing the game too much, giving an advantage to the player who could draw the right ones at the right time. As objective and power cards are replenished between each of the 3 rounds, a player who is able to complete a set early isn’t at a disadvantage. Some objectives are simply too easy to complete in certain situations, and I had a situation whereby at the end of the round my AI opponent was able to move his only surviving party member to a certain half of the map to net an unreasonably large amount of glory points. Luck will factor quite heavily in how well you will do, and whilst this is true of all dice based games, as you are relying on both dice and two sets of cards to achieve victory, it’s amplified in Underworlds.
The tutorials available do a reasonable job of explaining the basic mechanics, though if you are unfamiliar with the game it may be worth replaying them, to ensure you fully understand what’s happening. There were a few aspects that I felt the game glossed over, such as the results of certain dice, so for a later or final release, I would hope for some slightly more thorough explanations. I also had a few situations where I was trying to make use of an ability or card and it wasn’t always clear who I was targeting, or whether or not the game was registering what I was trying to do.
For those already familiar with Underworlds, the goods news is that you will find a faithful recreation of the rules in a digital format. From a technical standpoint, considering the game has just hit early access and I was playing an Open Beta build, the game works reasonably well. I didn’t encounter any crashes during my time, although I had trouble with the second tutorial. Once or twice (as hinted above) my attempts to use an ability failed and I wasn’t sure why (note: it’s possible this was due to an error on my part, though I felt I was acting correctly). The game has a few rough edges, the font text often clashes with the backgrounds, there were a few visual glitches, but that’s to be expected and they were thankfully few in number. The sounds that are currently in the game are decent, but there definitely needs to be some music added.
Warhammer Underworlds: Online is currently a good foundation for a port of the existing tabletop game. The most essential aspects of the game are here, and it just needs some assets and some fine-tuning to bring it all together. Veterans of the series should be happy with what’s here, though those who are new to Underworlds may wish to wait for a more thorough tutorial to be included, or supplement it with written rules or advice from the community. if you want to play a functional version of the tabletop game, you could pick it up now, but if you want a game that includes interesting assets, animations and sound design that a digital version of the game could bring, you may want to wait a while.