Published on May 6th, 2016 | by Matthew Hung0
Talisman: The Horus Heresy Review
I usually fault a game for how it’s executed but in the case of Talisman, you get the sense that the final product works exactly how it was meant to. Unfortunately, this realized vision skirts the line between game and spectator sport.
Talisman: The Horus Heresy is a board game-esque experience set in the Warhammer 40k universe where you play a warlord of either the duty loving Space Marine or the chaos loving Chaos Marines, in a 2v2 format. In theory, the game is taking turns traipsing around celestial anomalies toward a vague and arbitrary objective, collecting followers and items along the way. In practice, the “game” is rolling dice and making obvious choices. Moves are conducted via dice roll where you move the allotted number of tiles around a square board, generally seeking the most number of randomized encounters to bolster your stats. Encounters with neutral factions or characters are conducted via dice roll. Combat is also conducted via dice roll with modifiers for skill, retinue and equipment. Dice rolls can be re-rolled for better outcome. Acquiring new units for your “army” is done via dice roll. The point here is that the game boils down to a series of dice rolls, which makes for a “game” with little strategy or input.
When not rolling dice, the rest of the game is spent watching other players roll dice. This breathtaking excitement is only punctuated by pausing the action to interpret what the outcome of the roll was, for if you don’t, the computer will promptly whisk away the results without you having known what just happened. Ultimately, I decided learning what had happened was more trouble than it was worth so there’s basically nothing you can do for an entire 75% of the play experience. Sure, there is an option to speed up computer turns, but honestly, I wasn’t in a crazy rush to get to my turn when I could be reading a book or staring at someone on the train.
All this waiting around and staring at people can really get disturbing considering each game takes over an hour to finish, if you were inclined to play it out. I say this because I realized pretty early on that you can save a lot of precious time by not playing out each game. Given the amount of sheer luck involved in stat progression and the difficulty in these points, with one row of bad dice rolls you can fall very far behind very quickly. So much so that it’s not really worth playing anymore, as the player who lucked out early can chase the smaller fish around the board like a space barracuda. If it was a deserved lead, this would be acceptable, but when you’re steamrolling everything because you got lucky on rolls, it diminishes any sense of satisfaction.
The game could have been at least partially saved by the team mechanic, but this falls pretty flat. Teammates never feel more than something you can’t kill, as there are basically no cooperative mechanics built in. These interactions are limited to transferring items or units, which is as basic as humanly possible. All that can arise from this is a top/bottom situation, with one person playing a item fetching squire, which is not exactly an experience I want to be a part of. In a best case scenario, having 4 human players could make it somewhat strategic in planning, but unless you’re some kind of medieval lord who has a few indentured servants lying about, good luck convincing anyone to commit to this. The AI never does anything of the sort either, so in the more likely scenario where you’re flying solo, it’s basically a melee where you can’t kill one person.
There are some decent elements to Talisman: The Horus Heresy: I like some of the art splashes (although it’s pretty lazy in some areas like hero select), the soundtrack scores the long waiting periods admirably, the premise/ideas are competent if not inspired, and it runs smoothly enough on my old-ish tablet. If you’re stuck without anything else to do, there are worse ways to pass the time, particularly if you like watching virtual dice spin about. But if you’re looking for an experience where you can put yourself in a desperate struggle between law and chaos, creating a rich, unique story with engaging gameplay and strategy, sadly, you have to wait for Warhammer Total War.
Summary: A virtual board game involving much more luck than strategy. Suitable only for fanatic Warhammer fans and virtual dice rolling enthusiasts