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I’ll be honest, I know very little about the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I’m not really into tabletop, miniature war games, or even board games but from what I have played of other Warhammer 40K video games, I do enjoy the lore. I’ve played Dawn of War and I actually beat Space Marine twice. Dawn of War is pretty cool but I suck at real-time strategy games. Space Marine is more up my alley. I put Warhammer 40K right up there with Dungeons & Dragons. I respect both, I love the settings and world building, but can’t really get into them unless there are video game adaptions. Developed by both Streum and Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive, Space Hulk: Deathwing was released in December, 2016 for PC. Deathwing is a first-person shooter set in the Warhammer 40K universe and is based upon the strategy board game Space Hulk.
I really think the story caters to Warhammer 40K fans because it doesn’t do a good job at explaining things to a layman such as myself. This game throws around a lot of Warhammer 40K terminology so I found it very hard to understand what the hell was going on outside of anything obvious. To give you an idea of how little I knew before playing this, I had no idea what a Space Hulk was, no idea what Deathwing was referring to, I know nothing about the Tyranids, and I know very little about the Space Marines, themselves. The only thing I can really tell you after completing the campaign is that you’re ultimate goal is to stop the Genestealers. That’s it, that’s all I really understood. I had to do some research online to get a better understanding of the story, setting, and characters. I don’t think the story is that in-depth or anything but I do think that fans of Warhammer 40K will get a lot more out of it than I did. But in some ways, I guess that’s a good thing. If you’re a fan of the Warhammer universe then this may be very exciting for you. I know I appreciate games that stick close to the source material of franchises I love but, unfortunately, I can’t tell you how accurate to the source material Deathwing is. From what I do know after playing and more so from what I researched, you play as a Librarian of the Dark Angels Chapter’s elite 1st Company of Space Marines, known as the Deathwing. I would say this is a very lite squad based shooter since you’re always accompanied by two other marines and can even command them during gameplay. The enemies, or antagonists, are a species of Tyranids know as Genestealers. They infest large starships known as Space Hulks and Deathwing is tasked with eliminating them. The game plays out in chapters, with nine total, and before starting each chapter, you can view a map of the area and will receive a briefing by Grand Master Belial on what you’re objectives are. This game does have a focus on co-op and there is a separate multiplayer campaign with players taking the roles of Deathwing Terminators but that’s all I know since I didn’t try it. The voice acting that is here is decent. Grand Master Belial sounds convincing enough and your allies shout during combat but there’s nothing to write home about in terms of performances. Even to someone who knows very little about Warhammer, I found the story to be pretty basic on the surface but I think if you know about the universe there’s more underlying factors that would make it a bit more enjoyable.
There’s four difficulty modes – Disciple, which is Easy, Chapter champion, which is Normal, Lion’s sword, which is Hard, and No Mercy, which is very Hard. Upon completion of the tutorial, the game will suggest a difficulty mode based on your performance. You can walk, crouch, and sprint, and sprinting does double as an attack if you sprint into enemies. Sprinting also drains your stamina meter so you need to be mindful of that. You can actually parry which seems more or less like an alternate melee attack. I’m not sure if it serves a bigger purpose like actually countering. If you’re using a primary melee weapon, you carry a shield in the other hand and, in addition to holding the shield up to block, parrying translates to smacking an enemy with the shield. You can also zoom in no matter what you have equipped and zooming provides the benefit of highlighting enemies. Each chapter is basically a mission where you and your squad are placed on a large map and need to complete various objectives which include activating and destroying things, securing areas, and even defending something known as a C.A.T. Before each mission starts you can equip you and your squad with different weapons. You play as a Librarian and Librarians are psykers which means they can bend the powers of the Warp to their will for the benefit of their fellow Battle-Brothers. What this means is you can open a psygate to a secure zone where you can heal and re-quip you and your squad. If any of your allies fall in combat, visiting the secure zone will resurrect them. Now there’s plenty of primary and secondary weapons to equip, most of which need to be unlocked first. Most of the primary weapons are firearms or other types of ranged weapons with infinite ammo although a few of them are of the melee variety like the Thunder Hammer, Mace of Absolution, and the Lightning Claw. The ranged weapons include the Storm Bolter which is like a machine gun, Assault Cannon which is like a minigun, and a plasma cannon. I believe most of the other ranged weapons are just variations of these three. For example, the Redemption is like a Storm Bolter shotgun, the Vengeance is a more powerful Assault Cannon, and the Spear of Caliban is like an automatic plasma rifle. Most of the ranged weapons follow this mold, giving the arsenal a decent amount of variety and each weapon does feel satisfying to shoot. Another standout weapon is the Heavy Flamer which is basically a flamethrower. The secondary weapons are all melee weapons and include the Force Sword, Force Axe, and the Power Fist. As the Librarian you can equip some primary weapons and a secondary weapon simultaneously, although most primary weapons don’t allow you to carry both, in which case you’re forced to use your Power Fist for a melee attack. The Librarian can also equip up to three psy powers that need to cooldown after each use, before using them again. Most psy powers need to be unlocked but they can be helpful if you’re getting overwhelmed which actually happens a lot in this game. You can fire lightning at enemies, detonate a shockwave blast, light enemies on fire, and even explode them. You can also use your psygate ability to Warp to the secure zone at any time during gameplay but you are limited to how many times you can do this per chapter. Your allies do not have the same access to firepower as you so what you can equip them with is limited and they can not utilize psy powers. One of your allies is of the Apothecary class and can use Narthecium to heal fellow brothers which probably makes him the most useful ally of the two. Although, he can only use the healing ability a certain amount of times per chapter but it can be restocked when entering the secure zone.
