Cool turn-based, tactical slaughter of demons - but not without scratches in the armour.
Judging by the number of downloads, many Warhammer 40,000 (40K for short) fans have played the mobile game Space Wolf. It's actually quite good, and is a tactical and turn-based strategy game, familiar to the XCOM series and with an isometric perspective. It still sells even though it's from 2015, and someone at Complex Games apparently thought, like me, that it would be great on a real computer, and that it comes nice and close to the real physical version of 40K. I was pretty nervous too, though, because we didn't get a review code until the afternoon of the game's release, and that's pretty much always a really bad sign.
And before anyone thinks that's misspelled, no, Daemon is spelled correctly, as demons in this universe can be both good and evil, even self-aware, so without getting into a long semantic discussion, it's quite correct, and they all exist in forms in the 40K universe. That said, you won't get past spirits, ghosts, creatures from the Immaterium, or anything else that wants to do you any good.
You play the newly appointed leader of a squad of Grey Knights, a special order of Space Marines, ultra-steroidal, pumped-up, two-hearted super-soldiers who spit acid, but in an even more hardcore version as these are all psykers - the 40K universe's version of wizards, and have the primary purpose of killing anything that crawls out of the Immaterium, a kind of parallel universe where all living beings' emotions flow like a vast ocean, and when enough negative emotions are present, it creates thinking beings who will then do whatever they can to materialise in reality, or just become so powerful that they can influence the real world and thus become gods. So Gandalf's brain in Captain America's body, encased in Iron Man's armour (multiplied by 10), fighting demons created by all negative emotions. Everything in 40K is extreme in case you hadn't noticed.
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You have the misfortune that one of the Empire's Inquisitors thinks she should be calling the shots, despite the fact that your ship isn't doing too well after a lengthy campaign against hordes of demons, and it has now unwittingly become your job to investigate and defeat a plague-like bout of rot in a nearby solar system, and find out what's causing it (most people with Warhammer insight have probably guessed this already, but I'll keep it spoiler-free for now). And how do you do that? Well, with superior firepower, of course - in fact, a while into the game you can open up my personal favourite - Exterminatus - which delivers on its name's promise: total destruction of a planet. But basically, you send your combat team - made up of four soldiers - on missions, and when they've taken too many beatings they can be replaced with others. They can die more or less permanently, so it's important not to sacrifice your best people on missions you almost know will be at a loss. There's both a level and gear system, though, so it's not necessarily a good thing to switch out too much.
These super-soldiers are what you control, typically four of them clad in Aegis Armor (for goodness sake, remember to upgrade the Aegis part), who through limited Action Points and Will Points (because apparently killing takes willpower when you're a brainwashed super-soldier) must balance the use of conventional weapons and psyker-laden melee and projectile weapons, because every time you use the latter you're getting closer to a "Warp Charge", which is a fancy word for "really annoying debuff". And with weapons, within reason - there are actually quite a few options, though some like the flamethrower can sometimes cause more problems than they solve - as well as a favourite, grenades that can be used in combination with various automated attacks, you can blast people into one of your troopers' line of sight - glorious!
The game's tutorial could have been a bit better, things are explained reasonably well, but if you're not familiar with the format there are still a lot of questions you have to read up on yourself. But if you've played XCOM, or Gears Tactics, and already know what Overwatch, Action Points and half/full cover are, then all this will come pretty naturally to you.
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The game is challenging, as in it's actually hard, and playing on the higher difficulty levels will make words come out of your mouth that don't belong to civilized people. Mistakes are punished, harshly, and you have to accept that in theory you can play freely, but not in practice, here you need to have a balanced unit, remember the Aegis Shield, remember to use melee combat and consider your moves carefully.
There are four basic classes; Purgator who is your primary source of gunpowder, bullets and flames, an Apothecary who is technically a field medic but whose primary job is to remove the super soldiers extra organs if they die, so you can make a new one, an Interceptor, which the game describes as a "Scout" - it's probably more accurate to call it mobile melee combat, as the class can teleport, but with heavy and large weapons that can deal quite a lot of damage, and then a Justicar, which is your primary tank, and the only one that can wear Terminator Armor, the game's best and most insane armour.
