Well hello ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's your favourite Scottish member of the Player2Reviews team, showing up with his first write up of 2020! I can only apologise that it's taken so long but getting back into the swing of things was slightly more difficult than I first thought! Luckily though, I'm starting with a title from a franchise that I've developed a fondness for over the years, Warhammer 40,000. This IP first came to my attention when, as a teen, my younger brother got into the figurine based tabletop strategy game and although I found it reasonably fascinating, as a hardcore Sci-Fi fan it was the art, lore, stories and world building that really gripped me. The brutal grimdark setting, where our species is beset on all sides by vicious and powerful enemies, and where humanity commits horrible acts on a daily basis just to survive, stands in dark contrast to the brighter future that many Sci-Fi franchises, like Star Trek, have chosen to take. When it comes to the world of video games, the WH40k license has been allocated to a few different devs over the years and has resulted in titles from a range of different genres including Real Time Strategy, 3rd person adventure games, and first person squad based shooters. This time round though, we're getting a turnbased strategy game and, as I've always loved that genre, I was really interested to see what we'd get.
And so, without further ado, let's get right into it and see how Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf measures up!
Warhammer 40,000- Space Wolf is a turnbased strategy game with a deck building mechanic that first appeared as a mobile game, before being ported to both Steam and PS4. Most recently it's also been released on Switch and it's this version we'll be looking at today.
Now for those that don't know, the Space Wolves are basically an army of futuristic, genetically modified, power armour wearing Vikings and it's a small squad of them that you'll be controlling for most of the game. The story and setting aren't very deep, or even explained really, and you are actually flung straight into the campaign tutorial without a title screen, cut-scene or even a text scrawl describing what has happened so far. Instead you begin with a single character, the squad leader Valgard, as he emerges from the still burning wreckage of the Space Wolf starship, only to find himself set upon by a horde of Chaos Marines. Whether the ship was shot down, crashed or was attacked by another ship isn't really explained but isn't really important either. What is important is finding the survivors of his squad, gathering weapons and ultimately destroying the enemies of humanity and bringing glory to the Emperor! This beginning tutorial isn't the best to be honest and doesn't do a good job of explaining how things work, especially in regards to the effort mechanic but you will be shown the basics of movement, facing, how to use weapons and, basically, how the whole shebang works, which is slightly different from the usual grid based strategy games where each side takes turns.
You see in Space Wolf each squad member, as well as the enemies actually, has a unique deck of cards and each hand you draw governs all the actions and abilities they can utilize that turn. So let's explain how this game works in practice. At the beginning of each stage you'll be given a primary objective, this is usually something as simple as killing every Chaos Marine or Cultist, reaching a certain area, killing a specific "boss" type opponent etc. There are also secondary missions to complete too, giving you extra goodies for victory. These usually include collecting a hidden supply cache, destroying a certain amount of opponents or keeping your health above a certain level. And, to complete these objectives, you'll need to use the aforementioned card mechanic.
You see, at the beginning of each turn every squad member is given two action points (AP) and a hand of six cards drawn randomly from their deck. Each card costs one AP to use so you need to consider your choice carefully or risk losing a valuable action point. Now the cards you can choose from come in a wide variety of different types, all with different effects. Some are pretty simple, like the "Move" card which, as you can probably tell, allows the character to move to a new location and change which direction they're facing. There are cards which grant armour points to the Space Wolves, reducing the damage taken from enemy weapons, cards like the jetpack or teleporter that allow movement over a greater distance and through obstacles, cards that restore health to the character and every ally in range, and even cards that summon a cyborg wolf to the battlefield! There are many others too, all with different uses but the most common type by far are the vast amount of weapon cards you can choose from. These have quite a range of options too, and do differing damage as well as having different percentage chances to score a hit. They range from melee type weapons like chainswords and axes, lightning claws and powerfists, to low to mid range guns like the Bolter, a common WH40k firearm, to long range sniper rifles and miniguns. There are also Flamers which will damage everyone, enemies and allies both, who are in its cone of effect. Melta-guns destroy damage reducing armour, Lasguns that ignore armour completel,y and combiplasma types that have a powerful attack but also have a chance to "splashback" doing damage to its user. All in all, there are a huge amount of weapon cards, ranging in rarity from common to legendary, all with their own unique names and makers that hardcore lore maniacs will recognise and drool over. Most of these weapons and cards can also be used for movement instead, sacrificing it to allow you to reposition if you don't have a "move" card in your hand.
There's also one other major thing that must be considered before playing a card, and that's called "Effort". Located in the top right of each card, it's value will be added to your total effort score and it really is vital to keep an eye on. Lower end cards like "move" may have a low score, adding around 4 points to your total, while more powerful, high-end cards like the sniper rifle or group healing will have considerably more. The reason this is important is because the person with the lowest score, including enemies, is the person who's turn will come up next. This leads to situations where it may be more advantageous to play a couple of low effort cards, and quickly get another turn, rather than play a more powerful but higher effort card and have your next turn take much longer to come round. There are a couple of other things to consider too, like Valgards rage which boosts the effectiveness of his cards if he takes too many hits, and also an effect called "Link". This is an ability that many cards have as a secondary addition and, as long as they are in your hand, will activate when their conditions are met. These include things like adding 10% damage when a melee weapon is used, or granting an additional action point when firing at a far away opponent. These "link effects" even stack, so having a few in your hand can really boost the effect.
So as you can probably see by now, there are a lot of things to consider each turn and I found this approach refreshing from the turnbased strategy game norm that I've played in many games before. It allows, and actually requires, plenty of thought and strategy to your turns and consideration of which cards to put in your deck, and which to play when they appear in your hand, is absolutely essential. There's also a random element of chance however with the way cards are drawn from your deck into your hand and whether they'll appear at a time that's good for you.
