Warhammer: Dark Omen

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a game by Electronic Arts, and Mindscape
Genre: Strategy/War
Platforms: PC, Playstation
Editor Rating: 6.5/10, based on 4 reviews, 5 reviews are shown
User Rating: 8.6/10 - 7 votes
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See also: Warhammer Games, Strategy

Those Of You Who Remember Shadow Of The Horned Rat (which for the uninitiated was the first game to be based on Games Workshop's lead miniature paint 'em up) will no doubt recall having mixed feelings over its quality. On one hand we had a real-time strategy game with innovative 3D graphics and an involving storyline; on the other, a control method as fiddly as drinking beer from a thimble. It was also incessantly frustrating because missions had to be replayed over and over again - not for enjoyment you understand, but because the game was too friggin' hard.

So perhaps it's understandable that the thought of reviewing Dark Omen filled me with nervous anticipation. Thankfully my fears were largely unfounded, because the developers have taken all the best features of SOTHR and enhanced them, while also cutting out the crap that got in the way - which leaves us with a lean, mean, fantasy fighting machine... well, sort of.

Set a while after the first game, Dark Omen sees you reprising the role of Morgan Bernhardt, the mercenary leader of the Grudgebringers. This time you're up against undead soldiers and goblins: two very different enemies that require different strategies to win. The storyline is carried along admirably by the main characters chewing the fat in comic-style windows; these scenes do drag on, but there's the odd animated cut-scene to spice things up. The first few missions are fairly simple: you start with one unit each of infantry, cavalry, archers and a cannon.

Thankfully it isn't long before you enlist the help of a wizard, who looks like a cross between Roy Wood and Ginger Spice. You have to take good care of your magicians because their magic really does come in handy (obviously). The other commanders and units you come across are usually happy to join in the battles, especially if you help them out; they may even stick around for the duration, although this will usually take you out of your way and could affect the final battle.

The fighting is handled in a similar fashion to the previous game: you select a unit by simply clicking on its banner and then either click on the map to move it, or on an enemy unit to attack. Naturally, archers, cannons and wizards warrant slightly different attention, but the control method is incredibly simple to use - you don't even have to have units on screen to direct them. Although it does get easier, wheeling the units around is a bit fiddly at first because the cursor keeps disappearing, although I consoled myself with the fact that getting a troop of cavalry to turn on their feet is probably just as tricky in real life.

The screenshots should make it clear that owners of 3D cards are in for a glorious treat. The landscapes look quite stunning, and moving around them is as mysteriously easy as finding your way home after ten pints of lager. Without hardware acceleration, the graphics are a bit messy, although I have to confess that I played the game for more than four hours before realising I'd turned 3D acceleration off - which just shows how engrossed I was. To be honest, the graphical representations for the various units seem a little disappointing, especially after Myth. But most of the time you'll be directing the action far above any perspective Myth can handle, and Myth doesn't have cool units like cavalry, chariots or cannons. However, it's annoying that you can't make use of the buildings on the various maps. You can hide behind them and even flatten some of them, but it would've I been sooooo cool to plant a cannon on some battlements and watch your foe blindly walk into a couple of fat fiery balls of metal.

Unfortunately, Dark Omen disappoints in exactly the same department as SOTHR. To progress to the later missions you can't afford to lose a single unit. Even if you do manage to pick up all the available cash, you still don't seem to have enough to keep reinforcing your units for the battles that lie ahead. Most of the missions have their difficulty set just right, but a couple are virtually impossible unless you have a full complement of men, and even then casualties will invariably be high. This is a real shame, because most of the missions are varied and very well designed. If you can forgive this as a minor flaw, or if you actually enjoy a serious challenge, there should be nothing to stop you snapping up a copy. In light of all the other strategy games out there, Dark Omen still remains highly original, and if you want something that's going to keep you occupied for a good long time, this is the one to go for.

