Feb 14, 2006

The digital and quite interactive Old World

The fact that thousands of grown men still play with toy soldiers, despite being a sad sociological truth, is also a great opportunity for greedy profit. Games Workshop, a company that started out by creating simple wooden toys, is the company that has so far exploited this manly need (in its fantasy version at least) and has created the all-powerful, all singing and all dancing Warhammer franchise. But selling toy soldiers can never be enough. Warhammer, originally and at heart a tabletop miniature paint’em up strategic game, was soon (if 15 years are considered a small time frame) transported to the digital media.

For example: You, me and everybody who will be willing to pay around 50 euros (~55$), will soon be able to enjoy the forthcoming (obviously) and much hyped RTS (Real Time Strategy for the uninitiated) Warhammer: Mark of Chaos. It will definitely be a looker, a hypothetically faithful adaptation of the Warhammer 6th edition rules and the Old World background, and should be out by the end of 2006. In case you would like to read a fine preview, take a look at what either IGN or Namco have to tell you. What I’m going to talk about here instead, are the Warhammer video games of yore, which surprisingly haven’t been numerous. The futuristic Warhammer 40,000 has until now proven a more lucrative franchise, as many more pc and console outings prove. Allow me to remind you of the recent and rather successful Dawn of War, the first Games Workshop video game to actually hit the charts.

On with Warhammer then… Let’s start from a game that was published by Micro League back in 1995, was set in the Warhammer world, but wasn’t a Warhammer game per se. It was Blood Bowl, or to be more precise, an extremely faithful adaptation of the “Specialist” Games Workshop hybrid of board-miniature-sports game Blood Bowl, that was quite cleverly named Blood Bowl too. And as you should have imagined, Blood Bowl was something like rugby or American Football, only more brutal, almost funny and 100% turn based. Its stars were Orcs, Trolls, Elves (Dark or vanilla flavoured), even Halfings or Zombies. The rules for both the board and the pc game, were simple, allowed for a huge variety of tactics and made an excellent game.

Then, Mindscape published Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat in 1995, making that video gaming year the most Warhammer crowded one ever. The game was a very interesting RTS game without any resource-gathering mechanic whatsoever, that was based on the 5th edition of the Warhammer rules and was the first RTS sporting a full-blown 3d graphics engine (and beautiful 2d cut-scenes too). Shadow of the Horned Rat had an engrossing story line, was a real tactical challenge, but also one of the most cruelly difficult games ever. Of the few people who actually played it, nobody (to my knowledge) finished the damn thing. The controls of the pc version didn’t help very much either, even though I do believe that executing an elegant flank charge with a cavalry regiment in real life has to be much harder. The PlayStation version though, did get the controls almost right.

So did the game’s 1998 sequel Warhammer: Dark Omen. It was still painfully unfair to the player mind you, but at least one felt one stood a chance. The graphics were, and even by today’s standards still are, brilliant and the story included Undead sorcerers and nasty necromantic magic. Joy. You can still find a review of the game at the Home of the Underdogs.

And… that’s all. Believe it or not, these three games are all the Warhammer based video games ever released. This consequently leads to a rather short article (post), that I could extend by referring to the story of the ill-fated Warhammer Online MMORPG. But I wont. I will instead point you the direction of our dear Wikipedia.

Interested in more Warhammer related material? Take a look at my tactics article, or perhaps at a review of the Monsters and Mercenaries Collectors Guide. If, on the other hand, you prefer reading about PC Games, browse through reviews of Namco Museum, Apprentice Deluxe, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Civilization 4 or And Then There Were None.

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  1. As a long-time Games Workshop/Warhammer fan, I'd like to point out that you forgot two earlier Warhammer PC games. The first is Space Hulk, published by EA in '93 or '94, a sort of tactical first-person game featuring Terminator squads and Genestealers. Then in '96 EA published Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, which is similar to the first release but with action that more closely resembles current FPS games.

  2. Great games but not Warhammer ones. More on the 40k side though...

    Anyway. Cheers for the comment!

  3. Im a long time die hard fan of Warhammer. Allthough I dont have time to paint the figures and play tabletop, i enjoyed PC games. Thats why i wanted to react, because i beated both warhammer games without cheats. Dark Omen is much more user friendly, it has better controls and overview of battle. Also, after the battle youre not limited on reinforcements as in Shadow of horned rat, its main problem. Both these games can be beaten but only with enough patience and a lot of trials for each map until you get it right. The game is really rewarding. I recently installed Dark Omen on WinXP and it works great, unfortunatley cant get graphics right on Shadow of the horned rat.

    Horned rat is one of the hardest games i played but not impossible once you get the trick for that particular level thats bugging you.

  4. Cheers for the comment my Anonymous friend...

    Now, if I may say so, I'm definitely not a very patient person... Never finished Horned Rat, and used cheats when playing Dark Omen.

    Other than that, Horned Rat runs fine on XP (at least for me) when I run it in Win95 compatibility mode. Give it a try.

  5. hi gnome,

    i really want to play SOTHR (shadow...), tried all things, made it run but the screen in game is black. the game uns, i see map and charge but 3d model is gone. i tried everything i could think of...compatibility, virtal pc (doesnt work on xphome...), editing config files to make it run at all, cant install win98 over xp, can do it other way around though but dont want too reinstall whole comp...etc.

    so if you could just provide me with some of your settings and hardware. i got ati graphics on both, maybe thats the problem.

    anonyimus ;)

  6. Well, my anonymous Superpanda, I've got an Nvidia, but I did have the exact same problem you are describing, only with Dark Omen, back in my Ati 9700pro days.