The enemies you'll be up against come in a wide variety of forms, all of which lore lovers will instantly recognise, and each has a unique deck of cards that govern their moves and abilities. Starting with the red power armour wearing Chaos Marines, it isn't long till Mad Max styled Chaos Cultists get involved too. As you advance through the campaign you'll also come across the higher ups of the Chaos faction, who wield strange psychic powers and can summon demons onto the field. Alongside these different demons, you'll even be up against the robotic zombie forms of the Necron, ensuring you'll have plenty of variation in your enemies and helping keep combat both fresh and challenging.
In fact, to be honest, I'd say it gets a little too challenging at times. Around halfway through the 2nd chapter there's a sudden spike in difficulty with opponents suddenly doing vastly greater damage and having much more effective skills, even on the lowest possible difficulty setting. They'll also go after the squad leader, Valgard, almost unrelentingly. His death will cause a "mission failed" and, as there are no mid-game saves, this means a total restart of the mission from the very beginning. I also encountered a few bugs, some minor and some not so minor, that marred my playthrough occasionally. Sound effects would cut out completely for instance, leaving only background music and, while not important, was still rather irritating. Worse was a bug where, every so often, you'd end a turn only for the next one to not begin, leaving you in a sort of limbo where you couldn't continue. Luckily this could be fixed by closing then restarting the game and you'd then continue from the last turn thanks to the autosave triggered after every move. One other niggle was with the play speed, especially where enemies were concerned. Their movement would be a little slow and, when multiple baddies had turns one after another, this got a little frustrating to watch. Also, when they played their cards, they'd flash up only very briefly, and combined with the small text, would make knowing their abilities rather difficult, especially with new enemies or with cards you hadn't experienced before. There was an option in the menu to change the gameplay speed but this didn't work at all, and actually couldn't even be highlighted, adding to the frustration.
Graphically Space Wolf looks pretty decent for what it is, a port of a mobile game, but probably won't impress if compared to current gen, turn based games like Phoenix Point or Xcom 2. All the character models, both Space Marine and the various enemy types, look very similar to the collectable figurine counterparts. Each of the different weapons all have their own in-game models too and have the chunky, robust style that the franchise is known for. Their representation on the individual cards is especially good, as the weapons and items all have the heavy decoration and embellishments that makes WH40K artwork such a joy to look at and as instantly recognizable as it is. The various backgrounds are pretty decent too, if a little generic, but the jungles, industrial buildings and demonic temples are good enough to be entertaining but, as said before, won't impress anyone who is used to the more detailed (and destructible) environments of Xcom 2 or similar. There are some minor troubles with text size, especially in handheld, but apart from that the game is reasonably good looking, considering its mobile roots, and felt about the level seen in the Xbox360/PS3 versions of Enemy Unknown.
Alongside the story campaign, which is spread across 4 chapters each with 6-7 levels a piece, there's also a collection of challenges to sink your teeth into. There are 4 different ones in all but every one centers around destroying waves of various enemies. You do get to play as not only the Space Wolves here though, but enemies types too, adding some variety to the proceedings.
Completing either a campaign level, or completing certain objectives in the challenges, will provide various amounts of skill points, new cards, booster packs, and weapon parts (the in-game currency) that can be used between levels to upgrade and improve your squad and deck. Skill points can be spent to upgrade Valgard, the squad leader, and also the various allies you've discovered along the way. Each member has unique skills, gained as you level them up, unlocked by using these points and allowing them new abilities to use in the campaign and challenges. You can enter the Collection section to see all your obtained cards, combine duplicates together into higher level versions or just discard them by breaking them down into weapon parts. It's here you'll also add or remove cards to and from your deck, creating custom ones to take into combat and you'll spend a few minutes here before every mission, making sure that the 30 cards you take into battle are the most effective and useful for the situation. Finally, there's also the Forge. Here you can both open any booster packs you've obtained, gaining 5 new cards, and spend your weapon parts on forging new cards individually. Basically, you spend weapon parts and are given a new card at random. The more you spend, the better the chance you'll get a high level card. Unfortunately though, I found this feature didn't work in-game at all and instead of getting a random card, I was given the exact same common level Bolter card EVERY time regardless of the amount spent and worse than that, this card was terrible at even the beginning levels making the feature effectively a waste of resources. Luckily you can still save up your weapon parts and spend 3500 on a booster pack instead, so getting new cards isn't impossible but this broken Forge system is definitely a problem that hampers your ability to get good cards. I would like to include that you can't buy weapon parts or booster packs or anything else with real world cash, unlike the mobile version, which is definitely a plus in my book.
Ultimately, I found my time with Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf to be an enjoyable, but flawed, experience. The starting tutorial, that you're flung into without so much as a title screen or text scrawl, doesn't do a good job of explaining the ins and outs especially regarding the Effort mechanic. Once you get to grips with how everything works though, there is something here to enjoy, with the card based gameplay providing something a little different from the normal turnbased strategy experience. The vast amount of cards you can choose from, with all the associated effects, gives you plenty to think about both during and between deployments and the random way cards are dished out into your hand means luck is a factor too. The sudden difficulty spikes might dissuade the less hardcore amongst us though and it's many bugs make it way less enjoyable than it could have been. A welcome change from the normal turnbased strategy games I've experienced, I'd certainly tell fans of the genre to consider giving it a look, even though it's bugs and flaws stop it from being truly great.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 6.5/10
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