Games Workshop's Warhammer license is one of the most widely used licenses in the industry; they simply choose not to sign exclusive deals. Whoever approaches them with an interesting idea has their attention, and so we're seeing a wealth of different games based on Games Workshop properties populate the market. In this case, Behaviour Interactive tabled a pitch to recreate the massive Warhammer 40,000 universe in a third-person multiplayer action game, all coordinated from the Arkhona planet complete with MMO elements. This is Eternal Crusade.
With PC being a natural fit (the game is already out in Early Access), consoles, namely Xbox One and PS4, will also get their respective versions, with the same exact content. The developers also promise similar visuals when it comes to both graphics and performance, but the early console version we had access to still seemed rather raw compared to the PC beta that runs smoothly and feels more solid.
But what we really wanted to test was the multiplayer structure of the title and how the game is shaping up. Five factions fight for control on planet Arkhona: Marines, Chaos, Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids. Every player must create a profile affiliated with one of these factions, and then choose a character class. This is the first step in deciding which side you'll be supporting in this crowded battlefield.
There's one single world for everyone to share. A large map of the planet sign-posts the points at which a battle is unfolding, and shows which factions are currently taking part in the conflict. Victory or defeat means gaining or losing not only territory, but also power. There's a Warlord providing his servants with better abilities based on their conquests. Narrative-wise, studio reps tell us that they're working together with Games Workshop on a series of more than 15 short movies to better tell the story of this enormous war.
General areas on the map are fixed, but in order to avoid the usual repetitive choke points, Behaviour Interactive is trying to rotate the arenas within the different zones. There's also mechanisms allowing a single player to create a profile in two different factions, but, at the same time, preventing them from taking any action that would constitute treason during these times of war.
It might sound like everything would feed into a central game mode, but the studio has managed to integrate several different modes within this structure. The PvP matches happen in the several fortress-like battles, with up to 30v30 players. Here, you'll have to capture or protect a variety of objectives, given in a specific order so crowds focus on one particular point of the map. And based on what we've been playing so far, the devs are actually managing to move players around at will: in Eternal Crusade maps are expansive and objectives seem scattered, but you never feel like you're randomly walking about in search of opponents.
Once you've decided on a faction, you can go for a specific character class (the so-called Chapters) and a weapon of choice. Our session focused on the Space Marines, both the standard and Chaos varieties. All of them use a gun and a blade, as well as their special ability, but their specific stats are so different from each other that you'd better take this into account in order to build complementary teams. With both factions (standard or Chaos), we first tried out the more common assault troops, with an automated weapon and a knife, along the sprint ability. The controls feel a bit awkward at first as it's obviously not a pure shooter, especially given the fact that running and dodging are mapped to the face buttons of the controller.
But you soon realise that it's a result of this being more than a straight up shooter. A few games in we started to feel more at home when engaging in the close quarters combat. At least one unit from each faction is an expert up close, either combined with a jetpack so that they can take off when needed, or perhaps with an impenetrable personal shield. Suddenly, these marines became the rulers of the map, both deadly for your own health bar and robust when defending the control points. But you'll have to keep in mind that only some of them are able to capture these points.
The other thing that makes it easier to understand that Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade is not a pure shooter is the pacing. Every game means a battle with pre-defined respawn points and very clear points to attack, but the pacing is slower, almost clumsy, just as you'd expect from a soldier wearing such impressive and chunky armour. And if this wasn't enough, there's tanks and other types of vehicles that can be called upon and house up to five players. We only got to explore two maps, both with open areas and internal buildings that you have to break into and conquer.
With all the equipment customisation options and skins, the devs promise more than a thousand potential combinations, hoping for a good range of varying teams so that every game feels different, every strategy has to be re-worked. Besides, there's a roadmap in place for minor monthly patches and major quarterly updates. Both are different to the paid-for DLC packs, which will be purely cosmetic in order for this to not be a pay-to-win experience. Indeed, most of the cosmetic accessories will be available via in-game coins, even if that means you'll need to spend a lot of them.
When the PvP matches come to an end, it's time to clean up and get your territory in order, because it's in the controlled zones that Tyranid invasions are most likely to then occur. If you don't deal with those, the territory will revert to neutral. This is the PvE part of Eternal Crusade, and we only got to watch a hands-off demonstration on video. It seems a good idea to force teams to keep in constant touch and to learn how to work together without the pressures of human opposition.
We can't say much more about the visuals as the PS4 version we tried was still too far off to make a definitive assessment, but there's work to do. We actually think that this might be a clue that indicates the full release won't be available this summer as expected, and we'd put money on it coming a few months later in order for the console adaptations to catch up with the better looking PC version.
Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade looks like a multiplayer action game with a decent selection of unique elements and some cool ideas, and what's there has been built on top of a really strong and rich universe with plenty of personality. But it still needs a final layer of polish and some technical improvements in order to enjoy a successful launch, whenever that may be.