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Rendered entirely in a freely rotatable- and zoomable isometric 3D overhead perspective, the game features terrain, terrain features and buildings, and support for the first-generation Voodoo 3dfx 3D accelerator card effects. The 3D terrain and features are combined with 2D sprites ("billboarding") to render the hundreds of individual units simultaneously on-screen on the limited hardware of 1998. Dark Omen is based on the Warhammer Fantasy Battle miniature tabletop wargame rules and situated in the Old World in the Warhammer Fantasy world and makes use of the vast background, creating a storyline that develops over the course of the game through illustrations and voice-acted conversations.
The gameplay is unit-oriented battlefield tactics with infantry, cavalry, and archer squads and artillery pieces as well as supporting hero and wizard units. The game freely mixes cannons, flintlock pistols and steam-powered tanks with bows, cavalry and magic.
Units vary in size from individual wizards or monsters to regiments of up to 32 members, and cannot be split up or combined. Units can suffer from psychological effects and can be routed, and individuals in units may be lost but can be replaced between missions unless the entire unit is lost. Units advance in experience as the game progresses, and between battles the player's forces can be brought up to strength, replacing losses, and upgraded by adding armour and equipment using money gained by killing enemies and accomplishing objectives within the mission. New units, including allied Elven and Dwarf units, can also be added at certain points in the campaign, often as rewards for successful completion of critical missions.
While the army can consist of many units, only ten may be employed simultaneously in one battle. Players may choose the initial disposition, arrangement and position objectives for the army as well as unit formation. Terrain and elevation must be taken into consideration for attack and defence. Most real-world medieval or Napoleonic tactics can be employed, including ambushing and flanking (see list of military tactics). Movement likewise reflects historical reality in that units must rotate or "wheel" from the centre or edges when changing facing.
Dark Omen also has a multiplayer component, where both players 'purchase' an army with a predefined amount of money before facing each other in battle, and can choose to play as the Imperial, Orcish or Undead forces.
The game was described on its official website in March 1998 as:
Dark Omen is a real-time 3D battle game based on Warhammer, the World's best known Fantasy Battle system, by Games Workshop. The battles are depicted in a true real-time 3D environment with freedom to move, rotate and zoom the viewpoint as desired. Command regiments of cavalry, infantry and archers as well as wizards, war machines and huge monsters in your role as a mercenary army captain, tasked with wiping the hordes of darkness from the face of the map.
The dialogue script was written by Stephen Marley.
The game's introduction shows the resurrection of an evil undead King in lands far to the South of the Empire. Meanwhile to the North, the player (as mercenary commander Morgan Bernhardt, the main character from Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat) is defending a small trading post from attack by goblins. The army is soon recalled to Altdorf where they are told that Orcs are invading the Empire from the South.
After fighting a number of battles against the orcs, it becomes clear that something is making them flee into the Empire. The player returns to Altdorf to make his report, and is assigned to a series of expeditions to fight the imminent undead threat. These campaigns consist of several battles each, and there are a number of occasions where the player is required to choose between alternative paths, with consequences in the battles ahead.
Eventually, after defeating undead incursions in Kislev, Bretonnia and within the Empire itself, the location of the Undead king is discovered and the final battle is pitched. Throughout the game, the player character Bernhardt changes from a mercenary who only cares about money to a hero willing to lay down his life to save others.
- 'Dark Omen at Mobygames at MobyGames
- Review of Dark Omen at Gamespot
- Warhammer: Dark Omen online community documenting the Dark Omen binary formats and extending the game.