Age of Sigmar gets a bad rap from fans of the Old World—Warhammer’s previous fantasy setting—which was pushed to the back of the cupboard in 2015, discontinued in favor of this more high-fantasy take on the genre. I like the Old World too, but Age of Sigmar has its place. It’s Warhammer with the heavy metal turned up, a setting where ghoul kings hallucinate courts draped in finery while actually ruling ruins full of cannibals, steampunk sky-dwarfs mine gaseous aether-gold out of cloud banks, and dragons can be so immense one is wrapped in chains and used as a sun. There’s a character called Drakatoa, the Living Avalanche. It’s gonzo as fuck.
I sure wish that came across in Tempestfall.
In this VR action game I’m a lord-arcanum, a wizard-warrior of the Stormcast Eternals who answers directly to a lightning god. Along with my heavily armored brothers and sisters, who all wear gold masks, I’m off to fight the undead awakened by an event called “the Necroquake”. That’s a prog concept album right there, but in practice what it means is fighting samey batches of skeletons and ghosts in empty streets, empty crypts, and empty wastelands.
Gripping my fists makes weapons spring out of them: axe, sword, or staff. Each has different spells that can be activated by holding the trigger and waving them in a specific way. The gesture controls aren’t perfect, but I’ve definitely felt less responsive ones, and I end up relying on magic because melee feels flat. Enemies wind up before swinging to give you time to launch a parry, and they become invulnerable for a moment when they do—if you’re attacking when they decide to ready a blow your weapons just whoosh right through.
When you do connect, it turns out hitting ghosts with a big magic axe is about as effective as slapping them with a wiffle bat, so you may as well just stick to the lightning spell that eats health bars like they’re made of cake. Skeletons have a bit more physicality—you can pick them up and yoink their heads right off. I spent a lot of time flapping skulls around and throwing them off things, which was actually pretty fun.
Other interactions aren’t so fun. There are a lot of double doors I want to push open like I’m Aragorn and the party don’t start till I walk in, but instead they either grind to a stop halfway or I immediately glitch right through to the other side. There’s a lot of climbing too, going hand over hand up and down ropes and ladders and so on. The option to have floating icons that let you skip climbing sections is on by default, which suggests a lack of confidence in them. It’s deserved. Going up a ladder means hoping the animation that hauls you up to a final standing position kicks in when it’s supposed to, and climbing down a rope only to realize you’re now halfway through the ground and tumbling into the void isn’t great either. Weirdly, the skip-climb icons don’t always appear, so sometimes you just have to put up with it.
There are also narrow corridors your armoured bulk can’t get through without grabbing a convenient beam and hauling yourself along it. That’s glitchy as well. I got stuck in one of those for a while, unable to drag myself through without bouncing back jarringly until eventually I just disappeared into darkness and then reappeared at the start—at which point performing the same action worked perfectly and I slid through the whole thing in seconds.
Worse than being janky and having some fiddly controls (weapon-switching in particular is a hassle), Tempestfall is boring. The enemies aren’t real bright, getting stuck on obstacles and waiting for you to re-murder them. Both they and obstacles respawn so you have to burn the same vines to fight the same ghosts when backtracking. Friendly NPCs jerk their arms around like puppets while blandly explaining what to do next.
Occasionally I see some floating islands that look like they came right off a Roger Dean album cover, or a gigantic statue that gets struck by lightning and shatters, but mostly it feels like a waste of this outrageous setting. There’s a sewer level, for goodness’ sake. Maps of the Age of Sigmar setting have place names like Rain of Corpses and The World Pimples—if you want to send me somewhere grotesque, you don’t have to fall back on a sewer level.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall is available on Steam for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. A dedicated Oculus Quest version is in the works, but in the meantime Quest 2 owners can play the Rift version over Oculus Link via cable or Air Link.