Download Warhammer: Dark Omen

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Playstation

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Strategy titles frequently suffer in the transition from the PC to the PlayStation, and with the possible exception of Westwood's Red Alert, it's safe to say that very few have made any kind of impact. What we have here is the follow-up to Mindscape's moderately successful PC and PlayStation strategy game, Shadow of the Horned Rat, a game which demonstrated this particular concept perfectly adequately.

As with its predecessor, Dark Omen uses the imagery and mythology provided by the associated Games Workshop Warhammer series of table-top wargames--however, this time the gameplay engine has been made much more "PlayStation friendly."

At bare-bones level, this is a realtime, skirmish-based strategy game that makes use of a "proper" 3D terrain that can be rotated and examined from different angles while the battle continues--much like Bullfrog's Syndicate Wars. However, unlike many other titles in the genre, Dark Omen presents you with an undulating battlefield complete with ridges, hills and valleys to provide strategic advantages to hanging out in certain areas.

"Console friendliness" has been implement by limiting the confines of each battleground to relatively small areas. All missions within the campaign have single goals, and invariably involve brief skirmishes that lead into one huge punch-up right at the end. Due to the fact there is no resource management throughout (apart from picking which units to send into battle), all that you have to worry about is moving your troops in a sensible fashion and annihilating anything that gives you a funny look.

As far as this story line goes, it is pretty much the kind of thing you'd expect. Demons, magic, big men with even bigger swords, undead soldiers. If you can think of pretty much any fighting fantasy-style cliche... it's in here. The game casts you in the role of Commander Morgan Bernhardt, leader of the Grudgebringer (See what I mean? That's what his sword is called too.) mercenary army who has been hired to wipe out the increasing number of undead soldiers currently wreaking havoc throughout the country. Your army begins the campaign with four regiments of troops: infantry, cavalry, crossbows and artillery, but as the campaign progresses you get the chance to hire new regiments and buy reinforcements. While you do this the story unfolds through campsite conversations with your allies which are all presented using a polygon-based animation system more in keeping with the style of the game as opposed to CGI stuff. Listen for some spectacularly over-acted accents in these sections.

Fans of Games Workshop will no doubt get a kick out of this game no matter what...the atmosphere it generates is pretty much spot-on. The version we looked at for this preview still needed some 'tweaking' in the Al department, but on the whole it seems to be shaping up very nicely.

  • MANUFACTURER - Electronic Arts
  • THEME - Strategy
  • NUMBER OF PLAYERS - 1 or 2

Dark Omen is a translation of the paper-and-dice warfare strategy game Warhammer, which was unsuccessfully translated first by SSI in Shadow of the Horned Rat for the PlayStation. If the Warhammer franchise is still bleeding from that wound, Dark Omen's enough to end its misery.

This game is a debacle; it looks like it was thrown together during a four-day weekend. The graphics, with the exception of an occasional surprisingly nice polygonal landscape, aren't worthy of a 16-bit title, let alone the PlayStation. Your armies are small rendered blocks, and you can barely see how many soldiers you have. Even the atrocious cut scenes use cutout faces of talking heads rather than actual environments. For sound, DO offers bare-bones music and dialogue bites that are repeated more often than "Score!" during a basketball game.

A real-time strategy game without the strategy, DO neither displays or requires you to have any intelligence. The story is thrown together with empty characters, and every mission positions your army on one side and your enemy's army on the other so you can march into one another. Your choice of personnel, armament, or economy never comes into play because positive results come only from overwhelming numbers.

Unless you're a huge fan of the Warhammer franchise, avoid this bleak title at all cost. Major dental work would be preferable to playing Dark Omen.

ProTips:

  • Keep your platoons close to one another because there's strength in numbers.
  • Be sure to buy all the weapons and armor you can, and restock your armies after each battle early in the game. You'll earn plenty of gold to replenish your supply and have fewer casualties.
  • Whenever possible In the game, Hank the enemy from both sides. Divide and conquer is the rule!

