Warhammer’s videogame adaptations have a deserved reputation for being – in the nicest possible terms – a bit hit-and-miss. We said as much in our guide to the best Warhammer 40K videogames. But, even among that sci-fi universe’s cornucopia of half-baked digital disappointments, there is excellence to be found for PC and console gamers. And, for Games Workshop’s fantasy franchises (old and new) the picture is, if anything, even rosier.
Oh yes, you heard us right, there have been some cracking Warhammer fantasy videogames over the years, spanning different formats, genres and settings, from the old days of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and the ‘Old World’, to its successor setting, the rebooted, remixed kaleidoscope that is Age of Sigmar, and its Mortal Realms. In fact, despite the Old World officially ‘disappearing’ with the beginning of Age of Sigmar in 2015, some of Warhammer fantasy’s all-time best videogames have been set there, released long after its supposed demise.
While many of these games are now catching chills from standing too long in the colossal, dark shadow of Creative Assembly’s leviathan Total War: Warhammer strategy series – and the nascent hype machine for its incoming third act – that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time, money or love. Quite the contrary, some of these titles have, if anything, gone underappreciated.
So, then, these are the best Warhammer fantasy games for PC and console – and sure, Total Warhammer is on there, because it’s undeniably fantastic, but don’t sleep on the others, either:
The best Warhammer fantasy games are:
- Vermintide 2
- Total War: Warhammer 2
- Blood Bowl 2
- Warhammer Underworlds Online (WUO)
- Shadow of the Horned Rat
- Mordheim: City of the Damned
Way back in October 2015, just as Warhammer fantasy fans were mourning the death of their beloved Old World and coming to terms with the crazy, fractured, diet-coke-plus-mentos fantasy cocktail which was arriving to replace it, they got a wonderful videogame present they never expected: Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide.
Four players took the roles of different fantasy archetypes to team up and fight their way through grim levels, slaughtering hordes of Skaven – huge, bipedal rats who love killing and hate bathing. By thoughtfully and successfully porting Left 4 Dead’s first-person co-op action formula into Warhammer’s gory fantasyland, Vermintide did what nobody expects a Warhammer game to do: it created a genuine crowd-pleaser.
It married slick, action-packed, universally accessible core gameplay with gorgeous, immersive, Warhammer-lore-appropriate environments that passed muster with the superfans. To a fanbase quite accustomed to that being a “pick one” kind of deal, it was manna from the gods.
Vermintide 2 is simply an evolved, refined continuation of that same winning recipe. It’s a second helping of what is essentially Left 4 Dead 2 with sword, bow, flintlock, and fireball, and that’s totally fine with us.
There’s a continued story, more variety in the enemies, including various revolting chaos creatures, more options for loot and character progression, et cetera – but the heart of Vermintide is in the refined, core experience: barreling through gorgeous, gore-soaked, atmospheric bloodbath levels with three of your mates on comms, feeling like legitimate medieval badasses as you carve your way through the foe.
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It’s well-balanced, challenging, intensely social and, beyond merely topping the limited category of “best Warhammer games”, certainly belongs in the gaming hall of fame as one of the very finest co-op action games of all time.
Vermintide II is an unsubtle, unpretentious, and exquisite joy to play, and essential playing for any Warhammer fan.
Total War: Warhammer 2
Let’s get it out of the way early, and rip off this familiar old band-aid for any series sceptics: Total War: Warhammer 2 is probably the best Warhammer fantasy videogame there is (with the arguable, though as yet incomplete, exception of its sequel Total War: Warhammer 3).
Nothing else can match its sheer breadth and depth of content, or – more fundamentally – its expansive, adoring digital recreation of pitched tabletop miniature battles in Warhammer’s simple mapful of, old-fashioned High Elves, Dwarfs, Orcs, Humans and such (before things got all complicated, intersectional and interesting in the Age of Sigmar).
