There are a hell of a lot Warhammer video games out there, many of which present their own takes on turn-based combat, and yet, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground still manages to stand out. Sure, it’s another Warhammer turn-based strategy game, but it’s the first major one based on the new-ish Age of Sigmar fantasy universe, and it features some pretty funky factions, unique mechanics, online multiplayer, and tons of party customization options.
I recently got in contact with Canadian Storm Ground developer Gasket Games, with CEO Jeff Lydell and design director Ian Christy collaborating to provide some interesting answers about the game’s combat system, potential for DLC, performance on various platforms, including Xbox Series X and PS5, and more. March forth for the full interview…
Of course, we know Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground takes place in Games Workshop's fantasy universe, but aside from that, what's the game’s context and set-up? How much story can players expect?
The wonderful thing about working with Warhammer Age of Sigmar is how much room there is to tell new stories within the breadth of the Realms and across the epochs therein. Games Workshop have been amazing partners that have empowered us to fashion a collection of Heroes and new narrative contexts able to line up proudly alongside existing lore, armies, and Black Library tomes.
To that end, and to complement our internal Age of Sigmar experts, we recruited Robbie MacNiven, a Black Library contributor, to help us build out the stories and epic rivalries players will encounter throughout gameplay stand offs and the lore journals they’ll collect along their journeys. Accolades as well go to the incredible cast of voice actors who helped bring our characters and lore journals to life. Warhammer presents a heap of tongue twister dialogue and narrations to tackle, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcomes.
Could you provide a quick overview of Storm Ground's combat system? What other strategy games have you taken inspiration from?
A number of our team herald from Real Time Strategy backgrounds, however Turn Based combat presents a very different cadence as you have more time to consider your moves in multiplayer, and as long as you’d like in campaign. There is more Chess and less actions per minute, essentially. During our public beta test, a couple players noted that our game reminded them a bit of the [holochess game] on the MIllenium Falcon in the original Star Wars. We take that as a compliment, because we wanted our matches and combat encounters to feel dialed into the flashpoints of a conflict within a larger conquest. Each victory is a step forward. Each defeat is a chance to start over, to try new things and approaches.
To that end, then, each unit in the player’s Warband becomes an important choice. The player must consider their role, their abilities, their movement and range, what happens depending on whom they’re adjacent to, and what they might be able to summon to, or remove from, the battlefield. What units can solo versus work best as a pair or more. The player’s Warband for each encounter or match is limited, so choosing who to invest XP into and who to burn off as Tribute to feed a pool of XP resource, or to revive after a battle with the rare and hard-earned Miracles resource, become choices that could make the next fight a victory, or a scalding defeat.
The key thing about the player progression is that death isn’t the end, and defeat is merely a pause on a longer journey to more and better units, wargear, and skills.
Some key inspirations were: Into the Breach, Slay the Spire, Hearthstone, and a heap of team member experience from working on other RTS titles previously like Dawn of War 2, Company of Heroes, and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak.
Do the game’s mechanics change at all when jumping into multiplayer?
Worth noting a key difference between multiplayer and campaign is the size of the player’s Warband. Campaign allows a Hero and up to five units in an active warband, with all of them available as long as the player has sufficient Power to summon them to the battlefield. Multiplayer instead has a Spearhead comprised of a Hero and two units; these are what the player will begin the match with. Supplementing that the player can pick up to seven Reinforcement units that will be added randomly to the available pool of units the player may summon over the match’s turns.
What's the scope of a typical Storm Ground battle? The arenas we've seen in trailers have looked a bit limited in size.
Each campaign run consists of several encounters accessed through nodes on an overall metamap. Each encounter presents a different combat challenge, objective, and potential rewards. The encounters last roughly fifteen minutes apiece, though can easily go longer depending on the makeup of the player’s Warband, and the composition of the enemy units and waves. There’s a boss waiting at the end of each realm on the sixth or seventh node, depending on the realm. Tough to reach, tougher still to surmount. Each run presents a new path to the boss, and each node has at least ten different randomized encounters awaiting the player.
The typical battle you’ll encounter represents a flashpoint conflict where every move, ability, skill, and choice matters in regards to positioning, leveraging advantages, shielding vulnerabilities, and benefiting from inter-unit relationships.
The Stormcast, Nighthaunt, and Maggotkin aren't exactly your typical elves, dwarves, and orcs. I could see some being a bit intimidated to play as them. What are the main strategies and strengths of each of the game's factions?
Stormcast are a great faction to get started with. Straight forward, a bit tanky, and great all-around gameplay generalists. A big differentiator is how units may spawn around their hero on any open hex. That allows a front line press the other factions handle quite differently. Stormcast can do a lot with displacement, knocking the enemies back into each other or hazards to cause damage. Add a little chain lightning and the player can electrify a whole battlefield, including their own units if they’re not careful.
