In most high school drivers' education classes, students are taught the IPDA principle: Identify, Predict, Decide, Act. IPDA is a surprisingly effective way of learning how to drive defensively. In fact, the principle is so easy to learn and universally applicable it can be used by people in just about any situation. For example, a running back who needs to quickly analyze gaps in another team's defense during a football game or a husband or wife looking to avoid a spouse's line of interrogation in order to get through a night without an argument.
There's something about the process of identifying a problem, predicting the outcome, deciding what to do and then acting on the information that can be intuitive and, depending on the situation, sometimes even fun. At times, well-developed PC strategy games impose a sort of IPDA effect on players. Games like Sid Meier's Civilization and Age of Empires are two of the best examples.
Both of those relatively complex games employ a fast-paced system of identifying potential obstacles, predicting how those potential obstacles will become real obstacles, deciding what to do to overcome them and then acting to achieve the desired result. Such principles, really, form the basis of strategy. To a lesser degree than those two games, Warhammer: Dark Omen gets strategy right.
In it, you do little more than command an army through a series of battles with your only defense being your offense. Normally, repetitive gameplay such as this grows boring after a while but, because the element of defense (and therefore strategy) is so subtle in Warhammer: Dark Omen, the game (simplistic as it is) ends up being quite engaging. One more try, one more battle...like the two other excellent strategy games mentioned, this game grabs you early and keeps you at your PC long after you thought you'd be able to walk away.
Two other great games that Warhammer: Dark Omen brings to mind are Betrayal at Krondor and Warlords III: Darklords Rising. As in those games, the real-time strategy D&D "lite" battles are a bit frantic but, thanks to the variety of your units (infantrymen, cannons, wizards and cavalry) and the available spells and magic items, the battles are seldom boring. Thanks are also in line regarding the quick, fast-paced, action-packed tutorial (complete with a charming guide with a patch over his eye) and the game's incredible graphics.
The game simply would not be as good as it is if not for the phenomenal 3D graphics and fluid full-featured camera system. The various terrain types are lush and highly detailed and the units are all unique in appearance. Battles are fought in full detail as well with each unit entering the skirmish and swinging away with arrows and cannonballs flying through the air. This aspect may well set the tone for future games.
As with all games, Warhammer: Dark Omen is not without flaws, the biggest of which in this case is that you can't save the game until after you've completed a battle. Because how much gold you earn depends on how well you do in battle, you'll likely find yourself playing battles over and over to achieve better results. Being able to save during a battle (so you wouldn't have to replay the entire thing after losing your invaluable wizard or canon) would have been much better.
Unfortunately, you can't pause during battles, an aspect that will likely be disappointing. For the first few battles, that's not such a big deal but trying to maintain tight control over up to fifteen different units at once can be daunting. Whereas other elements of the game (map layout, unit positioning, spell selection) emphasize strategy, not being able to pause during battle seems to detract from the game's strategy feel -- more in favor of fast-twitch mouse coordination, an aspect that doesn't belong in a strategy game.
Lastly, it's disappointing that your archers, crossbow archers and artillery men can't figure out on their own when its time to stop shooting at an enemy that your infantry and cavalry have engaged. Nor can they determine how to shoot into the crowds without hitting some of your own men. It's always disheartening when a majority of your casualties come from friendly fire.
But fortunately for your gaming experience, these flaws or oversights pale when compared to what the game does pull off successfully. The storyline is solid, sometimes requiring you to decide which fight to fight and which to avoid and the interesting, exciting characters (and voice acting) make the story all the more engaging. The talking heads look good, too, though unaligned lip-syncing is more the norm than the exception. Of most importance to Warhammer: Dark Omen's entertainment value, however, are the awesome 3D maps which are just stunning to look at and fun to play.
Graphics: The high-quality graphics are a result of the level of detail to which the developers went. That they bothered to show each cannonball flying through the air and knocking down goblins and skeletons like bowling pins speaks to how much effort they put into making Warhammer: Dark Omen as visually rich as possible.
Sound: The music is quite rich as well, although a bit repetitive. Sound effects and voice acting, though, are fantastic. Overall, the sound quality is well above average; it does a great job of pulling you deeper into the game.
Enjoyment: Warhammer: Dark Omen may well be the single best translation of the Warhammer tabletop gaming universe to the PC. Warhammer's rules are intact and well balanced and you really get a sense of a story being played out and advanced through these battles, which, with all the detail turned up, sort of look like real Warhammer miniatures in action. When a game such as this gets so much so right, it's really a lot of fun to play.
Replay Value: Because of the forks in the story and the rewards of battle being based on how well you do in each battle (the more enemies you destroy, the more gold you earn to reinforce your armies), Warhammer: Dark Omen has a high replay value. The battles do at times feel a bit repetitive and tedious (mostly due to the flaws mentioned above). Despite the options, the game's scope is rather tight, so even though the game is immensely enjoyable while playing it, there will inevitably come a time when such perennial favorites such as Sid Meier's Civilization, Age of Empires, WarCraft and the like will draw your interest away.
People who downloaded Warhammer: Dark Omen have also downloaded:
Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, Warcraft 2, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior, StarCraft
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