Warhammer Quest for iPad and iPhone review: Tabletop game makes its debut on iOS

Warhammer, that quintessentially British and admirably undying tabletop gaming institution (or 'The Hobby', as Games Workshop staff so cultishly refer to it as), has for too long been left in the hands of videogame companies who don't quite know what to do with it. Its sci-fi cousin, Warhammer 40,000, has been served well by the Dawn of War series on PC (and Mac if you're happy to brave Crossover), but its fantasy cousin has been in the digital doldrums for years. Of late, Games Workshop seems to be aware that pixels may be as important as paintpots, and iOS-exclusive strategy-roleplaying game Warhammer Quest is just one of many planned games based on their warlike licenses.

It's based loosely on the rules of Warhammer, but more specifically on an old boardgame spin-off called Warhammer Quest. As well as dispensing with tape measures and dice rolls in favour of tile-based movement and health bars, it changes focus from the huge armies of the tabletop game to a squad of four heroes, heading off on adventures, levelling up and bagging themselves better kit. Think of it as cross between Diablo and XCOM, if you know your non-mobile games. The initial purchase bags you a few reassuringly Tolkienesque types - slow but strong Dwarf, Elven archer, frail wizard and your classic Beefy Nutter With A Big Sword. Off they all head on a series of dungeon-runs, beating up orks, goblins, trolls and assorted wildlife in search of loot and experience points. 

It's a familiar formula perhaps, but the slightly silly, concertedly grisly Warhammer look and tone does it big favours, as does its admirable refusal to give its players an easy ride. You won't get far by charging everyone in the direction of the nearest greenskin and flailing wildly - you need to learn the very particular abilities of your gang of loot-hungry misfits, and use both instinct and judgement to work out where and when they're best deployed. 

Even if you do feel you've got Warhammer Quest's measure, it'll frequently decide to, say, drop in seven more orks while you're already brawling with a half dozen of their mates, or perhaps have you randomly robbed of your shiny new cash when you're heading back to town after a successful mission. It's compelling, highly tactical and refreshingly unfair stuff.

Letting the side down somewhat is a downright greedy mentality. A good portion of the game - featuring those fan favourites, the monstrous ratmen Skaven - has been walled off into an additional payment, as have four extra playable characters and, worst of all, cheat-tastic in-game gold purchase. In a way the option to have more of a good thing is a welcome one, but in this case it's just far too obvious and nagging about the stuff it's hung a pricetag on.

There's a creeping sense that the 'main', £2.99 game is incomplete, sputtering to an oddly vague halt that's part of a clear plan to keep on flogging further content. Again, the idea of more Warhammer Questing is hugely appealing after this confidently strategic and brutal opening salvo - just a shame it couldn't be a little less cynical about it.

OUR VERDICT

A slick, absorbing and smart adaption of the first name in tabletop gaming, Warhammer Quest is reassuringly hardcore, but without making the mistake of plunging into incomprehensible fan service. A shame the IAP stuff wasn't handled with a little more subtlety, but Quest is nonetheless one of the must-have strategy games on the App Store.

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