Full game review, is Warhammer Underworlds Online worth buying?
Welcome readers to another review, this time of Warhammer Underworlds Online. As some of you may know this is the online videogame version of Shadespire. Does it live up to the hype or is it something you need to avoid? Read on to find out my views and experience with the game.
Now as with all my reviews I do disclaimers to begin with, this is so you get a fair idea of where I’m coming from and to clarify a few things; Firstly I got this game for free. Like all things Warhammer Underworlds related I’m given the gift of freeness. The developers were kind to offer me a free version of the game that will always be free and have access to everything (this will be important later) so it’s not technically the same as what people can buy currently. Also I’m quite involved in the development of the game too as I beta-tested the game and moderate the official discord channel. Yes my dirty grubs are all over everything Warhammer Underworlds related. Wait till you see my ideas for merchandise!
Next is that I haven’t played competitive online games for over a year or 2 (I forget). This is partly due to me getting my competitive fix from Warhammer Underworlds and also having a very old PC. So I’m out of the loop with current online gaming norms. Also my PC is old. 8 years old running windows 7. It can still run this game but I still want to point out my PC is very behind what is considered normal for today’s standards. However, I’ve now upgraded to a monster PC so I feel I can give impressions on the game from opposite spec viewpoints. Either way, those are the main things that need clarifying before we get into the main body of the review.
What is Warhammer Underworlds Online (WUO)?
Warhammer Underworlds Online (WUO) is simple an online version of the beloved tabletop game Warhammer Underworlds. It’s a sold 1:1 port of the original game. It’s also set in the Shadespire season of the game (season 1). This does mean WUO is very far behind the main game which is on Beastgrave currently (season 3). I’ll get onto this later but it does mean while WUO does stick to its claim of being a 1:1 port it also is not synched to the current state of the tabletop game. Otherwise the game basically plays like Shadespire.
The game recently came out of early access. What this means is it basically just left beta still despite already being released (games are so confusing today). The game is regularly being updated but it’s not in its finalised state. WUO was released in early access back in late January and as of this review in mid April WUO has been in the public domain for nearly 3 months now. If you bought the game during the Early Access period you have 6 warbands and 1 free skin for each warband as well as retaining all your unlocked skins and rewards for warbands during the early access period.
What’s Available at the Moment?
At the start originally only 4 warbands would be available for early access but this has been expanded to 6. These warbands are: Steelheart’s Champions, Magore’s Fiends, Sepulchral Guard, Ironskull’s Boyz, The Farstriders and Spiteclaw’s Swarm. That’s a lot of choice. Veteran players will also notice that’s not the same warband release order as was for Shadespire. For better or worse the game is following its own order for cards and warband releases. The warband selection is good for what’s available at launch but I really would have stuck with how Games Workshop did the release order. With the Chosen Axes and Garrek’s Reavers now being the last 2 warbands that will need to be bought, it’s a very brave move as I’m not sure who’s going to actually pay for those warbands, namely the Duardin. Chosen Axes memes aside, they’re really going to suffer when released now and Garrek’s Reavers kind of fall into the same problem as a difficult to play high skill-ceiling warband when compared to Magore’s Fiend.
You also get a lot of cards! A good thing is universal cards are always going to be free and are released periodically. The downside is that Steel Sky Productions have decided to release the cards in their own order and not as how they were released originally. Once again, I don’t like this personally. I totally get why they’ve decided to do so to keep the game more “interesting” for veteran players etc but it’s messed up the balance of Shadespire. This all just my opinion as I have been playing since the start of Shadespire. Either way you get all universal cards for free with the core game. You will only have to pay for extra warbands and their faction cards (which are combined together for a single price).
Deck construction follows the exact same guidelines as Shadespire. Objective deck is 12 cards then a power deck of a minimum size of 20 cards, which more than half can’t be ploy cards. E.g. for every ploy card you need 1 upgrade card. As in the core game you could make a 20 upgrade card power deck but that’s only for the truly brave.
Now this is something I only realised after another user pointed it out to me. You can only have 1 deck per warband. Decks are still free to make and you can make 1 per warband but you only have 1 slot per warband (I could find no way to make more than 1 deck for the same warband). You can just delete and remake a new one or use multiple slots for the same warband but it seems like an odd choice.
