The March edition (Issue 462) of the Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine included 12 free video game keys (11 games + 1 expansion pack). Given their slightly scattergun approach to licensing out their franchise to a whole host of developers, digital Warhammer games are a mixed bag. There are a handful of brilliant entries, a whole load of mediocre games and at worst several cash-grab mobile games that seem to serve the sole purpose of hounding you across youtube as pre-roll ads. So let’s take a look at the ones GW are giving away. To help you figure out which ones are worth your time and hard drive space, here are our picks from the bunch.
The Warhammer 40,000 Games
George: Something of a golden boy when it comes to depictions of the Warhammer 40k setting. Emerging during a time when Gears of War inspired 3rd person cover shooters were seemingly everywhere, Space Marine picked up the heft and weighty feeling of Gears but ditched the notion of taking cover. Instead, it thrusts a chainsword into your hand and tells you that 3000 Orks won’t chop themselves up (well, knowing Orks they might, but you can certainly expedite the process). A neat little story strings everything together and Mark Strong’s voicing of protagonist Cpt Titus is a perfect bit of casting.
This remains the peak of 40k action games, though this is partly due to minimal competition. The multiplayer was good fun but servers are pretty empty at this point, however there is a perfectly acceptable co-op horde mode allowing you to enact the core tenets of the Codex Astartes with friends as you face down waves of enemies.
Dawn of War
George: Remaining the best entry in the Dawn of War series and one of the best 40k games full stop, Nevi recently reviewed this classic which you can check out his thoughts here. GW are only giving away the key for the base game containing Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Eldar and Orks. The standalone expansions for this game are all worth picking up for their extra story campaigns and further factions. In the 17 years since its release Dawn of War has recieved plenty of fan support with Ultimate Apocalypse and the Unification mods being particular stand outs, expanding the game’s scale and adding new factions – though these are all built off the final standalone expansion DoW: Soulstorm.
Gav: The year is about 2005 and I’m at my friend’s house, huddled around a small CRT monitor as he shows me his new game, the CD drive on his beige office PC whirring aggressively. A Space Marine chainswords an Orc in half before my very eyes, and we zoom in as far as we can to see the gory details. Bolter noise, battle-cries and screams echo throughout the tiny spare room for an enraptured afternoon until I have to leave at dinnertime. I go home and humbly request my mum check if they have it at Asda. Dawn of War is a perfectly pitched mid-2000s RTS, in that classic and increasingly rarified base-building, unit-spewing vein. The audio, the attention to detail, and the pure fun factor make this game still well worth checking out. I played this game and expansions a lot as a kid, is what I’m saying, and a Techpriest has welded the rose-tinted spectacles permanently onto my skull.
One of the lesser known Warhammer 40k Strategy games, Nevi recently played it and thought it wasn’t bad at all. You can read his full review here.
“It uses the Warhammer 40,000 setting effectively and integrates everything you know about the tabletop game seamlessly.”Nevada Dru, 2021
The Warhammer Fantasy & Age of Sigmar Games
Total War: Warhammer
George: If you’re a Fantasy Battles fan then you’re probably getting the best of the crop. First up, Total War: Warhammer is the first entry in a trilogy (3rd entry expected some time this year) shaping up to be not only the best warhammer video games, but the best entries in the Total War series. Blending a strategic turn based campaign map with battles fought in real time, TW: Warhammer manages to create an experience that is almost what your mind’s eye imagines is happening as you play out the battles on the tabletop. Check out Nevi’s full review.
George: This might be the best part of the giveaway. It’s the newest game of the bunch and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a co-op hack ‘n’ slash in the vein of Left 4 Dead. In each level you’ll fight your way through hordes of skaven and chaos warriors amidst some stunning renders of the Old World. There are 5 characters to play as each with their own sub-classes and upgrade trees. Gaining loot and leveling up can feel a bit grindy at times but luckily the core loop is a good one. The developers Fat Shark are bringing the same formula to the far future of the 42nd millenium in their upcoming game Darktide, so this is a great way to get an idea of Darktide will be like.
Gav: Vermintide II is a properly great game for co-op-y shooter slash slasherheads, and if you have a few friends almost anyone can sink into it. Playing solo is a little precarious at this stage, with most experienced players expecting relatively thorough knowledge of level layouts and mechanics now that the game’s been out for years, but if you’re the sort of person to lose yourself in a swirl of gear and gore it’s sure to please. Nostalgia has perhaps blinded me, but I always found the simpler and less cluttered approach of the first Vermintide more to my taste. Nevertheless, the second go-around adds many more flavours of enemy and location, and is a solid, well-supported game, up there with Deep Rock Galactic at the peak of the genre’s currently-lively titles. Roll on Darktide.
Warhammer Underworlds Online
First of all this is a tentative reccomendation. I really enjoyed the original tabletop version of this game. It’s a neat little skirmish board game. Though the warbands you choose to play as feature fixed rosters, the decks of items, bonus actions and obective cards can be customised allowing for a ton of strategic experimentation. It’s a little swingy thanks to the dice and even though it might seem the dice have decided the game in the first round I’ve seen plenty of gradual comebacks that make the 3rd and final round a nailbiter.
That’s all well and good but how is the digital version? I don’t know. From what I can tell it’s a straight translation and plays exactly the same. Additionally it follows the same distribution model as the physical version; a small core set with the need to buy lots of additional warbands to add variety and get access to new card options. So if you like the core game that comes free, be warned that it could lead to a lot of extra purchases to expand the game.
I Hate Talisman
George: I have played Talisman precisely once on the tabletop. I did not like it. It amounted to snakes and ladders with all the trappings of an 80s rpg board game. Sure there’s some novelty to start off with but after 4 hours of failed roles arbitrarily sending you back to the start of the game any good will you had will long be gone. For some reason some people really like Talisman and they keep releasing new versions, including a digital edition in this giveaway. Am I still bitter I wasted a trip to a board game cafe playing this poorly aged mess? Yes. Have I chosen this hill to die on based on one play? Also yes.
Thanks for reading. If you want to tell George why he’s wrong about Talisman leave us a comment. If you want more Warhammer 40,000 games, then why not check out our articles on Space Hulk: Tactics or Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. Alternatively, for some excellent stories check our review of the Black Legion novel or Ursakar Creed: Last Step Backwards.