In between the actual combat missions, you then have to do combat and campaign research, make sure the ship Baleful Edict (yes, all ships in this universe are called that) has working systems and that these can be improved, and then report every two in-game months to the boss of it all, Vardan Kai, voiced by none other than Andy Serkis. I have to admit, though, that even though I knew it was him beforehand, I had a hard time hearing it. You'll want to stay on good terms with him, as he's a source of the resources that allow you to get new soldiers and weapons from the moon Titan, where he, and the entire order you're a part of, reside. In other words, there's a lot of resource management to keep track of, and on top of that comes XP for each of your soldiers, which then needs to be used wisely to suit your playstyle - for example, I've equipped some of my regular soldiers with gadgets that can heal themselves and others, while my Apothecary is actually able to bleed people to death with astonishing speed.
I do have a few criticisms, though. Firstly, the facial animations are a little odd, in addition to being static they are very square and caricatured, giving a Warcraft 3 like feel to the graphics, which the bright colours don't detract from. The variation of the enemies, especially the human ones, is extremely limited to say it nicely, they haven't even bothered to move wounds or armour to the other side, it's the same type and colour of hat on for example enemy psykers, and everyone is completely the same. No real effort has been made to vary the missions you encounter especially at the start, the level itself changes but the objectives, enemies and landscape are largely identical and without much variation.
The game is quite demanding by the way, and even with an RTX 3080TI I experienced severe frame drops - mainly in the menus though, but 80fps in 4K for this type of game is far too little in my world, it did get up to 140+ later though, but I refuse to believe this is that demanding, probably just poorly optimised. I only experienced one crash, but can understand more having bigger issues.
In addition, there are a number of problems with the lore, or mythos, of 40K and some of the things going on. I agree that it should also be a computer game, and that it can be difficult, but I have a hard time accepting that I can only don one of the classes with Terminator Armor, and it doesn't make sense that an ordinary human can stand being sawed in the face with a space chainsaw over a meter long with specially hardened teeth, or being hit in the head with a huge hammer, handled by a 450kg super soldier capable of deadlifting about a ton, and it doesn't make sense that bullets from a machine gun or standard shock grenades cause problems for a Terminator Armor-clad person described in all literature as "a living tank". In the overall picture, it's probably not something you'll be bothered by, but these games are made for people like me, and this bumpiness is a little hard to swallow. You know what? Let's move on.
There are some more nerdy bugs, like after a battle you'll have "recruits to take on the last resistance" - but they don't exist in Grey Knights after the selection process, which is basically a long survival ride, you're directly enrolled in the standing army, there's no recruitment time of any kind. In addition, and yes, this is to encourage close combat, but it seems that each soldier only brought 5-6 rounds of magazines, which doesn't make sense since it's reasonably established that there are 100 rounds in the magazine of a StormBolter. In addition, at least half of the shots in the animation miss regardless of distance, which goes against all literature talk of auto-correction allowing a trained person to move and shoot simultaneously. Incidentally, they are .75 calibre and contain explosives, which in turn is a little confusing when a human has to be hit five or six times before they die. That doesn't make it a worse video game, but it's annoying as hell for hardcore fans. They should have ditched human opponents and stuck to demons.
That said, the combination of strategic considerations you have to make, such as making sure you're in cover, means that your super soldiers never feel completely overpowered, especially as they take a long time to recover, so you actually have to think carefully, just like in a proper game of 40K - and this is, after all, despite its flaws, pretty addictive gameplay to put up with.
Let the holy oils wash over my armour, and the runes on my hammer glow - demons shall now bleed! - Or, whatever it is that comes out of them when new body orifices are added against their will.
8 / 10
Gameplay is diverse. Looks good. Challenging.
Quite a demanding game. Irregularity with the lore of Warhammer 40K.