Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf: Early Access Thoughts


By Jason Parker (Ragachak)

 

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Originally, Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf was a game for mobile, a free to play turn-based strategy game that utilized a card system for powers and abilities. The best thing I can say is this is not a port. They have a team of folks that love the 40k franchise, live and breathe it, and it shows. You play the role of Valgard Twice-Slain, a badass even among Space Wolves. However, your craft fell into a trap set by the Chaos Marines. Now you must survive and destroy them for their impudence. I did not personally play the mobile version, but from all I have read, it had a serious issue with monetization. It was very very pay-to-win, and that will push a lot of casual players away. So when I was doing my background research for the game and discovered this, I won’t lie, I was filled with dread. Yet another game with a card function? What if they monetize the booster packs/card creation system? That would make the game borderline unplayable, because people will just buy their way into better cards to play with. Sure, they’d still have to be good at the game, because it is fairly complex and requires a tactical mind. Luckily, from what I know, it will not have microtransactions! That makes me feel elated, since from all accounts, the devs are listening to the issues players are having with the game. A prime example of this is the first mission in the game, post-tutorial.

Brothers-in-Arms, Chapter 1, Mission 1 was horrifyingly difficult. You started off with a simple mission having crashed on a planet with Chaos Marines all around. You meet up with two of your brothers-in-arms, get to the point, then survive wave after wave of suddenly appearing Chaos Marines. It was ludicrously difficult; I spent three days trying to beat it, and I fancy myself pretty smart about turn-based strategy. Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf is a game steeped in lore, with the look, feel, and characters that long-time fans are familiar with.

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From the simple but vile Chaos Marines to Word Bearers, you’ll utilize a tactical style of gameplay to destroy them in glorious battle! It’s not a standard turn-based strategy game though. This one has a different game mechanic which I’ll get into shortly. But it was horrific and challenging, and they listened. They toned down the challenge without making it too easy. It still took another try or two, but I got forward in the game and had an opportunity to play some multiplayer matches. That surprised me. Usually, I wind up not being able to get a match in at all. Though multiplayer is very simple. You play with three characters, and your goal is to kill the other Leader. Succeeding in that will end the match immediately. There’s also a buff on both sides of the map, but you treat it like any ordinary battle. On the plus side, there’s also a timer!

The campaign is pretty straight forward though. You select the mission, and jump right in, and the stage typically goes in phases. You’ll meet “this” objective, then head to the next one, all the while surviving. From what I’ve seen, if your main character dies at any point, you lose and have to start alllllll over. Which can be frustrating if you’ve been at a battle for say, twenty to thirty minutes. The positive side to the game consisting of a series of desperately long stages is you can leave anytime and always come back to right where you left off. With this technology, I wonder why you can’t have save points… The missions are long though, and not without the challenge. The longer the game goes on, the harder it’s going to get. The most important advice I can give is to pay attention to the tutorial. The multiplayer actually helps a lot, too. I did multiplayer before I dove into the campaign. After a few losses I got a feel for what my cards actually did. Outside of the RTS style games, this is one of the deepest Warhammer games I’ve played, for better or worse. But starting missions over can feel absolutely soul-crushing, especially when one loss of a unit means failure, and you don’t get many units to work with compared to the enemy.

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So how exactly does this game stand out? What makes this turn-based strategy game different? It’s not just the cards. You have a system called the Effort System. Each card you play is an action, whether you use it to move, or to shoot. It’s the number in the top right of the card. If you use a weapon or ability that isn’t specifically “Move here,” you add that Effort value to your character. The higher the number you have, the worse it is for you. If you burn through your action points and leave a high Effort Value, your opponent basically gets a free turn to abuse you while you can do nothing about it. Units with a lower Effort start their turn faster than those at a high level. You can see your current effort below your health bar, to the left of each character. So you do in a way, have control over who goes when, by not acting or moving away, out of their reach, so they have to burn tons of effort to get to you.

That’s one of the things I like but also don’t like. When I think of being a Space Marine, I think about rushing in, guns blazing, obliterating things in a hail of bullets and sword strikes. Not backing up, waiting for the enemy to wear itself out coming to me. But it is a far more tactical game than I thought it might be. It’s not what I expected, but damn if it’s not fun. When your character’s turn comes up, he will have a hand of cards. When you click one, it’ll ask you to use it as a movement ability, or to activate it. You can only swing/fire your weapon the direction you are facing, so you have to use a card just to turn. This is my least favorite thing in the entire game. If your foe loops around you, you cannot turn to face them. This makes the game harder, but not in a “Hey, this is pretty challenging now!” kind of way. It’s more like “Goddamnit, how am I not smart enough to turn the Hell around?” way. It’s a feature that makes more sense in a board game, not a video game in 2017.

