I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, but I just never got into pewter figurines and tabletop gaming. It wasn’t that the allure wasn’t there; it was that the money wasn’t there. It’s a somewhat expensive hobby requiring many fragile pieces to wage your war. With massive rulebooks, war machines, paint, and a painstaking level of detail required, I just couldn’t get my adolescent brain to spend the time or cash. I now know what all the fuss was about.
On a slingshot flight out to sunny Los Angeles, I sat down with Games Workshop, Relic, and THQ to check out Warhammer 40k: Space Marine in the first hands-on experience with the multiplayer component. As a very unexpected but very welcome bonus, I also got to take the envied pewter figure-fueled tabletop experience for a dumbed-down spin! Before we get to my crushing defeat (and it was spectacular, let me tell you) let’s talk about the franchise first.
The Warhammer series is 25 years old, and throughout that time they’ve added equal parts humor, tragedy, darker edges, and deeper experiences. Games Workshop’s Alan Merrett, the IP Manager for Warhammer, makes his case by calling the series a “Grim dystopian dark future where humanity is at constant war. “ With aliens, traitors, superstition, and a dark medieval mindset permeating every aspect of their lives, humans are besieged on all sides – the promise of a bright shining future has been shattered. They know only war.
What makes Warhammer 40,000 unique is the combination of gritty realism and fantastic concepts. In Space Marines you’ll encounter several factions from the Warhammer universe, but there are three that top the list. Genetically engineered and bred for war, Space Marines counting 1000 men in 1000 chapters spread throughout the known galaxy know no fear and live only to serve the Emperor. On the other side of the coin is the corrupted Chaos Space Marines. Fueled by the same power and lack of fear, these vile and twisted soldiers are fueled by lust for power, demons, and a hunger to destroy. Orcs are the omnipresent and belligerent plague on the universe, living for (and loving) all aspects of war and battle – they simply live to fight. The Warhammer universe is a rich, well-populated, and well documented (you should see these books!!) setting full of twists and turns, corruption, and deceit on all sides. Should be fun!
James McDermitt and Otto Otterson from Relic give us a look at the overview of multiplayer, which would feature two factions from the universe – the Space Marines, and the Chaos Space Marines. Featuring 8 on 8 multiplayer, Space Marines looks to be a class-based battle with some serious customization options. It was time to dive in and take it for a spin.
Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines are split into three classes for multiplayer – the Tactical, Devastator, and Assault loadouts. The Tactical is your well-rounded, rifle wielding, ‘something for every range’ meat-grinder fighter. The Devastator is your tank, wielding the heaviest weapons, carrying the strongest armor, and serving as a slow-moving nearly unstoppable threat on the battlefield. The Assault loadout is your melee wrecking ball. He moves into the fight quickly using his jetpack, dispatches his opponents, and then quickly escapes the area, fully dominating the close range aspects of battle. Note that I didn’t call any of these Marines ‘light’ – these are Space Marines, the bred-for-war killing machines of the universe. Calling one of these guys a ‘light’ class would be a mistake.
When the game ships, it’ll have two multiplayer modes packed in – Annihilation and Seize Ground. Annihilation is quite simply team death match, whereas Seize Ground is a capture-and-hold variant that uses a ‘first to 1000 points wins’ counter based on the number of objectives held. With every kill, objective met, objective reclaimed, skilled shots (mid-air kills, etc.) or pretty much anything else you can do to win the war you’ll earn experience. There are a total of 41 levels of experience that allow you to unlock weapons, classes, class-perks, and skills. You’ll also be able to unlock perks for your weapons and additional armor pieces for customization by completing challenges. These challenges can be as simple as killing X number of enemies with a specific weapon to scoring headshots or getting a few mid-air kills. With over 1.8 billion possible combinations of armor customizations (color, armor pieces for arms, legs, shoulder pauldrons, gauntlets, chest pieces, each leg, and more) there is plenty to collect here. Let’s talk about those perks though.