Each game starts with an automatic roll-off for boards. As Steel Sky Productions are currently following the Shadespire ruleset the loser of the roll-off automatically places boards first. In Beastgrave (the current season of Warhammer Underworlds at the time of writing) the winner of the roll-off chooses who places boards first. I would prefer if they went the Beastgrave way but we’re stuck with the Shadespire option for now.
Boards show a miniaturised version of your available game boards with added names. You have to click on the board centre to rotate and you can drag it around to orientate board configuration if you are aligning boards, after this you place objective hexes. The game highlights where you can legally place them.
After deciding whether to discard or keep your objective cards and power cards hands you roll-off again and place fighters. This is done by dragging a fighter’s card into any starting hex in your territory. Once this is done you roll-off to see who has priority with the person who finished deploying first receiving 1 extra crit.
The rest of the gameplay is the same as a standard game of Shadespire. What differs is how you control fighters and translate it for the game to carry actions out. When moving fighters, you can manually set their path or let the game do it by just selecting the hex you want to end in (not advised as the pathing can send you down undesirable routes). You choose which available attack actions your chosen fighter has then use them to attack enemy fighters as long as they are in range. Glory and objectives are scored automatically.
Playing cards (whether they be objectives or power cards) involves dragging them up into the screen. I find this clunky as you have to learn where that sweet spot is to drag them into on your screen. Too little of a drag and they go back to the hand but too much leads them flying back as well. Oddly this kind of card play would work really well if playing in VR from my standpoint. Just an interesting thing I thought of.
After a game is finished once the 3rd end phase is completed you go to the results screen pictured.
Hardware: Old vs New
WUO supports PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10 operating systems. As a person who has now played on both as well as on low settings to max, the game does well to support older PC setups. For new PCs it’s much smoother but still retains the clunkyness of the interface. Still I found the game to run satisfactory on both ends of the spectrum. Would be nice for some hyper-detailed graphics options for those more high-end PCs but it’s not really necessary.
The game consists of 3 ways to play: ranked, casual and bots. Bots is against a CPU controlled player with handicaps you can give yourself by having the bot start with more glory of varying amounts. It’s actually really good and Steel Sky Productions have done a great job of programming a decent CPU to play against. Next you have casual play. No one uses this. Finally you have ranked play. This is the main way for you to play against human opponents in a competitive setting where your scores and levels are recorded. You can also rank up warbands the more you use them and gain experience to level up and unlock in-game cosmetic rewards. You gain lots of experience for a win, some for a loss and none if you concede.
Ranked play is the main competitive arena for WUO. It’s where everyone plays. Now the reason it has its own section is for a few reasons: everyone plays here and not in casual play and it’s the main lifeblood for WUO. It has…a lot of issues. You could consider these as personal issues only but these are things I’ve encountered a lot as well as a lot of players on the WUO discord server and to me personal via my social media pages. Some of these things Steel Sky has control over but a lot aren’t. I still think of them worthy to mention as they are common and prevalent.
Firstly online…is spares in terms of player population. Regularly I’ve gone into long waits for matchmaking, even when playing at normal peak hours such as early evening. I live in the UK but once again other players have experienced the same issues as me. Longest wait was about 10-15 minutes for a game (this was during the evening peak hours). This is something Steel Sky has no control over really.
One of my biggest grips is that there’s no player interaction. Games Workshop tabletop games (and Warhammer Underworlds especially) thrives on being able to communicate with your opponent. WUO lacks any method to communicate with your opponent, not even via simple emojis. I would love for voice and text chat, yeah you could get hate messages but muting and moderation would help keep it in check. It just feels so soulless when your opponent has no way to communicate with you. Yes you can use outside apps like Discord to talk to your opponent but that only works when doing invite games against friends as you can get the other person to hop onto your voice chat app. Ranked play leaves you playing in [relative] silence.