Prior to the series’ arrival, fans had already been clamouring for Creative Assembly’s Total War series to take its award-winning ‘4X strategy layer plus real-time tactical battles’ format to the Warhammer world(s) for longer than we care to google; it always seemed a match made in heaven. The two finally tied the knot in 2016, with the release of the original Total War: Warhammer, and, unsurprisingly, it was a huge hit – subsequently swollen by popular expansions covering the fan-favourite Wood Elves, Chaos Warriors and the Chaos-worshipping Norsca faction.
Arriving just a year later, the sequel turned every single knob up to 11, with lusher, more varied environments, a proper story to structure your strategic campaign, more detailed progression and upgrades for your faction-leading Legendary Lords, better combat animations to show those Lords’ badassery in battle, an expanded and beautified magic system; the list of stops pulled out is a very long one.
The pièce de résistance was that the lands and factions playable in the first game wouldn’t be left out, but grafted directly into Total Warhammer II, creating one huge, alternate, world-spanning campaign mode, to which the inevitable third game would also, eventually, be appended. Creative Assembly was no longer creating a trilogy of Warhammer strategy games; it was creating a single, obscenely gigantic Warhammer strategy game, and people could not get enough of it.
Four years, and no fewer than 19 expansions later, Total War: Warhammer II is a sprawling, luxurious strategy gaming playground, featuring not only its original Lizardmen, Dark Elves, High Elves and Skaven races, but the original title’s full cast, plus the chivalrous, gallic Bretonnians, skeletal Tomb Kings and – something of a curve ball – a race of vampire pirates led by the distinctly Bill Nighy-esque Luthor Harkon.
Each has its own in-game objectives and playstyles, a unique roster of playable characters, agents, and fantastically-animated units, and enough variety to keep you coming back for 100-hour playthrough after 100-hour playthrough.
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It’s an unquestionable, unmissable strategy gaming phenomenon, whose omission from this list would – and we mean this in no uncertain terms – be a crime.
Oh, and the third one is finally on the way to make it even more ridiculously massive, too. If you like Warhammer and you’ve ever played, and enjoyed, a Total War, you owe it to yourself to dive into this one (if by some infinitesimal chance you haven’t already).
Blood Bowl 2
Blood Bowl, the tabletop miniatures game, first released in 1986, is perhaps the most concentrated demonstration of Games Workshop’s age-old taste (and peculiar talent) for taking grim, ultra-violent fantasy stories in one hand, and irreverent childish humour and real-world cultural pastiche in the other, before ramming them both together, wrestling the resulting mixture into a box and shipping it out to the customer.
It’s an utterly bizarre, completely original warband skirmish-slash-competitive ball sports game which answers the question: “what if made the warring factions from our tabletop wargame play each other at American football, but didn’t remove all the axes and plate armour first?”. It’s glorious, stupid, and perennially popular (a brand new edition came out in 2019). Blood Bowl made the jump to PC in 2009, but really came into its own in the 2015 sequel. Both installments went down well with existing fans for their technically faithful adaptation of the tabletop version’s frenetic energy and unpredictable gameplay; it’s a game where losers can always catch up, one bum roll can turn a match on its head, nobody knows the meaning of the word “foul”, and rough tackles tend to be lethal.
Frankly, Blood Bowl 2 would have a place on our list if its virtues ended there, as an accurate but barebones digital adaptation of a tabletop classic. But where the videogame goes above and beyond is in the lengths it goes to to capture the feel of Blood Bowl.
The colourful, cartoonish aesthetic, shot through with hilariously discordant blood jets and bone breaks. The ridiculous, fourth-wall-breaking TV network presenters (in a universe with no TV). The cheering and/or jeering crowds of assorted Warhammerish medieval folk baying for both sides’ blood. The goblin cheerleaders. Oh, dear lord, the goblin cheerleaders.
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As a sports game, Blood Bowl II will never be as deep as your Maddens or your FIFAs, but it has a solid enough ‘campaign’ – which sees you progress through the leagues, picking up and training new players as you go – and the inherent dicing wargame mechanics ensure randomised, eclectic storytelling from each and every match, making for an endlessly replayable experience.