Levelling and completing objectives grants you bonuses for your weapons. This can take an otherwise incredibly powerful war hammer and make it a one-shot-one-kill weapon by use of one of your two selectable perks. You can add additional ammunition, make your weapon more accurate, or several other variants that change with each class. This means that no two Marines should look the same, and very few loadouts will play the same. We got to play four maps from the pool to test out this theory.
The first map up was Shattered Bridge on Annihilation. This map featured a large bridge with a section mission in the center. Since this was Annihilation we simply cut one another to ribbons. The first map was a bit chaotic as everyone was trying to learn their classes, but in a testament to Relic, by the second round people had already settled into their roles. I took up a heavy and put a heavy bolter in my hands, choosing the extra ammo perk to bolster my efforts. My second perk allowed me to enter into my siege mode a little faster. Dropping my stance and lowering my gun to my hip, I proceeded to unleash a fury of bullets down a common corridor, taking out wave after wave of enemy until an enterprising Assault Chaos Marine used his pack to sneak in behind me, cutting me down with an energy sword to the back. We played a few rounds of Annihilation in this map, as well as a more underground-based map called Bascilla, but it was time to get our objective-based time in – let’s Seize Ground.
In Seize Ground there are (at least) 3 objectives on the map that both teams have to take over, control, and hold until their side reaches 1000 points. Capturing is as simple as standing in the area and not getting killed, but in practice it is harder than it looks. With perks that allow an enemy Lascannon to cut right through all but the heaviest of armor (including helmets), holding still can be a challenge indeed. We played two maps in Seize Ground – the Manufactorum and Hab Center, both well-known Warhammer settings. The objective-based Seize Ground mode really highlighted the class system as we had to work together to win. Sometimes the map only had 3 objectives, making the wave of battle back and forth even more fast and furious. You’d think you had an objective boxed in with Devastator heavies and Tactical Marines salting the objective with remote-detonated charges only to have a crafty Assault soldier fly in and take out the Devastators before they could come out of Siege mode, darting away…laughing. Multiplayer is always such a crapshoot with most shooters, but this feels like it’ll work. There is enough accessibility without the level perks to be useful on the battlefield, and leveling up will only give you more specialized tools to flesh out your class properly.
Overall, the multiplayer feels like it fits the universe well, and the class based system with perks is a tried and true system. It was time to get some perspective on the roots of this title courtesy of Games Workshop.
There were three stations set up with four factions each set up for us to play. Miniatures, tanks, debris, defilade, vehicles, and a whole hell of a lot of dice were set up on the massive tables. We used some simplified rules to get a taste for the game. I played as Space Marines while my partner handled the Space Wolves – a bike riding Marine brigade, while our enemies played as Orc and Nekron. My partner rushed forward and assaulted the Orks from a distance using twin missiles on their vehicles. I started sniping, firing my Lasrifle, two guns on my tank, and a rocket launcher at a very threatening area-of-effect firing Nekron Monolith. When the Orc turn unleashed hell on my partner, a sequence of bad dice rolls coupled with an overwhelming force cut my partner’s army in half. When my turn came back up, I quickly changed tactics and attempted to stop the Orc incursion. Sacrificing my Space Marine commander, I pushed him directly into the Nekron army, creating a rowdy diversion. Spinning my APC directly into the path of the Orc army, I unloaded my Marines. Unleashing the full force of my fearless soldiers on the lightly armored Orcs seemed like a no-brainer…if only the dice agreed. The guys from THQ and the Warhammer expert were absolutely floored at the shockingly horrible dice rolls. My partner tried to repel the Orcs as well and met their counterassault with another round of horrible dice rolls. In the end, our tally was shockingly a tie! We had taken out three squads of the enemy and they had taken out three squads of ours.
Our time complete, I could finally see what all the hype was about. Warhammer 40k is a blast to play tabletop! Something else became very clear to me – Relic has captured the feeling of what it means to be a Space Marine. Playing the single player a few months ago, as well as getting exclusive hands-on with the multiplayer has made me, a non-Warhammer 40K player, very interested. I’m eager to get my hands on the final product when it ships for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on September 6th.