You have three styles of character: Power Armor [which with combined with an Overwatch weapon does horrific things, more on that below], Terminators [which are beefy, hammer-wielding maniacs], and Scouts [which wield Sniper Rifles primarily and can long-range turn someone’s face into a juicy pile of bits]. There is also a Devastator and Flamer, but I don’t believe you can build decks for these. Each style of character has a deck of cards, up to 30 total. There’s another really cool ability that both makes me elated and furious. Rage builds when you take damage, but ideally, you don’t want to take damage because you don’t heal. At the top left of your screen is a Rage Meter, and when it hits 100%, you’ll go “RRRAAAAAGHHH!!” and your next ability will get tons of extra damage. You’ll click a spot on the screen rapidly to get 125%… 150%… up to 200% extra damage! Use it wisely, friends. You won’t get it often.

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Each character has a class-type, as stated earlier, and a deck. You can craft cards for the decks by winning matches/completing missions for a resource you gain. There are also booster packs which give you three cards, or you can craft one at a time. But it does seem that most of the equippables can be worn by anyone. That’s been my experience at least. As you craft cards, you can choose between “Simple” and “Extreme” difficulty. Each has a cost, and a chance for each rarity, with the ultimate cards being extremely resource intensive. This is a great way to get these cards, equippable or otherwise. I do appreciate that each character has unique stuff for their deck as well as common stuff that anyone can use, such as Supplies, Movement, stuff like that. Decks are not complicated like you might find for Hearthstone, and all depend on how you want to play the game. What kinds of things can you expect from cards? You have weapon cards, which are a variety of cool guns, swords, hammers, fists and claws, each with their own rate of damage, percentage chance to hit, amount of times it will hit, and special powers. The worst ones to me are the ones that have a random chance to backfire some damage onto you. I find that I use these only when a mission is almost over, or when I want a movement card. I don’t like to risk taking damage unless it’s absolutely damn necessary.

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Then you have some armor abilities like shields, which can buff your defenses and are handy. Move cards are more than just “move here” though. You could get a jetpack, a card that lets you move through objects, or “chain” cards! These are wonderful, kind of like counterspells. These cards activate automatically and you’ll see “Chain!” on the screen when you meet the requirements. The card will flash on the screen, and it might trigger an opponent’s Chain too. Then there are equipment pieces, which are particular weapons. These are far more powerful and have limited ammo. You can reload them by discarding cards of a similar type. Some of these weapons have a feature called Overwatch. Overwatch occurs with a percentile chance, and when they come into your threat range, it has a chance to activate for free damage. Speaking of cards though, I was glad that when I had a full hand I could expend some Effort to ditch two and get something else in my hand that might [or might not] change the game! However I do highly recommend once you’ve got some cards under your belt, that you fill a fair portion of the deck with low-effort weapons. Sure, they do less damage, but they can be used as a Movement in a pinch without hurting you. Also, once you get a legendary or two? Build around those. Legendary weapons effing rock, and you want them. But it comes down to RNG.

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Remember, you can move outside of using Move powers, such as activating a gun in your deck as a movement ability, but it’s at a much greater cost. There are Equippable Items, Guns, and Move Cards. You do not start off with Terminator or Scout unlocked though. Once you do though, it will greatly increase what you can do with your gameplay. There’s also the important feature that you can use to great advantage: Fusing cards! When you have a few of a card of the same power level, you can fuse them together to make them stronger! Whether it’s less Effort or more damage, it’s to your advantage. It’s also important to note that you can increase your character’s powers with perks, spending points on a series of talent trees [you can only pick one of each level, not both from what I have seen], and this will exponentially make you more powerful. Also it does appear you can swap them at will from the Armor, so make use of these as you complete more and more of the game.

 

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FOR THE EMPRAH: Better than the mobile, but still needs a bit of work.

I enjoyed this game quite a lot, as I enjoy tactical games. The attention to detail they paid to in the lore for Warhammer is cause for celebration, but there are things that really really upset me. Not being able to turn can cause you to lose in PVP with a quickness; if you make even one wrong turn, or if you let yourself get overwhelmed, there’s no way out. Sure, it suggests that you pay absolute attention to every single step you take, and if you botch, you lose. In this, it became quite stressful, but holy damn is every single attack gratifying. Using Rage at the right time is wonderful, obliterating whatever happened to be in range of your weapon. But if you accidentally use it in a moment where you could have set it aside…? Yeah, that’s going to be deflating. Though to be honest, I had more fun in the PVP than I did in the Campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story and the challenge, but it gets to be too much sometimes!

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The PVP is just me versus another player, squad versus squad. Who can out-strategy the other? They might have better cards, but you can still win without investing all those points. If you’re looking to be challenged, but worried about the stigma of the mobile game, you found the right title! It’s not going to drain your bank account, and will also give you plenty of the gritty, intense story and struggle you can expect from any Warhammer time. Plus, it’s the damn Space Wolves, and they’re badass. It’s hard to make a turn-based strategy game be edge of your seat action, but they managed to do just that! There’s just enough RNG where I found myself holding my breath, hoping desperately a bullet would miss so I could win a fight. There are little things that are vexing, but as a whole, it’s true to the franchise, and it’s without a doubt non-stop fun.

 

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