Publisher Frontier Foundry is continuing to diversify their library with Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters, a Warhammer-themed take on the XCOM formula that’s currently exclusive to PCs. It was developed by Complex Games, and here are our thoughts on it.
At this point, we’d be extremely impressed if anyone was able to name all Warhammer-licensed videogames out there. Games Workshop is extremely liberal about licensing out their popular tabletop IP, and the source material has proven to be a very fruitful inspiration for all kinds of adaptations. This one centers around familiar turn-based combat mechanics that evoke memories of the excellent XCOM titles.
As with many Warhammer-themed titles, you don’t need to be intimately familiar with the lore to enjoy it. Let’s face it, most videogamers aren’t reading Warhammer fiction or painting miniatures – yet the appeal is still there even if players only have a cursory knowledge of the game’s universe. In Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters, you’re in charge of the Grey Knights, who serve the Emperor but are in a dire situation at the start of the game. With a killed commander and a damaged space ship, things aren’t looking great when your ship and squad get commandeered to go after a Nurgle threat.
It’s a satisfying narrative setup and the game does follow up on it, even though the action/combat sequences aren’t necessarily story-driven themselves. Most of the story development takes place aboard the space ship, where a small main cast of characters drive the fully voiced story forward – using the voice talents of actors like Andy Serkis in the process. There’s also a nice balance between a core story that anyone can follow and plenty of little nudges to Warhammer lore and characters, so the writing here is spot-on, especially for what is a turn-based combat title at heart.
On top of that turn-based combat and narrative elements, you also need to keep an eye on the larger threat, while repairing and upgrading your ship in the process. You can follow different paths here by choosing your own order in which to do things, which should also add some replay value to the game – though a single playthrough lasted us 25+ hours already, so no complaints about content or length here.
The heart of the game lies with its XCOM-style combat though, and we really enjoyed the combination of familiar mechanics with a few fresh nuances. When you think “XCOM 2 should have had this!”, you know they’re doing something right. The squads that you send into the field are often smaller than the enemy forces you face, so the stakes are often high. This also means you often can’t just carefully take out enemies one by one, and need to take chances and be aggressive. For The Grey Knights, this means rushing in for powerful melee attacks rather than just going for ranged shots – and finishing moves grant extra action points too, so this is encouraged as well.
Despite your small teams, the levels in which you fight often have plenty of room to move around, and more than one possible approach. You can rush straight at the enemy, or make use of the environment – blowing up a bridge that two enemies are standing on is supremely satisfying and never gets boring – especially because it’s delivered with a good amount of dramatic flair and detail. Some additional drama comes from the Nurgle threat that’s spreading across the universe like a plague, and this ties into combat. This plague, called the “bloom”, boosts enemies and hurts you when a bloom counter fills up, adding a timing element to your plans.
Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is a challenging game, so genre fans will appreciate what’s on offer. Key story missions can be especially difficult, partly because they’re designed with more or a set solution in mind, but overcoming a scenario always walks a small line between satisfaction and frustration. And while we’re on the topic of hardcore strategists, we think that a lot of those fans also prefer to play on PC, so they’ll likely be more forgiving towards the game’s menu-heavy user interface. For me, this was probably the most fun I’ve had with the Warhammer videogame universe since Dawn of War 3 was released.