During some chapters, after completing specific objectives, you’re usually rewarded with a new weapon that you can equip or even a new armor piece. After completing a chapter, once again you’re usually provided with a reward, you can view your stats, and this time you’re rewarded with a fervour score based on things like accuracy, damage received, total kills, ammo spent, and stuff like that. Your fervour score determines how many points you earn. These points can be spent on ability upgrades across three skill trees – Command, Devotion, and Psychic. The upgrades include things like improved armor for your and your allies, unlocking new psy powers, weapons no longer jam, and things like that. Deathwing also employs a very basic command system. You can tell your allies to follow you, open and close doors, lock doors, move to a location, and some other very basic stuff. The command system and even friendly AI isn’t very in-depth. Your allies are good at attacking enemies and will shoot them on sight but the game likes to throw tons of enemies at you at once they’ll often turn their back to attacking enemies and never really try to get out of harms way. I had to constantly issue the Apothecary to heal himself, and the other brother often, especially in the later missions. They also tend to end up in your way a lot, usually in narrow corridors and doorways, which gets annoying. However, I did discover that if you unlock the ability to equip them with the Thunder Hammer, they perform a lot better during combat and manage to stay alive much longer. In addition to the command system, you can use melee attacks to break walls and specific doors but you can also hack doors and even turrets. I found that locking doors is a good idea in the later chapters since it basically closes off an entry point for enemies. After hacking turrets you have the option to use them manually against enemies, enable or disable them, or destroy them. You can always shoot to destroy them as well. If they are enabled they will target you and your squad and they can do a good chunk of damage so you need to be aware of your surroundings. Luckily, your minimap will display where the turrets are and you can hack them from a distance. The minimap also displays red cones in the direction of where enemies are coming from which actually proves to be very helpful.
It’s a shame you can’t rely on any form of friendly AI intelligence because your allies tend to die often in later chapters while you’re scurrying around trying to survive the hordes of enemies. By the time you realize they’re low on health, they normally take that final blow that kills them. There is no regenerating health and no health or armor items to acquire so you need to rely on the Apothecary and secure zone to restore health. Late in the game I found myself Warping to the secure zone often, using up all of my psygate stock, leaving me fucked if I wasn’t close to the end of the mission. The game auto saves usually after major events or when you return from the secure zone. The second to last chapter has you defending the C.A.T. while it takes its sweet ass time opening doors and it’s just brutal. You’re attacked from every direction, and every time it gets a door open, if you die before getting to the next door, you can load the last save which is the checkpoint before the last door so you have to defend it all over again at that door. I discovered that exiting to the menu seems to act a save point so you can start from where you left off but that’s just tedious. It’s one of those games where you can end up in a situation where you stand no chance and should basically restart the chapter from the beginning. The first several chapters are easy enough to get through, at least on the normal difficulty, but the later chapters throw more and more of the tougher enemy types at you. The enemies come in different variations or strains. There’s the Stalker-strain, Warrior-strain, and even the Scythe-strain which are the most deadly. There’s also Hybrids and Broodlords. Scythe’s seem to pose the biggest threat and are usually the reason me and my allies die. The last few chapters contain several Scythes and it feels almost impossible to keep your allies alive, especially if you have to face more than one at a time. The Hybrids wield machine guns and missile launchers but most of the other enemies types usually just charge right for you and try and smack you around. Some spit shit, others are invisible, but most aren’t that hard to kill. The challenge comes from fending off the onslaught which never seems to stop. Even after you survived a battle and proceed forward, more and more just keep pouring in. It feels like they endlessly spawn in until you complete the mission.