It won’t cost you much, and even if you don’t know the first thing about American football, we promise you, you’ll have a blast. We can only imagine the incoming sequel will be even more absurd. Bring it on…
Another game set in the Old World, Chaosbane attracted a fair bit of hype during its development, but, after releasing in May 2019, ended up – somewhat unfairly in our opinion – a bit of a flash in the pan.
It’s an action RPG – in the vein of Diablo, Titan Quest, or Path of Exile – that casts you as one of five fantasy classes, then chucks you into a beautifully rendered 3D isometric world that’s absolutely chock full of the vile minions of Chaos, and tells you to hack and slash your way to glory. Things go pretty predictably from there, with endless wave-fights interspersed with dingy dungeons and yucky bosses, but none of this ever gets within a hundred miles of breaking new genre ground, or – as so many reviewers noted – doing anything that Blizzard’s Diablo III hasn’t already done with more bells and whistles attached.
So why is it here? Because being a visually exciting, well-implemented, highly playable Diablo clone in Warhammer’s fantasy world is a laudable achievement in itself, when – considering its development cost – it could so easily have been downgraded in or content, or technical quality, or abandoned altogether.
Thanks to Chaosbane, there’s one more beloved, fundamentally strong videogame species – the ARPG – that you can now play in a proper, lore-loyal Warhammer world – on both PC and consoles, no less. And that’s worth celebrating. Sure, it absolutely can’t hold a candle to the big dog, Diablo III, and as a result the release got a bit lost, failing to garner the same mainstream cut-through as contemporaries Vermintide II and 40k cousin Mechanicus.
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But if you’re a lover of Warhammer Fantasy, and enjoy a spot of low-brainpower, hack-slash-and-loot adventuring of a Sunday afternoon, don’t miss out on Chaosbane. It’ll serve you well.
Warhammer Underworlds Online (WUO)
Perhaps Games Workshop’s most polished and successful direct digital adaptation of a tabletop game – though a little more visually sedate and streamlined than the audio-visual bonanza that is Blood Bowl 2 – Warhammer Underworlds Online (WUO) is a very slick port of Warhammer: Underworlds, GW’s highly successful, Age of Sigmar-adjacent competitive skirmish wargame. It’s a tightly balanced, small-team miniatures game, mixing deck-building and dice-rolling mechanics, that is now in its fourth year, and fourth ‘block’ of new rules, cards and miniatures.
This PC version from developer Steel Sky, released in April 2020, recreates that tabletop experience in full, with impressive graphics, environments and character animations, and a simple, well-designed UI, packing in all the nifty visual cues you’d expect from a really well-thought out digital tabletop game. Making this lean, fast-paced hex-board skirmisher easy to learn and easier to play for new, perhaps Warhammer-uninitiated strategy gamers is an accomplishment in itself, but WUO also makes a pleasant, atmospheric, 3D-rendered change of scene for players who’re already totally au fait with Underworlds in its tabletop form.
Particularly welcome is the game’s potential for trying out a new warband in its more affordable, digital form, before investing more cash, and – perhaps more pertinently – painting time in the physical models.
For really serious tabletop players, WUO is, sadly, quite a limited experience, given that its roster of digital warbands is lagging significantly behind the current state of the physical miniatures game’s latest block, Direchasm. It’s missing many of the newer warbands, along with their abilities, and – most dramatically – the successive additions to the game’s overall card pool that came with them.
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But, for the majority of casual players, there’s enough in the base game, and its eight available DLC warbands (at $6.99 / £4.99 a pop) to get a hell of a lot of intense tactical gameplay and deck-building strategic kicks. That, plus its excellent utility as an accessible teaching aid for the deep and competitive tabletop game, earn it a podium spot.
Shadow of the Horned Rat
Contrary to popular belief among the young and foolish, Total War: Warhammer’s real-time battles were not the first time Games Workshop’s fantasy miniature wargames got translated into computerland – nor even the first time it was done well. No, that peculiar honour goes to Mindscape’s 1995 real time tactics classic, Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, released for both Windows PC, and – deep breath now – Sony’s PlayStation. That’s right, this was effectively an RTS, playable on a platform whose controller didn’t even have the precision of analog sticks, never mind a mouse – and the damn thing worked. But put aside that confounding fact for the moment and consider the game itself.
