While Warhammer games were once few and far between, in 2021, it’s hard to swing a chainsword without hitting one – and not all of them are good.
It’s might be easy to forget, but Warhammer video games used to be scarce instead of omnipresent. The first edition of the fantasy board game shipped in 1983 – but the first video game was 1995’s Blood Bowl for the PC, and the series didn’t reach consoles until 2006’s Warhammer: Mark of Chaos. The pace of releases began picking up around 2015, and as of 2021, it sometimes feels like a new one is coming out each month. Games Workshop could stand to be a little more selective with its licensing, lest it risk making its brand meaningless.
Quantity isn’t inherently a problem. The Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 universes have vast amounts of lore to draw on, enabling not just a range of plots and characters but substantially different kinds of gameplay. WH40K seems to be good for everything from single-character action games (Space Marine) to RTS titles (Dawn of War) and large-scale fleet battles (Battlefleet Gothic). There are even a few VR titles, and spinoffs based on GW properties like Necromunda and Aeronautica Imperialis.
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The problem is that many of these titles are mediocre or forgettable, developed by small studios that have little hope of a breakout hit. There were, for example, five Warhammer 40K games released in 2020: The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth, Necromunda: Underhive Wars, Warhammer 40,000: Dakka Squadron, Aeronautica Imperialis: Flight Command, and Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister. None of these have had much traction in 2021 – even Dakka Squadron, which has favorable reviews on Steam. Across Fantasy and 40K, there are 12 games launching or already out in 2021 – since most of them will probably be average or possibly even bad, why should anyone hold their breath for the next crop of announcements? The Warhammer branding risks becoming more a reason for skepticism than anticipation, if it’s not already there.
In The Grim Darkness Of Warhammer Release Cycles, There Is Still A Little Light
There should be a few games worth checking out in the near future, to be clear. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a co-op shooter from the makers of the popular Vermintide games, and of course there’s Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer 3. Both of those should be out by the end of 2021. There might also be some potential in 2022’s Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters, but that’s a sequel to a 1998 strategy title, and there isn’t any gameplay footage to speak of yet.
There’s presumably a business case for so many Warhammer titles if Games Workshop is going down this path. It still seems, however, that it would be smarter to more thoroughly vet developers before handing over the license – quality control is the same reason there are only so many products with the James Bond name on it. Gamers should ideally be able to anticipate Warhammer games like a new Mario, or at least a new Star Wars title, instead of being confused and overwhelmed by all their options.
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