Over a month after my first look at Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters, I was able to finally get my hands on a demo of the game.
I was able to play a few missions including what basically amounts to a boss battle, and the initial impressions included in my previous preview are pretty much confirmed. For a basic overview of the game, I encourage you to read it because everything you’ll find there still stood against the impact of gameplay.
The game does indeed feel a lot like XCOM translated into the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but there are a few key differences.
Classic squad-based tactical RPGs like the XCOM series usually tend to encourage extremely methodical, extremely prudent gameplay.
If you’ve played any of these games, you likely know that they reward using your soldiers with the utmost prudence. You basically never move out of cover, and passing a blind corner without the necessary preparation is pretty much tantamount to suicide, especially considering that your troops are rather vulnerable.
This results in extremely slow gameplay, with certain missions that are a long sequence of careful repositioning across the map, inch by inch.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many (yours truly included) actually enjoy these slow, methodical sweeps of alien-controlled city blocks, but we may have to switch our mindset around a bit with Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters.
The missions I played have a counter that increases with each passing turn, indicating the spread of the chaotic corruption across the battlefield. As that grows, you’ll periodically be hit by “Warp Surges” which are (apparently) random challenges like enemy reinforcements and empowering mutations.
This means that time plays against the player, which is basically the opposite compared to the usual XCOM style. If you don’t play at least with some level of aggressiveness, you run the risk of being overwhelmed.
On top of that, the boss battle I played against a greater daemon of Nurgle had specific additional mechanics that worsened the odds with the passing of turns unless I specifically dedicated some of my men to prevent or at least mitigate it.
Of course, having played only a single boss battle, I can’t say whether those elements encouraging aggression are omnipresent in boss encounters. That being said, considering the overall philosophy, I would not exclude it.
On the other hand, you’re also given tools to be more aggressive. Your space marines wear power armor and terminator armor which most definitely make them much more resilient to enemy fire than your usual XCOM grunt, so rushing out of cover to achieve a high-value objective isn’t punished quite as heavily.
They also tend to be more effective in their actions, so you won’t see ludicrous whiffs at point-blank range that can be so frustrating in other games.
That being said, I have to admit that chaos cultists aren’t exactly as vulnerable as I expected. I certainly can see chaos space marines being extremely tough enemies, but it feels like Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters (or at least the demo I tried) falls into the common issue from which many games dedicated to the franchise suffer: bolters feel weak.
Grey Knights wield Storm Bolters, which are an absolutely lethal double-barreled version of the standard bolter, firing .75 caliber rocket-propelled rounds. You can envision them as explosive mini-rockets of size comparable to a 40mm grenade. You may very well imagine that a single one should be able to tear a lightly-armored human body absolutely to shreds on a direct impact. Unfortunately, simple cultists seem to be able to soak a bit more than that.
It’s a pity that one of the most iconic weapons in Warhammer 40,000 never really feels as powerful as it should be in video games in the name of balance.
This also encourages more aggressive tactics, including charging into melee (which can generate some really satisfying chain-kills) and using destructible and explosive environment elements to your advantage. Taking potshots from behind cover tends to be somewhat ineffective.
Ultimately, while the basic gameplay will definitely feel familiar to the fans of most popular squad-based tactical RPGs, getting used to this game’s philosophy will require some effort and adaptability. I’ve learned this the hard way during my time with the demo.
Slightly unsatisfying storm bolters aside, I found the gameplay enjoyable, but whether the constant prodding of that “Bloom Rises” message at the end of each turn will prove an enhancement to that enjoyment in the long term or a damper, remains to be seen.
Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters certainly has the potential to provide that much-needed Warhammer 40,000 fix for fans on PC exactly like its predecessor did.
Since the story seems interesting, supported by the franchise’s arguably unmatched lore, and the gameplay basics are tried and true, the ultimate quality of the game will likely largely depend on where that new and more aggressive balance and gameplay philosophy will land in terms of fun.