People say:

6.0

At heart this is a fairly simple skirmish-based strategy title--winning battles furthers the overall story and earns cash which can be used to hire new soldiers. Initial units include basic cavalry, archers and artillery--but after a few good wins under your belt you can hire more experienced troops as well as wizards capable of more spectacular attacks. All units (grouped into squads) are controlled with a simple point-and-click interface (it supports the analog pad too) for both combat and movement across the relatively small maps. The combat Al is nothing particular to write home about...units can make use of the undulating 3D terrain and buildings for cover, but once you actually start a punch up, things get a bit hit and miss. Strength in numbers seems to be the key to a lot of fights, and you soon find that the biggest problem with the game appears when you lose a few men. To keep ground troops alive, you have to pick off flanking enemies with arrows or magical fireballs or you're screwed. But because of the way the combat engine is built you often find yourself firing into the middle of a fight and risking your own men as well as the enemy. Not the greatest RTS game, and not a match for Red Alert. Warhammer fans may enjoy the rich atmosphere that it conveys.

4.5

I was pretty excited about playing Dark Omen. The story seemed cool, and the intro rocked. My excitement ended when the game actually started. The programmers tried to make the interface and controls as user-friendly as possible...but they failed. I had a lot of trouble getting my troops to do what I wanted. Everything moves around too sluggishly at some points, too fast at others (a speed setting would've been nice).

5.5

Dark Omen reminds me of a lot of the old PC wargames, but with better graphics. Once you learn how to use the 3D terrain to outflank your enemy and outmaneuver them, you'll find that Dark Omen isn't too hard to learn (despite looking very complex.) I enjoyed it for the first few missions, but then it got a little boring. Perhaps if there was a bit more interactivity or a better presented story, it would be more interesting.

5.0

Dark Omen's 3D graphics certainly look cool and there are some nice ideas thrown in throughout, but there's something about it that just doesn't seem right. It's not particularly challenging and as you fight your way through the Orc-infested levels you soon find yourself aimlessly overpowering the enemy with hundreds of your troops. It's a nice looking game, but ultimately a bit boring. Don't expect too much of a thrill.

Overview

Dark Omen is a real-time 3D-battle game based on Warhammer, the world's best known fantasy battle system, by Games Workshop. The battles are depicted in a true real-time 3D environment with freedom to move, rotate and zoom the viewpoint as desired. Command regiments of cavalry, infantry and archers as well as wizards, war machines and huge monsters challenge you in your role as a mercenary army captain, tasked with wiping the hordes of darkness from the face of the map.

Dark Omen casts you in the role of Commander Morgan Bernhardt, leader of Grudgebringer mercenary army. Your army begins the campaign with one of the following regiments: Infantry, Cavalry, Crossbows and Cannon. As the campaign progresses you will get the chance to hire new regiments and buy reinforcements. You ride with the cavalry regiment during the campaign and if you die the campaign will end in defeat.

Skirmishes against the enemy take place on the battlefield. You will choose which regiments to take with you into battle and which ones to hold in reserve. You will issue commands to the regiments before and during each battle and when you complete a mission, your surviving regiments will be rewarded with experience and gold. When you are not on the battlefield, you will be at camp making decisions about what to spend your gold on. As the campaign matures, your army will grow in numbers and in experience, the latter making your troops better fighters. The more experience they accrue, the better they will become. The amount of experience they gain depends on how many enemy troops they defeat and how tough they were, the tougher the enemy, the more gold your troops will earn.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

The action can, and does, get fast and furious in this primarily mouse-controlled game. Using the keyboard, you change your view of the battlefield by zooming in and out or rotating the field underneath you. Each battle begins with troop deployment. Surveying the battlefield, you must choose how to best deploy your troops to accomplish your mission. Do you put your cannon on the top of the hill or at the end of the canyon? Do you lead with your cavalry or attempt to lure the enemy into the crossfire of your archers? Once you feel you have answered all these questions, it’s time to begin the battle.

