Eternal Crusade is an online third-person shooter set in Games Workshop's dystopian science fantasy universe Warhammer 40,000, offering grand multi-player battles that take place across the long lost planet Arkhona, as the prominent races struggle for dominance.
Games Workshop has always had a rather erratic although prolific relationship with video games, licensing many different title from their various, long running series over the years. There has never really been much consistency in the quality of these products, with many being what could a best be described as 'hit and miss', as some capture the essence of the hobby, like the recent Total War: Warhammer, while others seem to barely take advantage of the license. With such a rich lore and a well-documented battle torn universe full of charismatic heroes to draw upon, it seems inevitable that board games such as Warhammer 40,000 would be portrayed in video games, yet no-one could have expected it to be translated into so many different genres, including first- and third-person shooters, strategy games, card games, and even adaptations of chess. Which leaves us where we are today, looking at Behaviour Interactive's latest contribution to the long list of Warhammer 40,000 games, considering what it offers new players and fans of the series alike.
Eternal Crusade was in a way initially part crowd-funded, with the developer offering Founders Packs. These were similar to a pre-order program, where people could buy packs before the game released allowing them to get the full game and several bonuses, such as in-game currency and unique items. Originally the game seemed to be an ambitious MMO that claimed to feature a persistent, ever-changing world represented by the ongoing battles you fought in the name of your faction. This, however, seems absent from the final build, other than a world map that you can't interact with.
After having internal development issues Eternal Crusade has been left somewhat in-between the idea of a persistent online 40k warzone, with the presence of the world map depicting the struggle of the various forces on the planet, and a low budget third-person shooter which is reminiscent of early Battlefield games. In turn the maps are quite bland, uninspiring affairs, yet they do seem to capture the feel of the 40K universe giving any fan a sense of the tabletop game. Officially there are nine maps in total, although most players will encounter only around five as the rotation of modes seems limited in the current build. In addition to this the locations are unfortunately disappointing and although reflective of the Warhammer 40K universe, are not very experimental in terms of diversity or design. The graphics are acceptable for what was designed to be a massively multi-player online game, but don't expect anything impressive here - they have a grainy quality that is more noticeable in the large battles, but not to the point that this affects the gameplay.
Mechanically the game feels clunky and poorly optimised. Even on a more than adequate PC, movement has a slight laggy feel that makes the experience less smooth than you would desire from an online shooter that requires quick reactions. The weapons feel on the whole inaccurate and we found aiming to be a little buggy at times, which makes players utilise melee weapons more favourably in the online environment. This is not exactly a negative, as it is enjoyable engaging in hand-to-hand combat and performing gruesome executions when you best your adversary. Although the melee mechanics still need some tweaking, at present they are satisfying enough to have fun with. The game has a shocking lack of control customisation options for an online competitive shooter, though. There's no option to change the reticle or the auto centring of your view, which at times throws off aim. Your available changes basically boil down to adjustment of look sensitivity and the choice to invert the movement camera, which is frankly limited to say the least.
Behaviour Interactive's sci-fi shooter features two main modes at present, but hopefully they plan to expand on this in the future. The first is Eternal Crusade's flagship mode and could be described as battlefield-esque in style. Grand Battle sees combatants take part in a conquest game mode where you have to fight to take objective points off the enemy or defend against them, and can host up to 60 players in a lobby at one time. It successfully captures the large scale battle feel, but gets a bit samey too quickly as the maps are repetitive.
The next mode, Skirmish Battle, is also an objective type mode, where each side battles for control of the points and the team who gains the most points wins. This can host up to 40 players and as you can imagine suffers from the same problems as its larger counterpart. The last mode on offer is Lair, a five player PVE mode which is essentially a dungeon crawler experience that sees you and your fire-team work your way through a hostile Tyranid hive encountering bosses and so on. There is not really a great deal you can say about this mode, other than it offers a mildly entertaining distraction, even if there isn't a great amount of variety on offer. The absence of any kind of narrative-driven story is also somewhat disappointing here, although the game's initial design would not have aligned with that, a universe as rich as Warhammer 40,000 always makes a good backdrop for a tale or two and this game could certainly have benefited from a bit more depth.
Obviously character customisation plays a big part in Eternal Crusade and for the most part it offers some interesting choices. Currently containing four races to choose from - Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Elder and Orks - your options are a little limited, but each race has a nice selection of weapons and upgrades to choose from that should keep you entertained for some time. There is of course also the possibility of DLC down the road which will add more races to the game and the developer has suggested that this will be the case, although it is unknown at this point whether that will be paid-for or free content.
Sadly the lack of any heavy support class making it over from the table top game, such as Terminators in the case of Space Marines, seems unusual as the game could greatly benefit from featuring some more variety in terms of classes. Basically having a general assault class, a heavy class, which is the same but just has a different weapon, an air assault class, which is more melee based and has a jetpack, and a support/healer class (which is about the only significantly different character in the game) doesn't really offer much longevity. The vehicles do add a welcome new element to combat, but are also unfortunately quite limited in variety, leaving you with only the other races to explore, which each contains much the same mix of classes, albeit wearing a different skin. The customisation also leans heavily towards microtransactions, with a lot of the cosmetic items in particular only obtainable through buying in-game currency, so far as we could see. This does not really help the game in shaking that free-to-play feel, and encourages a pay-to-win strategy, allowing you to buy a lot of the more powerful weapons early on.
Overall it is playable, at times even fun, as you charge headlong into a screaming band of Orks, your Space Marine brothers by your side, chainswords whirring in anticipation, but these moments are few and far between. The game needed more time in the oven; it feels very much unfinished. We only hope that developer Behaviour Interactive goes on to add the features they have promised and improve the title over time, because as it stands it's a lacklustre third-person shooter that doesn't match its similarly priced competitors. That said, fans of the tabletop will find some enjoyment here, and given time it may grow to be an all round more expansive experience.
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