I’m gonna level with you here – there are entirely too many Warhammer games on the market. In fact, a quick search on Steam for the name “Warhammer” gives me a list of 494 of them. Unfortunately most of them are just…not great. Some have a nugget of cool gameplay, and all of them have incredible worldbuilding, but entirely too many are just shovelware with a cool universe stapled on top. I was reluctant to even bother with another Warhammer game, but wow am I glad I did. We need to talk about Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters.
The title of this game is frankly entirely too long, so we’re just gonna call it Daemonhunters going forward. As always, I’ll take the lightest touch when it comes to story elements. Whenever possible, I’ll do my best to obfuscate the important bits so you can discover it for yourself. If I’m being this careful, then by the Emperor you know it’s a good one.
If you are unfamiliar with the lore, the unit known as the Gray Knights are practically legendary – ghosts even. Many don’t believe they even exist, but they are often the only thing stopping tears that would cause a flood of the nastiest creatures in the known universe from wiping us all out. There’s a reason why they are on that front line – they are incorruptible thanks to a gene-seed that descends from the absolute purity of the Emperor himself! As such, they are the perfect soldiers for fighting against the Warp. On one such mission, our story begins.
Aboard The Baleful Edict, a massive warship that houses the Gray Knights, Brother Ectar and his Tech-Priest Dominus Lunete Ozmarantis find themselves suddenly on the losing end of a ferocious battle that costs them their commander. You are placed in charge of the heavily damaged ship, her crew, and look to limp back to Titan for retrofit, reinforcements, and rearming. Before you can make your way back home, a battle-hardened Inquisitor named Vakir boards your ship and takes command with an overriding mission – destroying the rise of a powerful infestation by the Plague God called “The Bloom”. Your job is to command the Gray Knights as you rearm and repair The Baleful Edict in search of the source of this massive infection. That is, if you can stop it before it consumes everyone and everything.
Other than the occasional join-in by an important character, you’ll be deploying with four Knights into the field. Innumerable weapons, armor, and equipment pieces lie hidden throughout levels, or can be researched and purchased, but often it’s your tactics and your team layout that matters. You are free to launch into the field with whatever group composition you’d like, but I found myself taking some pretty serious losses if I didn’t bring at least one Knight with a Servo-skull for healing. Much like the aforementioned XCOM titles, you team is your team, as are the consequences if you chose poorly.
One of my favorite features is level interactivity. Destroying objects in the environment is one thing, but sending your armored behemoth to run over and yank the lid off of a pressurized barrel and fling it across the map into an explosive to send foes scattering in all directions is a whole different level of fun. Similarly, nearly every object and surface in the game can be climbed and destroyed. Rather than having the enemy dig in like a tick, feel free to flush them out with a grenade that turns their precious full cover into so much rubble. Just be mindful that the enemy has that same option.
Periodically you’ll be reporting on your progress to halt the Bloom to the Grand Master of the Order. It is at this point that you’ll be presented with options that are sure to make somebody on your ship unhappy. Siding with one often debuffs the other by a significant amount, but also bolsters the first person’s position. It’s cat and mouse, but it also yields requisition points. These can be used only during this moment, lest you have to wait another 60 days for your opportunity. Requisition points can be spent on things like improving your chances for specific weapon, armor, and equipment drops, or even the chance to recruit higher level Knights. Each has three tiers of upgrades. Requisition points spent here are points you don’t have for those impulse purchases at the end of missions – a never ending balancing act of “Do I spend this now to buy what’s in front of me, but potentially at the cost of an improved chance at some rare piece of gear later?”, making the gameplay loop outside of combat fairly unpredictable.
Beyond Requisition, there are several other important assets you’ll need to collect to stand against the spread of the Bloom. Bloom Seeds are collected in battle (often by literally ripping them out of the enemy) and are used for research, purity seal upgrades, and additional upgrades on your weapon and armor. Grimoires directly affect your research speed, with each providing a +20% boost. Prognosticars are among your most important resources as they can be attuned to a star system to slow down the threat of the Bloom. You are still going to be overwhelmed, but the Prognosticars can help stem the tide. Servitors are the little floating skulls you may have seen associated with Warhammer 40K. They are also largely responsible for the completion of your construction projects and are expended on use, so you’ll need to constantly fill the ranks with fresh skulls. It sounds like a lot to juggle, but you’ll find that scarcity will tell you what to do. Spend wisely.
There are a whopping 19 afflictions such as pinned, enraged, hobbled, immobilized, and panicked, with just 5 boons to counter them. You’ll be glad that there are a number of instant effects that, when the conditions are right, can remove those afflictions. For example, you might square off with an enemy and roll a critical, granting your Knight the opportunity to stun, disable, or even decapitate their foes. Executions grant every Knight an additional willpower to spend, but sometimes smashing a foe in the head and making them confused enough to attack their own is the better outcome. There’s a great deal of flexibility here that makes every encounter feel unique, even after dozens of hours.
