Black Lab Games and Slitherine are gearing up for the June 15 launch of Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector. I got my hands on a preview copy so I could give you fair warning: you’re going to want to take the day off. Maybe the week.
Battlesector is a much-anticipated strategy game that puts you in control of an evolving army of Space Marines as they embark on a crusade against invading… aliens or something.
I’m going to be honest: I don’t know a lot about the Warhammer universe. It’s among gaming’s most popular franchises (both tabletop and video screen), but I’m what you’d call a dabbler in the world.
But that really doesn’t matter. As a wargame, Battlesector does a fantastic job of introducing the world, making you care about what’s going on, and letting you know what you need to do.
And, at the end of the day, all you need to do is kick ass. Luckily this game excels at making you feel like a galaxy-class ass kicker.
If you’ve played games such as X-Com or Disgaea – that is, unit-level, turn-based, tactical, strategy wargames that feature RPG-like progression and a persistent command state, you’ll find Battlesector lies in familiar territory.
Typical gameplay involves moving units around a 3D game space in order to engage monsters in both long-distance shootouts and melee-ranged attacks. Depending on your army’s make-up, you’ll blast enemies with machine guns, grenades, axes, swords, and even chainsaws.
Essentially you’re playing chess, but the pieces have special powers and the board is modeled to look like various types of terrain and structures.
If looks could kill
The first thing you notice about Battlesector is that it’s an absolutely gorgeous game. It’s not that it has fancy graphics – the graphics are fine, but they’re not mind-blowing or anything like that. It’s the style, animations, and overall art direction of the title that really makes it stand out on the screen.
After decades of playing strategy titles, Battlesector feels clean and tidy (ironically, because it’s such a bloody, gory game). It’s as if this is among the first PC strategy titles developed for big ass 4K TVs. It looks spectacular spread out on my screen and, more importantly, everything I need to see is available at a glance.
Battlesector doesn’t clutter the screen with information. The armchair general in me sometimes protested the lack of data – I spent the first three hours of gameplay befuddled by the lack of portraits at the top of the screen when battle broke out, but eventually I got used to hunting for enemies on the map screen.
I’m pretty sure the devs opted for a less cluttered screen simply so there’d be more space to show off the game’s animations and effects.
The tutorial and six of the game’s 20 single player missions were available in the preview build I checked out. Playing on the game’s lowest difficulty level, the first few levels were a piece of cake. But then something unexpected happened: an epic boss fight that took me hours to figure out.
Restart after restart, the game’s first boss (a giant alien-looking beast) laughed as my troops got slaughtered by what appeared to be a never-ending torrent of cannon-fodder units.
Until I finally figured out that Space Marines are apparently not at their best hiding in cover and trying to pick off the enemy. I had to forget everything I’d learned about treating my precious units like delicate snowflakes and start sending Marines to do what Marines do if I wanted to win.
By the time it was all said and done, it took about an hour to mop up the enemies that remained after I destroyed the big boss alien. This game doesn’t throw paper tigers at you, even the weakest alien on the field takes concentrated fire from 3-4 basic units to destroy in one turn. And that’s on the game’s lowest difficulty level.
More than war
Battlesector is a wargame that takes about 10 minutes to figure out how to play. But you’ll probably still be refining you strategies after 1,000 hours of gameplay. And, honestly, I can see myself reaching that number eventually. There’s a lot to like here.
The game features two progression systems. The first awards you command points for completing missions. These points are used to unlock new abilities, such as the frag grenade skill or a power that allows you to summon reinforcement units during battle.
The second progression system increases the total allowable combat strength of your army and the total number of units you can have in it.
I found the meta-game here intriguing as there are a number of units that perform dynamically different in battle. Unfortunately, the 10 or so hours I’ve put in all-together hasn’t been enough for me to truly get a handle on the strategy – something I’d argue is a point in favor of the game’s depth.
As it stands, my time with Battlesector was enough for me to heartily recommend it to wargamers whether you’re into the Warhammer universe or not.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves
However, the copy I played was not the final build. I’m happy to report I didn’t suffer a single crash or game-breaking bug.
But, it’s clear the version I played was missing some animations and audio. When the aliens used melee attacks it still sounded like they were shooting and some attacks were inexplicably silent. And attack animations were spotty, especially when it came to the aliens. I think we can safely assume these issues will be resolved by launch though.
I wasn’t excited for this game when it was announced because I don’t have a lot of experience with the game’s setting. But now I’m looking forward to learning more once the title launches and I can check out the full single player campaign. I’m also looking forward to multiplayer where it looks like we’ll be able to face off as different factions.
Battlesector looks like it might be the first game to truly scratch the itch that X-COM Enemy Within left me with. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of turn-based tactics games on the market. But few of them make you feel as righteously powerful and competent as Battlesector does.
You can pre-order Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector on Steam now, the game launches June 15.