Nighthaunt spawning relies on wisps the hero casts, or summoning pyres the hero places, or with the right skills equipped, leveraging wisps left behind when an enemy falls on the battlefield. Nighthaunt can more easily place units behind enemy lines, spread their forces, or amass against enemies through cards that allow multiple summons off a single unit card. Nighthaunt do displacement differently, so don’t stand next to a banshee if she’s about to die. Add to that their ability to cause fear and to bypass or rend armour, they prove a natural antithesis to a lot of what makes Stormcast so tanky and strong.
Maggotkin have yet again their own approach. Through spreading the gift of corruption on the battlefield, they may heal, use the corruption as spawn points, and weaken any enemy who dares to stand in one of their poisonous puddles. While slow moving, Maggotkin are often burlier and more resilient than their counterparts, creating some interesting asymmetrical opportunities on the battlefield. Maggotkin require more patience and forethought, though once they set up shop with corruption, some bouncing biting Nurglings, and perhaps a barf projectile sorcerer or plague spitting Pusgoyle Blightlord on a Rotfly, and the other faction is likely in trouble.
The game's campaigns feature branching paths, but you've also mentioned procedural generation. What exactly changes from campaign to campaign?
Each time the player begins a run through a Realm, the paths through the nodes randomize and change. Further, what encounters will be available on the Realm’s nodes randomize.
Is there a way to ramp up difficulty as you re-tackle the campaign?
There are three difficulties, called Ascensions, for each faction to progress through. The game begins with the first Ascension, and presents a single realm for the player to progress through. The second and third Ascensions each have two realms with a boss battle at the end of each realm. The encounters in each Ascension are different, with progressively harder enemies and encounter objectives. Further, the third Ascension begins with only their hero.
How long will it take to play through a single campaign?
This varies heavily with player skill, but the first Ascension will likely take most players between 10-12 hours to complete. While the first Ascensions have a single Realm apiece, the higher difficulties each have two, so the end game is twice as long.
Storm Ground features a card collection element for unlocking new units and gear. It's hard to look at the system and not immediately think "Ultimate Team." Is selling card packs or other microtransactions something you'd ever consider?
Our goal with both campaign and multiplayer is motivating players put in the time and effort to unlock, access, and explore the heaps of units, wargear, skills, and lore we have in the game for their Warbands. We have many hundreds of items available to unlock at launch. We’re certainly open to free and paid DLC if we can, things like more units and items for their existing armies.
Are larger expansions being considered? Perhaps the addition of new factions?
We’re also excited to eventually enhance the game with additional armies replete with new campaigns as well as multiplayer maps and modes. There are so many incredible armies in the Age of Sigmar universe, and we’d love to see them all eventually step onto battlefields for our players to enjoy. We have lots of ideas, and received a slew of great suggestions from the campaign and multiplayer beta tests. Thanks to everyone who participated in those, BTW!
For now, we’re focused on the game’s launch and working to ensure everyone is able to enjoy the game to the fullest extent, keeping an eye out for any issues players encounter so we can hop on and fix them straight away. With a game that is deeply systemized, with ample points of randomization leaving each player with a different stack of items and units in their respective toy boxes, there’s likely to be combinations that don’t play out the way we might have expected or anticipated. We want to be able to jump on addressing things like that before we start adding more volatility through adding more units, gear, factions, or campaigns.
In addition to PC, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is also coming to Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. What kind of resolution/performance can we expect on consoles?
The earlier models of the consoles and Nintendo Switch target 30fps, and upscale a 720p frame to 1080p. Xbox One X and Playstation 4 Pro are native 1080p or better. To hit the frame-rate target on Nintendo Switch we built a completely new set of maps optimized for that platform.
Are there plans for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions? How will the game perform when running on next-gen consoles via backward compatibility?
At launch, we are running the equivalent of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions of the games via backwards compatibility, although they sustain closer to 60Hz framerates, and each sees [faster] load times thanks to the SSD’s. That’s just how the build ran when we tested it, so we didn’t hold it back.
Finally, what's your pitch to Warhammer fanatics? Why should they leave the figurines on the shelf for a bit and play Storm Ground instead?
We have some wonderful collectors, painters, and players on our team, and that has helped us stay true to servicing the quality and integrity of the Warhammer Age of Sigmar brand while offering them this alternate window to see the factions come to life and battle versus the spectacular table top battles they may have more traditionally been used too.
We love the idea that someone could play our game, get lost painting their Warband in the army painter, and from that begin to explore Warhammer miniatures, army building, and army painting. Most importantly, though, we want players to have a good time, enjoy solid choices and challenges, and that they’ll appreciate that the payoff for a roguelike [like this] is the eternal life and death and life again cycle that is literally ripped from the Battletomes of the Age of Sigmar, where every faction has their own version the death and resurrection mythos.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground begins the battle on May 27 on PC (via Steam), Xbox One, and PS4, and is playable via backward compatibility on Xbox Series X/S and PS5. The game is currently 15 percent off on most platforms as part of a pre-launch promotion.