Warhammer Underworlds Online Review

Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 - 13:00 | By: Adam Potts
Developer
TBA
Publisher
TBA
Release Date
April 21, 2020
Multiplayer modes
Online
Platforms
PC
Monetization
Character DLC
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)
Steam
Skirmish Deck Building Gets Competitive

Warhammer Underworlds Online is a digital reflection of the popular deckbuilding, tabletop skirmish game from Games Workshop. WUO is simple to play, but with a lot of complexity and hybrid elements. There's a huge amount of depth and tactics around every facet, from initial deck creation, to board and objective placement and then managing the limited actions and dice odds, all building towards the perfection of finding the balance of deck-creation and game knowledge that will find you victory. But we'll get to that.

Warhammer Underworlds Online Gameplay.
Spiteclaw makes a break through the Farstriders line.

To play Warhammer Underworlds Online, players pick from a set of pre-selected warriors, known as a Warband. On release, the core game gives you access to 6 different warbands, and more will be available through DLC at a later date. The tabletop version of Warhammer Underworlds has 8 warbands a season (and is currently in season 3), so there's a lot of future expansion for WUO. Each warband comes with a different number of fighters. Some, like the Farstriders and Steelhearts Champions, are hard-hitting and tough, but there are only 3 of them. The Sepulchral Guard are slow and relentless, coming in a squad of 7 warriors who can be resurrected if they fall. Ironskull's Boyz and Magore's Fiends are aggressive, combat warbands that come with 4 warriors each and Spiteclaw's Swarm are 5 fast and deadly ratmen.

 
 

Each warband comes with a pre-made deck to get you straight into the action after working through the tutorial. It's a good idea to use these decks to get used to how each group plays before looking to build your own deck. Each faction also has very different skill levels. Ironskull's Boyz and Magore's Fiends are beginner-friendly due to their single-minded aggressive play. Steelhearts Champions and the Farstriders are the most forgiving due to their toughness and only having 3 warriors to worry about makes them simple to pilot. Spiteclaw's Swarm and the Sepulchral Guard, due to their fragility, a larger number of warriors and complex abilities, have a much higher learning curve and are very unforgiving of mistakes.

Players can change the paint jobs of the warbands in WUO.
An alternative paint scheme for Magore's Fiends.

The central part of the gameplay for WUO is 3 turns of 4 alternating actions for both players. During your activation, 1 of your fighters can carry out an action. Actions include moving, attacking, or carrying out a special action for a fighter, like Spiteclaw who can bring his fighters that have been taken out back onto the board. There are also 2 types of cards that are used during the game. Power cards are used for bonus effects like giving your fighters bonuses to attack or defense or giving them permanent upgrades and Objective cards, which are scored to earn glory points, which is how you win.

Players have a total of 12 actions in each game. This limited number of actions means that every action counts, and what makes action sequencing so important. This, combined with deck-building and dice odds knowledge, is what makes WUO so competitive. Deeper skill comes from board and objective placement at the start of the game, and that comes from knowledge of each faction, and their deck types and aims.

We cover all the different elements of Warhammer Underworlds Online, from board placement to deck building in our Guide, so we won't go into too much detail here and the above is just to stress that it's not a game that players will be experts at overnight.

WUO Gameplay.
Magore and Severin battle, leader to leader.

Warhammer Underworlds Online is, in essence, very simple to play, especially over the tabletop version as most of the complexity is done by the game engine. This leads to a false sense of simplicity with WUO. Most of my experience with the tabletop version, and the skill I have developed, has come from defeats. Games can still be won, even after all of your fighters have been taken out, depending on your deck build, and it's impossible to experience this unless you see games through to the end.

A large percentage of our Warhammer Underworlds Online experience involves players conceding in the first or second round, after a fighter has been taken out, or they fail a dice key dice roll. In online card games, if the match reaches a point that it's unwinnable, or the result is clear, it's easy to concede in order to get the next game going. In Warhammer Underworlds, entering the last round with a huge glory difference between you and your opponent, you will know from your final 3 cards if you can win, then conceding seems like a logical choice, but there's still a lot to learn in the final round. You can still get a look at your opponent's deck and also look to where you can improve your own. What cards would be useful in the current board state and how could you turn it to a win in future if you were to edit your deck?