Instead of managing an empire from which to raise armies and conquer foes, Shadow of the Horned Rat puts you in charge of your own mercenary company called the Grudgebringers, facing a variety of fearsome foes in colourful, 2.5D pitched battles. Couched in a very old-school, Warhammer fantasy story – told primarily through dialog box conversations between the game’s cartoonish yet memorable key NPCs – it’s otherwise a straightforward string of real-time scraps that simply challenges you to survive through to the end. You’ll pick progressively harder pitched battles for your company to take on, for bigger bags of gold, but inevitably be pulled into the central plot of taking down a dastardly Skaven warlord.
It’s a punishingly difficult affair. Soldiers who fall in battle stay dead, and, while you can spend gold to replace them with fresh recruits in town between missions, your coffers will practically never be flush enough to recoup every casualty.
Your survivors will gain experience and become hardened veterans, but this only heaps on more pressure, because if they get done in, they’ll cost you even more to replace. In a rather prescient hint of Roguelike mechanics, before that genre really got going, the game dares you to get good, fast, at completing missions while keeping your soldiers alive – “because if you don’t,” it tells you reproachfully, “it ain’t getting any easier from here”.
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It’s crunchy, and intense, and dark, and therein lies its greatness – Shadow of the Horned Rat is a postcard from an older era of Warhammer, where the shady, gothic fantasy of its aesthetic is reflected in gameplay meant as a gauntlet, more than a sandpit.
You can still get the PC version on GoG, and also, you should.
Mordheim: City of the Damned
As a tabletop game, Mordheim is (or was) to Warhammer Fantasy Battles what Necromunda was (and, these days, is once again) to Warhammer 40K: a deep, narrative and roleplay-focused campaign miniatures game set in a richly detailed, zoomed-in pocket of the game’s world. In Necromunda’s case, it’s the densely populated, crime-choked industrial core of a human hive planet. For Mordheim, games take place in a noble city of the Empire that’s been blown up by the impact of a fateful comet, leaving a chaotic and magically-charged ruin full of warring warbands, plotting rivals and magical mischief.
What they have in common is the basic concept: you create a plucky little team of named characters, with equipment, weapons, traits, strengths, weaknesses, favourite foods, et cetera – and then lead them through a long campaign of linked skirmishes against rival bands, gathering experience, new skills, gear and character development along the way. Sometimes you gain a new sword, sometimes you lose a leg. Swings and roundabouts, innit.
Developer Rogue Factor’s 2015 computer adaptation Mordheim: City of the Damned tries to recreate that formula, cribbing gameplay notes from XCOM and Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II alike, and the result – while by no means perfect – is a cracking, atmospheric turn-based tactics game where you may just discover some of your favourite Warhammery moments on PC. And you must play it on PC, by the way; using a gamepad for this is like trying to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major using a cricket bat – but we digress.
Among a field of simple XCOM-alikes, this is an unapologetic, in-depth hybrid of strategy, tactics and fantasy roleplay elements. Gloom-ridden, imposing alley-battlegrounds are split by the warm flicker of burning buildings, or the haunting green glow of wyrdstone; human, mutant or Skaven fighters alike are rendered in loving, superb detail, faithful to the original’s many, many artworks; and multiple layers of surprisingly complicated automated tests and modifiers allow the game to properly recreate Mordheim’s infamously detailed tabletop interactions to a T.
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This last point, however, is where many players don’t get on with the game. Lumbering an apparently action-first team tactics outing with reams of simulation complexity, interwoven dice rolls, reflexive mechanics and nested UI menus that require multiple tutorials to get the hang of, well, it feels a bit like a bait and switch.
And don’t get us wrong, this ain’t for everyone – you have to work for your fun here. But if you can deal with a bit of numbery stuff, you’ve got the patience to learn some fiddly controls, and you have true love for the Warhammer world, then fun you shall have. Give Mordheim a chance to show you its best side, and you’ll find there’s treasure in the City of the Damned.