4OK: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters
First impressions on a grimdark twist on a familiar formula
For this month’s Blaugustine Humble Monthly review, I elected to play and talk about Warhammer 40000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters, a mouthful of a title that seems to allege that this is a sequel to 1998’s Warhammer 40000: Chaos Gate. I find this very funny, as the original was closely based on 1994 X-COM, while Daemonhunters is very closely based on the XCOM reboot games, so it definitely seems like someone working in the megalithic publishing giant that is the Warhammer mill has a sense of either irony or humour.
Now that I’m reminded of it, I do vaguely remember playing Chaos Gate back in the day, but I had to scour my memory to work out which of the 65games and 16 turn-based tactical games released under the Warhammer 40000 label since 1992 it was. There are just so many 40K games that most of them blend together into to one big, chaotic mess. Games Workshop’s fire-bombing approach to games means that one has to live under a rock to remain ignorant of their big bad universe. I guess it’s working as an advertising campaign for their tabletop game, but very few of their games have an ongoing appeal and fanbase once the next game with space marines in it comes along, as it inevitably will in the next year or so.
It’s a pity that this one will inevitably suffer the same fate, as the creators of Daemonhunters have taken almost the exact model of XCOM, from the tactical maps with full and half-cover where a small squad of armoured badasses take on innumerable enemy hordes, to the Avenger/Baleful Edict mobile command platform complete with the geo-/starscape where your resources can be allocated to best counter the alien/chaos invasion, the science lab/librarium where you can develop improved tech, the workshop/manufactorum where you can put hait in the hands of your soldier, heck, even the disembodied player character referred to only as ‘Commander’, and adapted it in a compelling way that fits the grimdark 40K universe to a t, while making a range of changes to the XCOM system that make the combat feel more impactful. So far, it feels like a good game in it’s own right.
Instead of XCOM’s shooting-ends-the-turn model, your Grey Knights have a set of action points, each of which can be used for movement, combat, or abilities. This lets you focus on one target or destroy a larger number of lesser enemies, which makes your superhuman warriors feel strong and versatile. There’s also a greatly reduced impact of dice rolls, with my beloved XCOM roll-to-hit mechanics excised in favour of a set amount of damage, reduced by range and obstacles, but able to be increased by critical hits or by expending special psyker abilities once a turn. The ability to turtle up and wait for the enemy to rush you is also greatly reduced, with Overwatch only usable in a small arc, and small increases to the abilities of the enemy units every few turns encouraging quick and decisive play. While we’ve seen changes like these in turn based tactical games this this before, the combination feels appropriate for the Space Marines, and I think it gets the difficulty and the feel of an unrelenting, savage universe that you need to make a 40K game work spot on.
Daemonhunters does double down on the 40K aesthetic in the cutscenes and the setting, and the backgrounds and the character models, with all the fungus and tentacles everywhere like you’d expect from a game focusing of the forces of chaos too. I think it looks very cool, I really enjoyed letting the cutscenes play out just to get a few more seconds of spaceships and metal and eldritch horrors. It sets the atmosphere well, but for my money it’s sacrificed a little too much clarity and readability, particularly of the combat UI, on the altar of badassery, and could afford to dial it back just a little in favour of a little more XCOM simplicity.
I haven’t had a chance to play all that much of Daemonhunters just yet, but I will be returning to play through more of the storyline, and if you’re a tactical game fan like me and don’t mind a little gratuitous grimdark then I think it’d be well worth your time to check it out too. Especially given that this is a Warhammer game with the traditional Warhammer tax in the price, so getting it as part of the Humble Monthly bundle is saving you a big wodge of the hefty $64.95 AU price tag.
With two more coming later this year.