    Have a look here (it's one link broken in 3 parts, so it fits the screen):



    Good luck.

  7. Hi there Gnome, actually Games Workshop (as far as I remember back in the late 1970s and early 1980s) did not start off making wooden toys but instead made very high quality board games and role playing game tie-ins, such as books for paper RPGs Traveller, Runequest, dungeon floor plans and other RPG accessories. It's sister company, Citadel, produced a fantastic range of metal figures which were detailed and some of the best on the market at the time. Games Workshop also produced it's magazine White Dwarf which was bimonthly to start with and became monthly sometime in the early 1980s. This magazine was devoted to roleplaying games and some board games. In the late 80s (or early 90s - I can't remember) it became the dreaded GW figures catalogue and dropped all RPGs and games not part of the GW stable. Warhammer came out as a skirmish game with some RPG rules in the appendix in 1983 (IIRC). It then published the Forces of Fantasy boxed set which heralded the kind of game it became with later versions of the Warhammer rules.

  8. Gordy,

    thanks a ton for the amazing comment. Still, I'll have to argue that according to the WD commemorating the 30 years of GW, they did mention wooden toys...

    Anyway. Cheers!

    (and please, do stay around)

  9. While i agree the Space hulk games are not Warhammer per sae, and neither is the one below. They all come from the branches of the same tree! So for me, the first Warhammer game game from Holistic, one of my favourite 'unknown' game companies! (published Machiavelli The Prince and Emperor of the Fading Suns, for example), and was called 'Final Liberation' an RTS game with very good AI and very Warhammer (40k)! It came out in 1997 so was a decade old last year!

  10. And it was a bloody excellent game too! Properly turn based and utterly faithfull to the WH40K Armageddon rules. Excellent, excellent...

    Thanks for the comment john!

  11. I managed to finish both of the games without cheats. Shadow of the Horned Rat is the first game I actually played and be able to finished it. Excellent game but you actually need patients, and I mean a lot of em to finally taste the sweet victory. This is the game I played again and again with different routes to get the whole story on the line. Wish I could play it again on XP. But to no avail. I wonder how you managed to play it on XP.

    As for Dark Omen it is not as tough as Shadow of the Horned Rat, but still entertaining knowing the same familiar characters are in it but with a totally different story and environment. Basically more units are present and badass enemies. You will be overwhelm by them. To me the only annoying thing is that the voice over is different from the first game. Morgan sounded more of a clown rather than a cold hearted commander I used to know in shadow of the horned rat.

    The Mark of Chaos is interesting, which we can actually play different race but to me it was a let down as I really missed the Morgan Bernhardt and his old grudgebringers. They we nowhere to be found in the game. I really hope they relive the days where the grudgebringers were the heroes of the Old World.

  12. Wow, it's amazing you discovered this most ancient of posts dear Yuhyi... I'm deeply shocked and definitely smiling.

    Now, as for SOTHR, I didn't play it on XP, but on a Win 95 PC, where everything worked fine. And, frankly, I was quite shit at it, despite loving it to bits.

    Oh, and you're absolutely correct on Dark Omen... Mark of Chaos was okay-ish...

    All I'm waiting for right now, Warhemmer-wise and besides the return of the Grudgebringers and their dogs of war, is the forthcoming Blood Bowl.


  13. Well I hope they make a new game based on the grudgebringers. I too played using windows 95/98. After many times of playing the game. Something interesting I discover during sneeking into the text files. I realised that there is a hidden heavy cavalry in the game. I don't know where we should encounter them in the game as I played all the mission and tried different route each time. But if you enable it in the text files. We can start off the game with a group of heavy cavalry in green armour. And the horses have golden heavy armor. Starting with 2 cavalry unit is great. But they are expensive to replace and might end up bankrupt if one not being too careful. Overall a legendary game in my list.

  14. Absolutely legendary! And if you 're into turn based strategy and a bit WH 40k too, then you could try Final Liberation. Brilliant game.

  15. Its also a sad sociological truth that thousands of grown men and women play with balls ITS CALLED SPORT

  16. Hi Gnome just found the comments here and had to add my opinion on the games -- being of the right age during the time of release I owned all the Games Workshop pc games ever made -- warhammer online is the only exception because my life is much more complicated these days :)

    I bought Mark of Chaos a couple of years ago and only got round to playing it this Christmas and completed in a week! Sooo disappointing!

    Shadow of the Horned Rat and Dark Omen had real gripping plots and were so much tougher! In fact I am now re-installing Shadow of the Horned Rat on my XP machine – this was such a real test of skill and tactics, with TRULY different routes through the game (not minor excursions as in Mark of Chaos). In Shadow of the Horned Rat you had to lose units to win some battles – you could not complete the game without losing sometimes very long-standing units/wizards in your army! This made it one of the most rewarding strategy/tactical games I have ever played. If your units were going to meet an end you made sure they sold theirselves dearly.

    As you say, Final Liberation was also awesome and had a very involving storyline! It was also very true to the board game which I believe helped finish the board game off -- you could play multiplayer Final Lib and it would be much quicker and easier to setup lol :) Additionally, maybe I’m getting old, but I much prefer the FMV cut-scenes in games of old like Final Lib, which used real actors and outfits to draw you into the game, not the 3D rendered characters in cut-scenes most modern games, they are so lacking in emotion! Assassins Creed for instance…


  17. Ah Dr Luke,

    that was a comment I really enjoyed reading... Thank you for taking the time!

    You even got me thinking of following your example and replaying those bastard hard yet brilliant games. Oh, and admittedly FMV can at times be brilliant; or at least brilliantly cheeasy.