There’s one other important element you’ll bring to the battlefield that can truly turn the tide of battle – Strategems. Slowly unlocked over time, there are 18 Strategem slots that can be unlocked but only four can be selected and used once per deployment. These can heal a soldier to full health, gain extra movement, teleport, and much more. Combined with the ability to knock over pillars, throw heavy pipe covers, cleanse corrupted gun emplacements, and other environmental hazards you can turn against the enemy, and you stand a fighting chance.
If the aim of Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters was a cinematic approach, they hit dead center. This game oozes cinematic moments. From the slow motion grenade throw, to the windup and smash of an oversized door, Daemonhunters delivers. Executions against enemies are varied as well, often returning an action point for your troubles, in addition to the custom animations for the action. Sure, disabling an enemies melee could be accomplished with a standard bashy animation, but lopping their arm off sends a far more poignant message.
Back on your ship you’ll find a starmap where you will deploy the Edict to an ever-expanding map of the sector. On said starmap you’ll find five small pips underneath each planet. These represent the overall corrupting effect the Bloom has had on that planet. There are events which can reduce or even eliminate corruption from a planet, but frankly there is too much infection and not enough hands to combat it. When this happens, there are few options left. If you are a Warhammer 40K fan, you know what happens next. If you are not, I won’t ruin the surprise.
When you get hurt, or worse, critically injured in battle, (and believe me when I say that you will) your Knight will suffer wounds that reduce their overall hit points for a period of time. They’ll also suffer a reduction against their Resilience stat. Every Knight has a certain amount, usually between three and four points, that they have to give to the cause. When a Knight is wounded they need to recover for a period of time. What’s different here is that they will often require augmentation to return to the field. Perhaps it’s a synthetic part, or a whole limb replacement, but there’s always a risk that it’ll introduce a permanent effect like slower movement or reduced health. You can send them back to Titan in exchange for Requisition, but that means you’ll be filling that spot with a rookie.
In your fight against the Daemons of the Warp, you’ll be able to tap into your own Willpower-enabled powers. These can really turn the title of a battle, but they also accelerate the rise of the Warp. When the Warp hits 100%, your foes will gain mutations that grant them armor, hit points, resurrection, and worse. The balance here, especially in boss battles, can be a real challenge as the temptation to pour everything into a foe can also result in every other minion on the battlefield becoming nigh-unstoppable. Looking for synergistic moments like getting one of your Knights in position to be able to take an auto-attack with their Bolter when another Knight lands their own hit really gives you pause.
My favorite thing about Daemonhunters is that it fairly quickly plants you on your heels and keeps you there. You are never as fully-stocked with fresh troops or armaments, and every choice you make on upgrades is an opportunity lost elsewhere. There’s no “right way”, but I’ve painted myself into some tough corners. It reminds me of the incredible XCOM series, and that’s the highest praise I can possibly heap on this title. You always feel powerful, but you also always feel like you are two steps from outright disaster. It’s fair, hard as nails, and I love it.
I did run into a handful of bugs, but thankfully nothing egregious, and miles ahead of nearly any other Warhammer release in recent memory. If you have fast forward enabled (which speeds up the enemy turns) it can cause the dialogue to play at normal speed, but cut off as if it was doubled. This played out during a critical scene where my team was down and almost out, saved by a last second hail mary. Unfortunately, the elation of that moment is a bit stolen by the audio hiccup. I’ve also seen the AI decide to lay an overwatch cone over where it thinks I might be going when it could be shooting me directly in the face. I appreciate not taking the extra damage, but it does make you wonder what the AI is thinking.
There are some UI elements that could use better explanation in Daemonhunters. When tackling a planet you’ll often see how infected it is, and by what strains of the Bloom. Sometimes you’ll find one of those designators blinking, but I can’t tell you what that means or how it’ll help or hurt me. Similarly, you’ll see announcements like “Defend the Bloomspawn”, but most assuredly you need to do the opposite – your foes will be defending it. It’s not insurmountable, but I feel like I’m missing either crucial information or some important element that might give me an edge.
The voice acting is quite good in Daemonhunters – not a surprise with the likes of Andy Sirkis on the team. Sure, we are delivering lines overflowing with Warhammer jargon (Morbus, Prognosticars, Xeno-Archeotech,etc.) but you don’t have to be a master of the Libris to understand. Lumet is a real high point, but that’s a high amongst other solid performances. While the faces and on-ship animations can sometimes fall a bit short, what’s coming out of them never does.
Without revealing too much on the story, you’ll end up needing to scour an ever-increasing map for specific macguffins to help you with a whopping 43 points of research. Each piece of tech can be incredible in battle, but collecting said macguffins can be a real challenge. Every turn spent collecting something in the field is a turn not shooting the enemy in the face. Eventually you’ll be able to purify the excess seeds you collect, turning them into an upgrade material to be used on your weapons and armor to unlock additional boons and improvements.
If all of this sounds like a metric ton of mechanics, rest assured that it’s not nearly as complex as I’ve likely made it out to be. In your battle against the Plague God, you’ll get access to each of these mechanics over time, slowly adding to your arsenal in a balanced way that never feels overwhelming.
Warhammer 40000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters
Where so many games in the Warhammer universe feel generic and uninspired, Daemonhunters manages to give us a game with tight tactical combat, a decent story, and a careful balance that is challenging but not punishing. The Emperor demands you pick up this game!