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Review by: Adam Swiderski
Published: August 18, 1999
“Mawage. Mawwage is what bwings us togethaah…today.
Mawage, that blessed event. That dweam within a dweam.”
- The Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride
Chemistry can be a tricky thing. As anyone who has ever mixed baking soda and vinegar can tell you, putting two distinct elements together can often result in a rather explosive reaction. This is true whether you’re talking about molecular compounds, foodstuffs and even people. Sometimes, however, you come upon a match made in heaven; a pairing that appears tailor-made for success right from its inception. Two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Cookies and milk. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in any comedy movie.
In the world of gaming, the marriage of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame and SSI’s Panzer General computerized turn-based strategy system would appear to be just such a natural pairing. On the one hand, you have the Panzer General II engine, a framework designed to streamline the archaic rule sets that usually define wargames and make them accessible to the armchair commander. It also looks much better than your standard hex-based strategy title, with beautifully rendered maps and unit animations that, while not overwhelming, do a lot more to impress than many of its competitors. Despite raves from the critics and fans, however, and the expansion into various pseudo-sequels such as People’s General, it has never quite garnered the attention that SSI would have liked. Some pundits have attributed this to Panzer General II’s lack of flair. Sure, it looked (and still looks) better than most hardcore wargames, but the fact that it tries to adhere to some semblance of realism put it a step behind some of the better-selling strategy titles on the market.
On the other hand, you have the Warhammer 40,000 universe, possessed of just about the most stylistic science fiction atmosphere ever conceived. If you’ve never seen Warhammer in one of its tabletop or PC incarnations, you’re missing out on a visual treat that mixes elements of sci-fi with fantasy, religion and gothic overtones to create a truly unique melange. The space marines in their hulking armor, the elegant and mystical Eldar, and the horrifying Tyrannid are outstandingly visualized, even in the form of inches-high game pieces. Anyone who bought and played Blizzard’s Starcraft will see what I mean, as that offering’s races and units were heavily influenced by Games Workshop’s creation. And yet, playing a full Warhammer tabletop campaign can be a long, arduous process that involves learning the rules, buying the pieces and even painting them to get the total effect. Many gamers would prefer to avoid all this and get right into the action without having to read through a full set of rules and manuals.
Dreamforge and SSI have taken it upon itself to bring these two parties together. The result is Rites of War (ROW), a turn-based strategy fest set in Games Workshop’s far-future universe of all-out warfare. And yes, all the big players are there. This time around, however, humans are out of the picture as a playable race. Instead, you take on the role of a commander for the Eldar, a spacefaring version of your standard Tolkien-esque high elf. So advanced were the Eldar in ancient times that there was no longer a need for work. Instead, the entire civilization devoted itself to the debauched pursuit of the extremes of emotion — pleasure and pain. This rampant depravity combined with the awesome psychic powers of the Eldar produced a vortex from which was birthed the Chaos god Slaanesh. In the process, a grand majority of the Eldar empire was decimated, forcing the remnants to flee into the blackness of space.
As ROW begins, the surviving Eldar have spent their time traveling the stars in huge space ships known as Craftworlds. One such vessel, Iyanden, discovers the Maiden World Davinuus, a planet that was engineered to serve as a testament to the enduring power of the former Eldar empire. Upon further examination, however, Davinuus is found to have fallen into the colonizing hands of the human Imperium. Complicating matters is the fact that, according to the Iyanden’s records, several artifacts and powerful relics remain on the planet below; tools with which the relatively young human race cannot be trusted. So, the Eldar send various scout parties to the surface in an effort to find the necessary items and return them to the Craftworld. But in one of those twists that guarantee something’s going to happen in the game, a human force attacks the Eldar scouts in an unprovoked act of aggression. Thus are the ancient and dignified Eldar drawn into a conflict for which they did not wish, facing forces both human and otherwise. I won’t be giving anything enormous away to say that the hive-minded Tyrannid become involved, and it isn’t long before the tripartite war threatens not only the fate of the Iyanden, but of these three races in general.
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