Review: Wrath & Glory

If you hack through the poor editing and confusing design, Wrath & Glory might well be best Warhammer 40k RPG out there. That, however, is an incredibly big “if”, and one that makes the system hard to recommend in its current state.

There are plenty of games out there that struggle to meet expectations, but for some reason it’s particularly galling in the case of Wrath & Glory. Perhaps this is because for all its faults when it comes to the fundamentals, the game does an incredible job of dealing with the more problematic areas of the 40k setting.

For example, it gets around the issue of Warhammer’s traditionally absurd power scaling – a single iconic Space Marine should be able to easily handle entire squads of conventional soldiers – by dividing campaigns up into five tiers.

At low tiers you may play a band of Imperial Guardsmen stuck behind enemy lines, or a group of petty criminals eking out an existence in the depths of a vast hive city. Moving up to second the third tiers you start to scale up to the madcap shenanigans of a handful of Ork pirates or some Eldar scouts. Beyond that you start getting into true 40k power fantasy territory, where every single character is a walking force of nature capable of conquering cities single-handed.

Many of the mechanics that power the game are built with this in mind, such as rules for allowing bands of comparatively weak enemies to mob up into a single unit that your hero can hack through in cinematic style. In low tiers a single Ork warrior may be a tough encounter for your poorly-armed soldiers, but when your characters can rip tanks apart with their bare hands you can just lump 20 of them together without having to track an entire spreadsheet of hit points and dice rolls.

Importantly, there’s no exception that groups or characters should naturally progress from low tiers to high tiers in the way that a D&D campaign might slowly move from level to level. Instead, it offers a playground of experiences for you to sample, and as a fan of the 40k setting it’s hard not to be excited by all the opportunities on hand.

The game is designed to be crunchy and customisable, with pages upon pages of character upgrades, bionics and weapons to choose from. This makes building a character feel strangely familiar to anyone who’s kitted out a particularly powerful hero in the wargame, and many options are controlled by a straightforward keyword system that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the latest edition.

However, this is also where we start running into problems. Simply put, Wrath & Glory is a mess. The book is riddled with typos, errors and poorly edited writing that makes it ten times more confusing than it should be, which is particularly problematic when you’re working with an already fairly complex game.

Credit: Ulisses Spiele North America

Weapons have keywords that don’t mean anything. Upgrade costs are listed differently in tables and example text. Rules use terms that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the book.

A few typos are part of putting together any complex book like this, but the sheer quantity of errors in Wrath & Glory is beyond anything we should expect from a supposedly completed product. Errata and corrections are slowly filtering out, but that doesn’t help when you’re trying to use the book in the moment.

And even if the designers, Ulieese Spiele North America, do manage to correct every mistake and close every contradiction, it won’t change the fact that the layout and writing are still sub-par. Finding rules requires you to sift through paragraphs and paragraphs of text that don’t say anything meaningful, and even then it often takes a few passes before you can work out when the writers actually meant.

The system itself isn’t too complex, with checks requiring you to assemble pools of dice based upon skills and stats and the results building up a number of successes, but there seem to be endless additions and addendum to factor in. If it was laid out in a more logical fashion it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but as things stand you should be prepared to set aside a fair bit of time for checking rules throughout your first few combats.

Make no mistake, there’s a lot to like about Wrath & Glory. It’s got some great ideas, interesting design decisions and a whole lot of character, and if you’re prepared to put in the time and effort needed to learn the system back-to-front you can have a hell of a lot of fun with it.

Is Wrath & Glory a good game? Yes.

Is Wrath & Glory a good book? No.

★★☆☆☆

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