“As our bodies are armoured with Adamantium, our souls are protected with our loyalty. As our bolters are charged with death for the Emperor’s enemies, our thoughts are charged with his wisdom. As our ranks advance, so does our devotion, for are we not Marines? Are we not the chosen of the Emperor, his loyal servants unto death?” – Chaplain Fergus Nils
Warhammer 40,000 is probably one of the most well-known tabletop games since Dungeons & Dragons. More recently, I wouldn’t doubt that it actually has more players than the TSR-fueled dungeon romper. Surprisingly, the Warhammer series has suffered some serious pain in the past. Shadow of the Horned Rat, Fire Warrior, Battle March, Battle for Atluma, and Rites of War share something common – they were all terrible uses of an incredible Intellectual Property. THQ jumped on this property and took it a different direction – Real Time Strategy. They’ve found great success with the Dawn of War series on the PC, so it was time to revisit the action genre. This week we see the release of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine – the Emperor is pleased.
Honour the craft of death. Only the Emperor is higher in our devotion
I’ve gotten to see Space Marine several times during its development, and I will actually admit that I was not blown away the first time. The first brush with the game was pretty early so there was no real connecting tissue with the storyline. The levels were out of order, the game was still a little clunky, but there was one thing that the team at Relic had already nailed down – I felt like a Space Marine. 900lbs, encased in Adamantium armor, slinging bolter shots, and unleashing the chainsword on the enemies of humanity.
The next time I saw Space Marine it was a few months later at a multiplayer-only event. The game had come together very quickly, and it showed on the face of the guy next to me. Before the hands-on with the game we teamed up with some local Warhammer 40k tabletop experts to give us rookie press members a crack at the source material. When our expert guide sat down with the game he simply couldn’t stop talking about it. The look, the feel, the authenticity – you couldn’t pull the smile off his face with a jackhammer and a crowbar. The hands-on time for me just confirmed what he was seeing.
Friday, just before Labor Day, I got my hands on the final copy of the game. Any negative thoughts I had about the storyline were dispelled. Before we get into the story of the game, there are a few things you need to know about Space Marines.
First things first – Space Marines DO NOT take cover. They don’t hide in the back, they don’t wait for regeneration, they don’t grab floating health packs, and they don’t have an ounce of mercy for the enemies of humanity. They are bred for war, genetically engineered to be superior in every way. Over 7 feet tall, encased in almost-indestructible armor, and wielding a vast array of weapons that would bring a normal man to his knees with the weight alone. They receive psycho-indoctrination to ensure that they can operate for long periods of battle without sleep. They have extra organs inserted into their bodies to ensure redundancy despite incredible wounds. A Space Marine has dermal plating inserted under their skin to allow them to bond directly with the ceramite and Adamantium armor to ensure it is a part of them, allowing them to move freely despite the incredible weight. The Adeptus Astartes are the defenders of humanity split into various chapters throughout the universe. There are only 1000 Ultramarines per chapter, so the Emperor ensured that they were built to be Gods.
“No Pity! No Remorse! No Fear!” – Black Templar Battle Cry
Space Marine puts you in the armored boots of Captain Titus, a mighty soldier with over 150 years of service to the Emperor. As Company Commander, he is accompanied by Sergeant Sidonus and new recruit Leandros as they respond to the siege of the Imperial Forge World Graia. The Ork horde has descended on the planet to siege it. The Ork horde love war, but their Warboss Grimskull has enough sense to know that there is a shiny new Warlord Class Battle Titan in the Manufactorum, and he wants it. The Ultramarines have been sent to stop them from seizing this powerful weapon of war, but when they hit the ground they find that the conspiracy is unfortunately much deeper.
**SPOILER** As you dig deeper into the Manufactorum you find that the dark energy of the Warp was being used to try to power Titans, but through their tinkering the Forces of Chaos have been unleashed on this world as well. The Traitor Legions have used Warp Portals to enter the world and now there is a race against time as the demon horde begins to spill into this world with one purpose – to extinguish all life. ** END SPOILER**
As I mentioned earlier, Space Marines are not big on taking cover. This mechanic is highlighted throughout Space Marine as there is no cover mechanic. Instead, the Power Armor that Captain Titus wears regenerates its shields very rapidly. Once your shields are depleted you are vulnerable, allowing for health damage which does not regenerate. You are a Space Marine though, thriving on war. This means that you will regenerate your health by executing your foes. Stunning an enemy and then eviscerating them with your Chainsword, Axe, Hammer, or simply smashing them with your fists will restore a small portion of your health. Killing larger enemies in this fashion might result in a button-pressing exchange as you struggle for dominance, but these larger enemies result in a greater health restore. In short, the best way to prevent your death is to cause the death of your enemies en mass. Your companions Sidonis and Leandros are capable soldiers in their own right, taking down enemies in the same fashion and dodging to restore their own shields.
To aid you in your bloodlust rage you can unleash a power called “Fury”. This Fury attack allows Titus to cause incredible damage to enemies while simultaneously regenerating health until the meter is spent. It can also be used to slow down time to place precise fire on your enemies, scoring lethal headshots.
