I’ve always been a PC gamer and from an early age, I was also hooked on Warhammer. So when Shadow of the Horned Rat (SOTHR) came out in late 1995, I was one of the first to own a copy.
SOTHR is a real-time strategy game where the vast majority of the time, you control a number of units in set-piece battles. There is also an element of resource management between battles as you decide what you spend your hard-earned gold on.
In SOTHR you take on the role of Morgan Bernhardt, a mercenary captain that is now trying his luck in the Border Princes, a kind-of lawless area just beyond civilization. You start off taking jobs purely for gold but you quickly get drawn in a surprisingly gripping story that ultimately means saving the world. For fans of the Warhammer world, perhaps most importantly, you get to fight or fight alongside, all the major races, including Orcs, Skaven, Dwarfs and Elves.
For the most part the game is linear but sometimes you do have to make choices, such as whether to take certain missions or what direction to go in. Some of these are unfortunately dead ends but others give you access to new units or make life significantly easier for you in the long run.
I’m a sucker for a good map but one of my favourite elements of the game is the old world map that is constantly in the background and tracking where you are. Added to a bestiary that gets added to as you go along, this adds a lot of warhammer immersion to the game.
One of the most (and frustrating) elements of the game is the careful management of your resources. You only start off with two units, cavalry and infantry, and you add to this very slowly across the game. In addition to this, if a unit is wiped out in battle then it isn’t coming back! This again means you have to be really careful throughout the game in looking after your units – this places in to tactics within a battle that I’ll come too later.
The main currency you deal in is gold and this is used to buy new units and to top up your units after casualties. Both of the above will not necessarily be available in every location, meaning you have to be very careful when managing your troops.
The real meat of the game is the battles. These come in a variety of styles and against a variety of enemies, meaning every battle is a little bit different. I almost more enjoyed the battles at the beginning of the game where you only have a few units, but the big set-piece battles are very good in their own way as well.
The enemy you face will make a huge difference to your tactics; fighting against orcs and skaven are two very different propositions. I personally found the shear toughness of the orcs the most challenging with the skaven much easier to break, though if your units break against skaven their speed will likely run you down and wipe you out.
As mentioned above, if you lose a unit in battle it is lost forever; in addition replacements for casualties can be hard to come by. This means you have to be really careful during battles and make sure you don’t throw units away. Sometimes this might seem impossible with the odds stacked against you, but through liberal use of save game, you will get there in the end!
The Bad Bits
As you may have gathered from some of the previous comments, the game is unforgiving and quite hard! Your hand isn’t held at any point which can be very frustrating. On the other side of the coin, when you do get through a super-hard battle it is very satisfying.
The battle interface is quite clunky, likewise the battle camera. This can be frustrating when in the middle of a battle you can’t quite get your unit to do what you want it to and before you know it, you’ve lost all of your cavalry and you are never getting them back!
SOTHR is a difficult and flawed game, but for fans of warhammer and those who like a proper challenge, I heartily recommend SOTHR.
Where to Buy
Good Old Games (currently £4.69)
Bear in mind that you may need to download some extra files to get it to work with Windows 10.