Next you have conceding, or what it’s more commonly known as: rage quitting. WUO gives the option for you to concede a game at any point. You can’t concede (as per the rules) in a tournament/normal game of Warhammer Underworlds but the online game obviously needed this option as you’re not going to necessarily get people who play the tabletop game. However, this now results in people consistently conceding from games at any point instead of playing out to the results screen. I’ve seen a lot of people try to defend this but it doesn’t really hold up when the majority of the time its players quitting after their leader dies or misses during a charge. I myself have won at least 30 games online and only had 1 game finish to the results screen. Now I always play to the end, even when I lose. It’s because you can’t concede on the tabletop and I always playthrough the game to help learn my opponent’s deck and help identify what I did wrong. If you think I’m overreacting, have a look at these:
And my favourite:
These are just a small sample of the many games I’ve played online during early access and full release. Now this isn’t me being upset over not getting that full win, you still gain the same experience for a win no matter whether you reach the proper win screen or not. So, what’s the matter? With the added lack of player communication, it just makes the game experience feel hollower and less invested. It’s sadly also a widespread issue to with sources from the regular players in the official WUO Discord channel and via my social media platforms.
Now how could this be addressed? Personally, I would make it clearer you gain no experience for conceding over actually losing, add a leaver buster and encourage best of 3 options for games. A leaver buster is something commonly used in online games. It works by punishing players who regularly quit out of games and either lock them out of the game for X number or games or lock them into playing against other people with high disconnect rates for “rage quitter hell”. What I’d really like to see is a best of 3 option added. Warhammer Underworlds is designed for best of 3 play and only doing best of 1 is such a drag. It loses all the nuance and skill of trying to figure out your opponent and then consistently beat them. With best of 3 options players would be more encouraged to not concede as it would quit out of the best of 3 and, more importantly, it would mean players have a reason to stick around while losing a game to learn their opponent’s deck and tactics to counter them in the next game(s).
Future of WUO
WUO still plans to continue now it’s out of early access. We have Garrek’s Reavers and the Chosen Axes left to be released and a few more universal cards. There’s also plans for a Forbidden and Restricted list too. Warband releases have been confirmed to be $6.99, prices for other territories are not confirmed yet. Remember that all universal card releases will continue to be free, it’s just the warbands and their faction cards which will cost your additional money. The game is also being regularly updated and the devs are always happy to hear feedback for bugs and improvements.
Weekly/monthly tournaments are also happening too, either run by Steel Sky Productions and other members of the gaming community. Prizes currently are free Games Workshop store vouchers for winning WUO tournaments and entry is free as well. It’s a nice incentive to play and great to see already being promoted early in the game’s lifespan.
What I’m interested in seeing is the Leaders Card Pack and the addressing of problem cards like the Katophrane Relics and Quick Thinker etc. For me it’s pretty easy. Relics come out at 2 glory per card and don’t work with Spoils of Battle, banned cards are only useable against bots and in casual play. Easy fix (in my mind anyway) but it will be interesting to see how these cards are handled.
Another point is I’d like to see some cosmetic changes, of sorts. Firstly WUO is very slow compared to the tabletop version (for me). I’d like a battle mode option like in Pokémon where all the animations are stripped to very basic things such as no battle animations and fighters teleporting to hexes instead of moving through them. This would just help speed up WUO for players who are interested in getting more games instead of seeing the animations. Secondly I’d just like different coloured dice either as a free unlocked or just having white attack dice with black defence dice. It’s just weird for me to see only black defence dice being used for everything.
The Good and the Bad
So let’s summarise WUO. I’ll start with the bad first because that’s how I roll (crits):
- It’s buggy – This is being regularly addressed and much better than in the beta period but sometimes fighters and cards just don’t work the way they’re intended.
- WUO is very far behind the current tabletop game – This could change with COVID-19 delays but trying to play as a regular competitive tabletop player from Beastgrave and going back in time to Shadespire will be jarring and won’t help you too much outside of keeping your core gameplay skills sharp.
- It’s slow – The game, due to all the added flare a computer game brings, is slower compared to playing on the tabletop. This is actually kind of resolved funnily enough online due to people conceding but it’s something worth mentioning for tabletop veterans.