If there’s one thing Deathwing nails, it’s the atmosphere. I’ve heard many say this game does an excellent job at capturing that “grimdark” feel the Warhammer universe is known for. Based on my ignorance when it comes to Warhammer, I, obviously, wouldn’t know but I can say this is a very immersive game with a great sci-fi aesthetic. The Space Marines are in these massive suits of armor so you don’t really move quick which does make navigation feel slow and a bit tedious, considering how large the maps are. Regardless, I really felt like I was in a massive suit of armor, traversing through some derelict space craft infested with creatures ready to kill me. Your HUD displays your armor and different parts of the armor will turn yellow or red, depending on how much damage you take and that is your health indicator. The Genestealers usually arrive in hordes and can come pouring out from any direction. They’ll be above you, behind you, in front of you, come out of doorways and passages, climb along walls, and the entire experience gives off an Aliens vibe. The maps are quite large with plenty of corridors, tunnels, and even massive cathedrals. The environments do offer that tech-y look with terminals and cables scattered around. There’s also giant mechanisms, skulls and blood scattered around, and I noticed shell casings lying on the ground in some areas. As immersive as the game is, I do feel the environments get a bit repetitive since they all follow the same theme but don’t really vary in appearance. Some visual differences do stand out but most of the environments just feel the same. For example, besides knowing each map varies in layout, I couldn’t tell you the difference between the chapter four map and the chapter eight map just by looking at them. However, each map is well crafted with excellent architecture. As you traverse the maps you’ll come across these terminals where you can read log entries for some backstory and lore if you’re interested. You can also find minor and major relics lying around that act as a form of collectibles.
Besides the campaign and multiplayer, Deathwing was eventually updated to include another game mode called Special Missions. You can play through this mode solo or cooperatively online. You’re placed in a hub world where you can warp to seven sectors which I believe are just seven of the campaign maps. You need to complete the campaign to unlock all of the sectors but one of the features that makes Special Missions unique is the randomized objectives which does give this mode some replay value. You can also select one of six different character classes – Librarian, Chaplain, Terminator, Assault Terminator, Apothecary, and Heavy Weapon Specialty. Each class comes with their own weapon set and abilities and it is fun trying out the different classes. Unfortunately, if playing solo, for some reason you cannot change the classes of your allies. If you really enjoyed the campaign, you’ll probably enjoy the Special Missions because they’re just more of the same. Now it does feel like this mode throws even more enemies at you. It just felt like I was constantly dealing with never ending hordes of enemies with little to no breathing room. I think it has to do with the game being designed around co-op. I didn’t have too much trouble completing any of the Special Missions and when I did die, the objectives were different when I restarted which usually made the mission easier to complete.
When talking about the visuals, I think the game looks pretty damn good. It has great lighting, plenty of little details, and great texture work. Blowing an enemy in half is always cool since you can see their innards, blood will spew from enemies with missing limbs, and even little things like muzzle flashes look great. Unfortunately, you don’t get to see any reload animations. It’s a small thing but I think it’s worth mentioning. Your character moves the weapon off-screen to reload which kind of bothers me. As for the audio design, I would say it’s decent overall. There’s no music during gameplay which kind of sucks and the sounds of the weapons are powerful, just not loud enough. The heavy feeling of striking an enemy with your melee weapon does provide an excellent feeling of satisfaction thanks the booming sound upon impact. There is a bunch of ambient background sound effects like mechanisms moving, tech-y noises, and the sounds of Genestealers in the distance. When Genestealers do appear, you’re going to hear a lot of hissing and roaring. On the technical side, I’ve heard numerous reports of sluggish performance and I would agree that this game needs some work in terms of optimization. I was able to run it maxed out without any major issues affecting gameplay but it wasn’t always smooth. The frame rate would dip frequently, I found it to dip more often when playing the Special Missions, and there’s a lot of stuttering going on. I also noticed that some of the campaign briefings lacked the dialogue audio. From what I understand, this game performed even worse at launch. I would say it still needs some more time in the oven.
I was interested in this game from the first moment I saw a clip of the gameplay. There was just something about the look and feel of it all. If you know little to nothing about the Warhammer 40K universe like me, then read up or be prepared to not understand some aspects of the story. It’s not like the story is super engaging or anything, I just like to know what’s going on. Now that I’ve finally played it, I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed the game overall but I think one of its biggest issues is its repetitive nature. You go from chapter to chapter, essentially doing the same thing. You just move from one objective to another fending off and slaughtering non-stop waves of enemies with AI partners. The actual gunplay is enjoyable and Deathwing excels when it comes to immersion and atmosphere. The ability trees do provide a decent sense of progression, there’s a good amount of weapons to experiment with, and the Special Missions give the game some additional replay value. I know this game is designed with co-op in mind and you’ll probably enjoy it much more when playing with others. I know a lot of people get turned off by the performance issues and, fortunately for me, I did not encounter some of the major problems others have experienced, or at least not to the same degree.
In the end, I don’t know if I can recommend Space Hulk: Deathwing to everybody but it is a fun shooter. Overall, I would say the game is good but not great. Maybe Warhammer fans can get a lot more out of this but even so, I would still suggest waiting for a sale if you are at all interested. It’s repetitive, has performance issues, and the campaign is basically just horde mode spread out across nine chapters. The game is clearly focused on the co-op experience and that’s probably where players will find the most enjoyment. Deathwing does offer fun and satisfying gunplay and provides an atmosphere that you just won’t experience in a lot of other games. If you can really get into it, there’s a decent amount of replay value and fun to be had here. Ultimately, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a good game, it just could have been better.