During the battle you attempt to outflank your opponent and counter pushes into your lines, laying down cover fire with cannon and mages while protecting them from close combat with cleverly placed infantry and quick maneuvers from your cavalry. Easy to read status bars inform you of reload/recharge time for your units. Audio and video clips of the units give you information about who is charging, when new enemy units are spotted, and who just died. Banners above each of the units keep you informed of the type of units in the battle.

After each battle, audio and video clips update you on the story line. It is also time to purchase reinforcements and increase the armor of your units, time to prepare for the next battle. Will it be green skins or undead? Who knows, but you need to prepare for the worst.

One thing to note that really impressed me was the way Electronic Arts incorporated line-of-sight into an overhead game. The entire battlefield can be viewed from overhead, but only the enemy units visible to your units can be seen. In the same manner, the main control panel has a status icon to show whether or not your units are hidden as well. This does well to stress the strategy of unit placement even before the battle begins.

For multiplayer games (yes, I said multiplayer), Electronic Arts has allowed for two players to design their own armies and meet on the battlefield. This at first seemed very limited to me, only fighting one live opponent, but after playing a few rounds I saw how wrong I was. The maps that are available are just not large enough for more than two armies at a time. This is one place that Electronic Arts can improve upon in a next version; however, it does not take much away from the game as it stands.

Graphics

Although a 3D accelerator card is not required, this reviewer would definitely require it as part of the Dark Omen experience. The game is playable without an accelerator and the animation and detail will impress you. However, with an accelerator the smoother scrolling and increased zooming range will make the game much easier to play. The accelerated graphics and animation will leave your jaw on the floor. When you zoom in on the individual battles you can actually see each unit and their weapons.

There is one distracting thing to the animation, it seems that to make the characters more real during the video clips in between battles, the characters continually rock forward as if to exaggerate a point. After a short time this becomes fairly distracting, although the wonderful textures and detail outweigh any of the distractions during gameplay.

Audio

Audio feedback to your commands is always a benefit and Dark Omen incorporates these into its engine. Along with the clear speech and the audio cues for new enemies spotted, unit retreats, deaths, and much more, your units give audio answers to movement orders and attack orders. Within the realm of audio, Dark Omen had me disbelieving one feature specifically: directional sound. What do I mean by directional sound? Well, to put it simply, when there is a battle off the right edge of the visible screen, the battle sounds seem to come from your right. The first time I realized this was the case, I shook my head and dismissed it as my imagination. Then I ran a few tests and found it to be true. This above all the audio tricks stands out as very impressive. (Or as Darth Vader himself would say: "Impressive, most impressive.")

System Requirements

Required: Windows 95, Pentium 120, 16 MB RAM, 32 MB free hard disk space, DirectX 5.0 supported PCI video card with 2 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, DirectX 5.0 supported sound card, mouse

Recommended: Pentium 166 or higher, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM drive, 265 MB free hard disk space

Documentation

Electronic Arts has done well in documenting the game. They even included some documentation on the meaning of your troops' comments. Tips and strategy hints help to flesh out the manual. The only thing I found lacking was a short narrative on the background story. Personally, I enjoy a game that has a great deal of background story surrounding it. I know that Warhammer has a great deal of history; however, EA seems to assume that everyone purchasing this game either already knows this background or is not interested. The _Warhammer _storyline is rich and wonderful and having a brief background narrative could have only added to the richness of the game itself.

Bottom Line

In a genre that is full of heroes and goats, Electronic Arts rises above most of the competition with Dark Omen. If you enjoy a rich story and the overhead action strategy genre, this is a definite must for your collection. Look forward to hours of enjoyment and watch your back, the greenskins and undead are around every corner.

Snapshots and Media

Playstation Screenshots

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