- You still need to pay for warbands even if you own the physical versions – This is something I’m not really concerned about as not many games in this vein do this. Yet it is something other people have mentioned a lot so I’ve added it as it is a fair point for those thinking to double-dip.
- Online play is sparse with regular concedes/rage quits – The playerbase has improved with the full launch in terms of numbers but concedes/rage quits are still just as numerous. Something to consider if you enjoy experiencing full games.
- Only on PC – For those looking for consoles and MAC support, you are out of luck currently.
- The game is pretty much a 1:1 representation of Shadespire – Even despite not being based on the current season you can still use WUO to re-live the good old days as well as maintain your core Warhammer Underworlds mechanics.
- You gain free cosmetic unlocks for your warbands, decks and icons the more you play with specific warbands – It’s great to see this stuff available for free as long as you keep playing. Special shoutout goes to free warband skins too. Great value and work from the devs.
- Online is very stable – I’ve matched with players from across the world and have had very little connection issues.
- Devs are always listening and putting out fixes – As mentioned earlier the devs at Steel Sky Productions are regularly interacting with the community and are always on the lookout for bugs and glitches. Report these to them and they quickly work on a fix.
- You’ll love it if you enjoyed playing Shadespire and miss the days of old.
- Freedom to play Warhammer Underworlds at any time – You can launch up the game at any time from home and play with anyone across the world.
Is WUO Worth Buying?
The big question. Now this is more complicated than it sounds as there are a lot of factors when it comes to WUO and whether it’s worth purchasing for yourself. As mentioned early I got this game for free so I’ve approached this as if I had to buy it myself (like I normally do with all my product reviews). I had to be very mindful of people double-dipping with the tabletop game and WUO too as there are a lot of players interested who play the tabletop game. With that out of the way, here’s my recommendations:
For people who regularly play Warhammer Underworlds on the tabletop and are looking for a 1:1 representation of the game as it is now, then you’ll want to hold out and wait. Even though the game is in a good spot now you’ll be more annoyed than having fun. I’d advise to wait till all the Shadespire universal cards and warbands are out as playing in the current card pool is very restrictive.
Casual Tabletop Players
For those who have played Warhammer Underworlds on the tabletop previously or don’t care too much for the competitive tournament scene then you’ll enjoy the game. It’s very good for pickup and play as well as helping keep you familiar with the Underworlds rules set. You’ll still have fun and a good experience overall as long as the competitive online experience isn’t a priority for you. It’s a great way to play with friends as well as introduce new players.
Brand New Players
Never played Warhammer Underworlds before? Then WUO is great for you. It’s a good introduction to the Warhammer Underworlds universe. Depending on your experience with online play will dictate how much you enjoy WUO’s ranked mode. It’s still a fun game to play regularly. Just remember it’s pretty much online only and the only true offline experience is against CPU controlled opponents.
There you have it, my review of WUO. It has got its flaws but it’s still a solid gaming experience, especially if you really loved playing during Shadespire. It needs some work still but I’m sure it will be much better later down the line. If you’re willing to wait then there’s no worry, if you not then that’s totally understandable as well. Currently it’s still the only way to play Warhammer Underworlds online legally without playing over webcam connections with friends.
Personally I’m mixed on WUO. I’m really glad it’s out there and it’s a solid game but I’ve played Warhammer Underworlds for so long that Shadespire, while fondly familiar, is kinda boring to me in a way. The best way I can explain it is imagine watching your favourite film again but you know all the plot and surprises. I still have fun playing but I miss the improvements and changes from Beastgrave. This is why it has been a bit difficult for me in terms of recommending WUO but I’m confident it is in good hands as Steel Sky Productions are an amazing development team who really do constantly listen to the community. I highly recommend joining their Discord sever which you can find here. They also do regular live streams on their Twitch channel which you can find here.
One last thing to add is that Steel Sky Productions also gave me a WUO game key to give out for free! To get it you just need to like this article on whatever format you use (except Reddit as I can’t differentiate upvotes) and I’ll announce the winner the following week. Remember that you need a STEAM account (which is free to setup) and a PC to play it on. You can check out the game’s STEAM store page here.
So until I see you online, keep those virtual crits hot!