I have been a Warhammer 40k fan for a long time. By the Emperor, I wrote a prolonged love letter about the game that brought me into the fandom on this very website. Here are a few photos from the last battle my brother and I had, a week before he moved to Australia. We were both such nerds on the topic that we even named the battle. This was The Battle of Abyssia Ecclesia and it was epic.
All of which is to say that I am biased. I loved Space Marine, despite the fact that it wasn’t really that great because I love spending time in this world. Hell, I’m even excited about the fantastically stupid prospect of the upcoming Warhammer Adventures, as perfect a mismatch of genre and setting as could possibly be conceived. All of which is to say that nothing would make me happier than calling today’s game: Space Hulk: Deathwing a genuinely great game. Even if it was an average game, I would probably still find ways to say something nice about it. I want it to be good, so bad.
Unfortunately, Space Hulk: Deathwing stinks like a plague marine’s butthole.
Hey kids! Do you enjoy walking really slowly, using unintuitive mechanics, giving extremely limited orders to AI partners who take them more as polite suggestions and fighting endless waves of basically identical alien foes? Do you like a complete unwillingness to have anything remotely interesting happen in the plot? Are you fond of environments so identikit I genuinely thought they were procedurally generated at first?
why in the name of the emperor are we slowly plodding these same boring space marines down the same rusty-ass spaceship corridors?
Why do we always have to do this? There are thousands of stories to be told in the Warhammer universe, trillions of characters, an infinite multitude of potential settings, so why in the name of the emperor are we slowly plodding these same boring space marines down the same rusty-ass spaceship corridors? “Oh but these are a different faction of Space Marines, it’s not just the Ultramarines or the Blood Ravens!” Back to strawman hell with you! A space marine is a space marine, no matter what small factional differences you put on them. According to the Lore, there are less Space Marines then there are planets in the Imperium. Seeing one is supposed to be so rare it’s considered a life-changing religious event. The appropriate reaction to playing one should not be “Not these assholes again!”
Now, I will give praise where it’s due. The graphics are very pretty. Well, no. The graphics are extremely well executed. There’s a level of detail that is impressive and closer inspection reveals a remarkable coherence to the Nostromo-meet-Notre-Dame aesthetic that defines the Imperials of 40k.
But you have to be looking closely and paying attention to notice that and you need to already have the knowledge of that particular aspect of Imperial Architecture. If you aren’t paying attention (like if a horde of face devouring Tyranids are charging at you, like they do once every 0.4 seconds) or if you aren’t already familiar with the lore (because it’s not like the purpose of these games is to bring additional people into the hobby) then these will look like the exact same grey corridors you’ve fought through a thousand times before.
That’s the nicest thing I can say about this game. If you pay close attention, there are slight variations on the typical sci-fi shooter that confirm that this does, in fact, take place in the 40k universe. Goddammit, Space Hulk.
Let’s talk gameplay. You control three space marine terminators, highly armored and armed soldiers that trade mobility for these benefits. More accurately, you control the leader, who can provide orders to your AI compatriots, pretty much consisting of telling them who to heal, where to move, to hold and defend a point or to follow you. If the Emperor is in a kind mood, they might even do it. You are exploring a Space Hulk, essentially a space sized version of that giant garbage island floating in the Atlantic. The Space Hulk is crawling with Tyranids, Gigeresque alien monsters that wish to devour your face and steal your genetic code, but there’s the possibility that it holds Imperial Relics, so we can’t just blow it up, we need to go digging.
your guns sound and feel like pea shooters and the tyranids are able to take you out with surprising speed
Now, I complained earlier about the slow movement speed and I stand by that. You move at approximately the speed of one of the robots from Titanfall, except you’re human-sized. The tradeoff for this is supposed to be that your weapons are extremely powerful and you are highly armored. Unfortunately, since your guns sound and feel like pea shooters and the Tyranids are able to take you out with surprising speed, you’ll be spending the majority of your time trying to keep an eye on who needs healing now. Left 4 Dead appears to have been a major design influence, with waves of Tyranids regularly being spawned and rushing your squad as you move from objective to objective and if you didn’t realise how vital Left 4 Dead’s ingenious director system was before, you certainly will now that it’s absent. The combat has no sense of pacing. Groups of enemies will appear with little warning and disappear just as quickly. You get the sense that there’s supposed to be the kind of constant free-floating tension that permeates Left 4 Dead but here, that tension vanishes almost immediately. Enemy rushes are too scattershot, too obviously the result of a randomised variable flipping over.
The environments, while pretty on occasion, are also not particularly interestingly designed. I found myself getting lost far too frequently, the kind of getting lost where everything was just so identical looking that I couldn’t keep track of where I was supposed to be going.
Look, Games Workshop, I am about as close as you can get to your target market (meaning I’m a bearded white guy in my thirties with very strong opinions about his toys) and I am telling you, this is garbage. It’s the kind of garbage that I as a fan didn’t enjoy and I can only imagine how completely it will fail to connect with people outside of the fandom. The really frustrating thing is, I’ve been having this conversation in my head about a lot of your recent releases. Even Dawn of War 3, the title that that loving tribute was written in anticipation of turned out to be kind of mediocre.
Please make something better. You absolutely can. You absolutely should. I am condemned to continue playing these because Ibram Gaunt and Ciaphas Cain and Loken and Abaddon and Horus and The Emperor himself are characters as important to me as any. Every time I play something like Space Hulk: Deathwing, a tiny part of my fandom dies, turning me into a bitter fanboy that will rant for 1100+ words. But I swear, I’m not like this. I like liking things. I like saying nice things. I want to do that for you. But this game is shit and I’m not going to tell you it smells good because I own a bunch of your models. Do better.