WUO Roll Off.
The WUO roll-off prior to deployment.

WUO captures everything from the tabletop version and graphically it's got a huge amount going for it. The animations for the warriors, the different color options for each warband and the visuals for the boards and the surrounding landscape capture the theme and feel of Warhammer Underworlds perfectly. However, it's currently let down by the online experience. Due to the length of time for games and small numbers of players at certain times, you can be waiting in match-making for a while. After you've taken the time to set up the boards and deploy your fighters, if your opponent concedes during the first turn because a roll didn't go their way, it can be extremely frustrating. It would be impossible to penalize players for conceding, it could just put them off playing more games further reducing the player-base. As the number of players grows and more ranked play is possible (players concede less when their ranking is at state) then this will be less and less of an issue, but at the moment, it dominates most of the experience. 

It is possible to challenge friends, and this is the best way to play currently, especially as the standard for the tabletop Warhammer Underworlds is best of 3, as games can be hampered by bad card draws. Best of 3 also allows you to learn from the first match against the same opponent, improving your board and objective placement for the next games.

 
Card selection in WUO.
Deck editing in WUO.

There are limited card options for deckbuilding currently. Universal card drops are going to happen periodically, increasing the card choice and deck options for each warband, but for the moment it feels very restrictive. There's not much variation between deck builds, so it's hard to deviate deck builds beyond objective-hold or aggressive attack. This was the same in the first year of the physical version, where the limited cards didn't give much variety and it will get better as more cards are released.

One area where the digital version trumps the physical is in the buy-in. In the physical version, to be competitive, you need to buy all the current and previous season's warbands to get access to all of the cards that are available for play. Buying the products new can cost around $300. This is because universal cards are released inside each faction pack, forcing you to buy all of the warbands if you wanted access to the cards. WUO isn't like that, and you will only need to buy the warbands you want to play after the core game, as everyone has access to all the currently released universal cards. If you only want to play one of the 6 warbands included in the core release, then you'll never have to buy a DLC.

Trying out new warbands is very rewarding, so if you do play and enjoy, then the $6.99 price tag for future factions is great value, especially as you can take a look at all the guides and content for the physical warbands, to see if they interest you before you buy.

WUO Fighter Deplotment.
Fighter deployment in WUO.

Warhammer Underworlds Online is a perfect digital representation of the tabletop game. While the current card pool feels restrictive for the veteran tabletop player, more cards are coming and just like during Season 1 of Warhammer Underworlds Shadespire, this will improve. Where the issues are currently is that the tactical nature of it isn't apparent on the first play, and players conceding early isn't ideal for either player, as no-one gets to learn. As more players join, the player base will settle and ranked play will match you against equally ranked players, the whole experience will improve. For the moment, if you're not challenge matching friends directly, then you could be in for a bumpy ride in friendly and ranked play. The tabletop version is certainly Editor's Choice worthy, but the current online experience and card pool make WUO a lesser experience.

 

TechRaptor reviewed Warhammer Underworlds Online on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.

 

Review Summary

7.5
WUO is a fantastic digital capture of the incredible physical game. It blends deck building with great turn-based action. The current online experience isn't perfect, and unless playing friends directly, does require some perseverance.

Pros

  • Perfect Digital Representation Of The Physical Product
  • Awesome Turn-Based Competitive Action
  • Great Deck-Building Skirmish Hybrid

Cons

  • Currently Limited Card Pool
  • Poor Online Experience Outside of Friend Matches

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A Potts TechRaptor
Tabletop Editor

Adam is the Tabletop Editor for TechRaptor. He's been involved in the video game and tabletop industry since 1997, including managing communities, flavour text writing for CCGs, game development and design and has played physical and digital card games at a high competitive level.