When I said that Space Marine made me feel like a true 7’ tall 900lbs Guardian of humanity, it was the culmination of these mechanics that made it so. I never felt ineffective at any range. I was able to take out my enemies at long range, use heavy explosives on larger enemies, take down smaller enemies by simply executing them on the spot, or unleash destruction on waves of Warp-spawn or greenskins with massive melee weapons. Though it is non-canon, the Vengeance Launcher is a great addition to the game as well, allowing me to set traps with mines that can be remote detonated – a boon during some of the more difficult sequences. The rest of the weapons are straight off the tabletop game, including the Chainsword, Power Sword (but only for pre-orders), Bolt Pistol, standard-issue Bolter, Lascannon, Power Axe, Plasma rifle, Thunder Hammer, jetpack, and much more. While you can only hold four ranged weapon and your melee selection at a time, there is no doubt that it is enough to handle any adversary.
“You carry the Emperor’s will as your torch, with it destroy the shadows.” – Black Templar Codex
The multiplayer aspects of Space Marine come in two flavors – Seize Ground and Annihilation. In Seize Ground you’ll capture and hold objectives until a certain point value is reached. The second mode is straight up deathmatch. Since there is absolutely nothing that can stand up to a Space Marine but another Space Marine, the multiplayer factions are limited to Imperial and Chaos. These factions are split into three classes per side, exactly as it is in the Codex Astartes. Tactical / Chaos Space Marine, Assault / Raptor, and Devastator / Havok serve as classes in multiplayer. The Tactical / Chaos Space Marines are a balance of both ranged and melee, the Assault / Raptor are experts in close combat and are capable of using the jetpack, and the Devastator / Havok Marines are your heavy assault classes, capable of wielding items like the Heavy Bolter. Each class has specific limitations and strengths that can be augmented by perks. Doing well in battle grants experience points, and with XP comes levels. At certain levels you’ll unlock perks such as increased armor regeneration rate, additional speed, or extra exotic equipment. There are also weapon perks including faster reload, extra damage, or fire rate. Since you can only use two Perks or two Weapon Upgrades at a time (or one of each), being very specific about your loadout factors in heavily. Additionally, as you play you will unlock different cosmetic armor choices. This means you can equip specific faction armor (like Blood Ravens or Black Templars) or you can mix and match. Want to be a Neapolitan-colored Space Marine? I’ve already seen it done – go nuts.
There are a total of 40 levels to unlock in Multiplayer, with over 2 million possible color combinations as well as the base and enhanced perks. You’ll also unlock a special set of armor when you hit 41 for both factions. You can earn experience by completing weapon challenges similar to other games to earn additional experience points. In what has become a standard for THQ, the game allows you to play up to level 5 before you have to put in a code from the back of the manual. This means that folks who buy it new get that mode for free and folks that buy the game used have to pay a little bit to unlock it.
Speaking of free modes, THQ has also announced that in early October there will be a mode called “Exterminatus” released for owners of the game. The four-player mode seemingly-reminiscent of Horde mode in Gears of War will come with two more maps – Hab Centre Andreas and Escape from Kalkys Facility. For those unfamiliar with the lore, Exterminatus is the designator given by the Imperium for a world that has been so infested that it is beyond saving – the only option left is to scourge the planet, destroying it completely.
I have a few axes to grind against the Space Marine. First, and not surprisingly, the game is very linear. I’m sure this was done in a way to guide the storyline, but looking at a game like Darksiders, you can see how even a somewhat linear game can be made to feel more flexible. On the multiplayer side, there are only a very few maps to play with the promise of more on the way. The only other thing I have to grind is that there is a great deal of tie-ins with the Codex Astartes that could have happened but didn’t. For instance, giving each rank (or every 5?) a new ‘title’ and rank would have been great. (Veteran, Vanguard, Sterngard, Librarian, Master of the Forge, etc.) Similarly, you don’t see very many tabletop games without vehicles, but they are shockingly absent from multiplayer. Perhaps in Space Marine 2 we can get some Baal Predator vs. Whirlwind Rhino action? Let’s hope!
My last two (and unfortunately biggest) axes to grind are unfortunately a big ones – the environment. While the game has some fantastic set pieces including clean and sterile areas, foul sewers, ornate huge spires of the Manufactorum, and many more, there are a great many times when I got stuck in the environment, leading to my own death. Similarly, there are plenty of times when I needed to grab a different weapon off of a rack and I was unable to grab it without a lot of jockeying back and forth to position. While this isn’t usually a problem with stationary weapons, it has gotten me killed several times when trying to man a heavy bolter in the heat of battle.
“There is only the Emperor” “He is our shield and our protector” – Crimson Fists Battle Cry
Space Marine turned out better than I expected. Multiplayer delivers, single player delivers, the storyline is compelling enough to keep you moving, and the folks at Relic kept very faithful to the Intellectual Property throughout the game, including the shocking ending. Taking the incredible lessons they’ve learned from Dawn of War and applying them to a third-person action title has broken the long string of terrible action titles in this franchise. While it does have some dents in the armor, there is no doubt that it is a worthy title. After playing Dawn of War and its sequel, it is no shock to me that Relic was the team to get it done. See you online later today, Battle Brothers – I’ll be the one rocketing in to push a Chainsword through your face.