Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin is throwing around plenty of Warhammer pedigree. It’s the first RTS title in the Age of Sigmar setting and arguably the largest game to touch upon Games Workshop’s re-imagined fantasy realms, and it’s being co-written by Gav Thorpe of Black Library fame. I’ve played Realms of Ruin a few times now and, at first, I was struck by how similar the gameplay was to Warhammer: 40,000 Dawn of War. But as the game’s development has progressed, more and more of what makes Realms of Ruin unique and interesting has bubbled up to the surface. Now that the third faction has been announced, and we’ve seen a little of the Nighthaunts in action, the unique strengths and weaknesses of each side is a little more clear. That’s something also helped by a healthy dose of balancing since the previous Realms of Ruin beta.

The Stormcast Eternals play much more into their survivalist, tanky, tough staying power playstyle. Orruk Kruleboyz have more utility and strategy from their traps and beasts. The Nighthaunt seem to be relying on pure strength in numbers, and wraiths and ghostly beings surround your troops.

Now Playing: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin Hands On Impressions | Gamescom 2023

The Nighthaunts also bring a new flavor to the game’s roster, and I must admit, as a Warhammer fan, I often find it hard when previewing games like these to appreciate the bigger picture of what I’m playing as I zoom the camera into each model as close as possible to inspect their details.

One thing I do still struggle with is unit identification, especially where these ghostly folks are considered. Some of that is addressed by the icons present above a unit’s head signifying what type of unit they are and where they are positioned in the broad “rock-paper-scissors” style of army-building, where units of a certain type are better suited to take on others.

The special abilities of units remain one of the most satisfying elements of Realms of Ruin. Pinning down your enemies with shielded, unbreakable Liberators and charging in from the sides with your Vanguard Hunters or using winged prosecutors to throw hammers from above is exceptionally effective should, you be able to pull it off.

However, as each unit has their own ability (or abilities), and you also need to keep an eye on unit health and be ready to hit that “retreat” button, the moving parts of Realms of Ruin were putting my micromanagement abilities to the test.

I was also able to try out Realms of Ruin’s Direct Step control scheme for the first time, Frontier’s development in the world of RTS user experience for those who favor a gamepad.

Orders are issued by drawing paths and waypoints from position to position, and instead of having to scroll between what unit you want, you are instead able to use the left joystick to jump to the unit you’re pointing at.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on it at first–it doesn’t really control quite like anything else I’ve played. But after a very short while, I started to see the appeal as my actions and orders became much smoother, and I was more confidently using the sticks and face buttons to group units, reinforce my army, and utilize abilities. I don’t think I’d pick this control scheme over a keyboard and mouse, but as Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin is also coming to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, I’m glad to say that Direct Step could be the best way to play an RTS on console.

We also got a small look at the new Conquest game mode, a repeatable single-player experience where you fight across the map in a procedurally generated route, with many battles having “rule-breaking” modifiers such as extreme fog of war, or just a single capture point for parties to fight over, and a final score growing depending on how many battles you are able to survive through. For those of us who don’t fancy our chances playing online, but want a little more than single-player skirmishes against the AI, it’s nice to see that the longevity of the single-player experience has been considered.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin feels like an exciting next step in what an RTS can offer to a broader audience and what the genre can be on console. I’m happy to see that rich campaigns and stories have a place in RTS games, and I have no doubt other Warhammer fans will be overjoyed to see more of their favorite stories and miniatures brought to life when the game releases on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on November 17.

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