Carbon nails the weighty atmosphere of Warhammer’s supernatural universe in Tempestfall, but there are consistent design problems. Read on for our Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall review!
On most fronts, Carbon Studios was a great choice for a VR Warhammer game set in the Age of Sigmar line. Removed from the clunky clash of industrial weaponry in the better-known 40K world, Sigmar explores more nightmarish aspects of Warhammer, trading in breeze block pistols for ancient spells and sorcery. That’s something the developers of The Wizards are quite familiar with.
And what Carbon does well it does very well in Tempestfall. Fluid gesture-based spell-casting once again meets meticulous attention to visual detail, and the studio even pushes itself with new elements like a Metroidvania-style overworld and side-dungeons. But it’s also an inconsistent experience with a lot of bugs and UI issues. Not to mention that the Warhammer universe is inescapably more physical than the fire-casting, shield-throwing safety of The Wizards series, and that’s where Tempestfall really trips up.
Speaking as a distant admirer of the wider brand, Tempestfall does seem to nail the tone of the Age of Sigmar universe. You’re a holy warrior type that battles hordes of skeleton soldiers and ghostly apparitions known as the Nighthaunt. Terrors have laid siege to an ancient city and you’ll join a legion of iron-masked warriors in armor (that looks impossibly exhausting to wear) in an attempt to repel them using ancient weaponry and mythical items like an hourglass that reverses time. Yup, this is Warhammer alright, and Carbon has a great grasp on the extensive lore and gritty visual flair needed to sell you on that. The abandoned city — which in the second half is replaced with a network of marshes — is strewn with overgrown vines, boarded-up doors and an overall weather climate that Earth can expect to enjoy in the next 100 years or so. Suffice to say, it really looks the part.
This world isn’t as accessible as the 40K universe, but you also don’t really need to have any prior knowledge to enjoy the experience. Still, this a Warhammer game so, naturally, there’s a lot of macho-biblical nonsense steeped in hilariously sincere stoicism, the authenticity of which will no doubt delight veteran fans and amuse passersby. Your protagonist in particular seems to be unable to function without either praying to Sigmar or taking his name in vain. There’s also a long section with a fog which, I kid you not, is labeled the ‘Fog of Obscurification’. Isn’t every fog a fog of obscurification?
Actually exploring the two overworlds and the series of dungeons they lead to is a real highlight. It’s true that Carbon’s titles specialize in a surface beauty with super-crisp modeling and texture work, whereas aspects like NPC animations are comparatively simplistic, but they still manage to make exploring endless sewers and earthy caverns interesting, and your arsenal of weaponry has the appearance of religious artifacts passed down through generations.
Actually using your weapons is, well, a bit of a mixed bag. It’s clear to see what Carbon is going for with Tempestfall’s combat – each of your three weapons has three gesture-based spells (each starting with one and the other two are unlocked via upgrades), allowing you to buff weapon damage, shoot out waves of lightning, cover distance in a short amount of time and even chain damage between enemies. The system varies in actually registering what you’re trying to do depending on the gesture – horizontal swipes of my sword were always picked up but raising a weapon above my head seemed to only be recognized around 75% of the time.
Still, when it works the spell-casting element is immensely satisfying, allowing to quickly knock extra damage off of groups of opponents or simultaneously juggle foes from both short and long ranges. I never found myself needing to really switch up between attack types, but having the option available is appreciated.
But the game also puts a big focus on sword-based combat that can be both glitchy and far, far too easy to exploit. There’s an Until You Fall-like system to the combat in which your enemy’s move will be telegraphed by an on-screen indicator. The game’s tutorial will tell you that you need to meet incoming attacks with force and then return fire. And you can play this way and have a somewhat coherent experience. Sometimes your blocks will inexplicably miss and sometimes you’ll swing your sword and not hit an enemy that’s clearly in range, and the game’s prone to crowding you with enemies and ensuring you can’t keep up with its frantic pace.
But you can just as easily start waggling your hands away and dispatching foes in half the time it takes to play properly. I ended up having to stop myself succumbing to this temptation every time a battle got tough or I neared death and, in the scenarios where the game throws frankly a ridiculous amount of enemies at you, I had to give in. If Carbon had implemented a system that only allowed you to attack the Nighthaunt after a successful parry and scaled back the number of enemies to help you focus on the melee then Tempestfall’s combat could be dramatically improved but, as it stands, it’s a bit of mess.
It also doesn’t help that both combat and exploration are strewn with troublesome design choices and bugs. Armies of skeletons are meant to provide a power trip, letting you cut through the hordes with ease, but they barely even put up a fight. In fact you’ll often spot soldiers standing facing a wall as you kill their comrades, or just flat out looking past you as you walk up to attack. This even happened to me with the game’s final boss, meaning I had to restart twice before it could progress properly. Weapon selection, meanwhile, is done by a wheel that appears when holding a button, but if you move your hand even a little as you make your selection you’ll end up picking the wrong item and I often found myself pressing the grip button to summon a sword and nothing would appear.
Plus you have a squad of three troops you’ll meet throughout the story, each armed with their own unique weapon. But you never get a chance to command them or even fight alongside them until the final battle, which leaves you wondering if some features were cut.
Making progress in the overworlds is also tough when the game doesn’t give up a map or any indication or where to head next, and I sometimes lost half an hour or more stumbling around trying to find where to go next. You can head back to a camp to upgrade weapons but, with no fast travel option, it’s often more effort than it’s worth. And there are even doors that need to be lifted up over your head to remove them and I genuinely found myself having to stand up onto my toes and stretch as much as possible to get them past the point the game considered the door ‘open’. Numerous avoidable issues like this, plus the fact that a harder difficulty mode is coming post-launch, tell me that Tempestfall needed a fair bit more time in development.
This is a huge shame, because you can tell Tempestfall aspires to be a genuine evolution over The Wizards and it pulls off some really interesting ideas whilst fleshing out its world with side-missions too, but these can be equally flawed. In one level you seem to hallucinate as a dungeon morphs around you and it’s a really intriguing five minutes until it outstays its welcome and you start to simply get lost. There’s also a horrendous trek through a foggy maze (despite the fact you had just obtained an item that’s meant to let you traverse it) and I even managed to bypass an overworld obstacle early in the second chapter, allowing me to complete a bunch of side-missions early while sound effects for enemy spawns were triggered despite no foes appearing.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall Review – Final Impressions
My heart bleeds for Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall. It’s a game of genuinely admirable aspiration that, in many ways, is painfully close to achieving its goals. But every time I started to settle into its gorgeous world and brilliantly over-the-top-lore one of its many issues would make itself known. The combat is a mess in need of a significant overhaul, the UI is fussy and unhelpful, and a string of bugs and puzzle roadblocks kill any sense of momentum. With more time under the hood, a lot of these issues could have been refined and Tempestfall would have been a highlight in a meager year for PC VR releases. As it stands, this offering might be only worthy of Sigmar’s wrath.
For more on how we arrived at this rating, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Warhammer Age of Simgar: Tempestfall Review? Let us know in the comments below!