‘Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters’ review: deep strategy wrapped in clutter

XCOMmunicated

Space Marines crunch through viscera into a desecrated church to fight a huge demon at the start of Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters and it never gets less melodramatic. From there, the XCOM-ish strategy game feeds story and lore to you from robed techo-priests, ancient scrolls and starship bridges that look like someone turned a prog rock band loose with a blockbuster budget.

As with anything wearing the Warhammer 40k license, everything being a little much is part of the charm. Your space marines – seven foot tall warriors clad in powered suits of armour – toss grenades with the word Wrath embossed on the side while their armour is covered in a litany of Latin and English buzzwords, while space ships tumble out of giant purple holes torn out of the sky.

You’ll spend most of your time with the melodramatic Grey Knight Space Marines as they try to whomp all sorts of different chaos demons. It’s silly in an 80’s metal album cover kind of way, and really you just have to embrace it: medics heal fellow Space Marines by stabbing them with a whirring blade that closely resembles a hedge trimmer and you’ll often batter monsters with your melee weapons as much as you’ll actually shoot them because the rule of cool is in effect for just about anything that happens. It’s a little jarring, but those used to Warhammer’s specific brand of ridiculousness will be okay with it.

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters

Get past this and there’s some fairly deep gameplay tucked away behind some mediocre presentation. It feels like it’s nearly a rule at this point for every game using a Warhammer license to have a terrible UI, and Daemonhunters is no exception. If I had to describe the game’s presentation I’d probably describe it as “basically XCOM but subtly worse in every way.” and it’s hard to shake that feeling during play.

The gameplay takes its clues from Firaxis’ strategy reboot too, but there it’s more forgivable: there’s a reason XCOM is the industry standard for this genre, and it’s almost like putting on a comfortable pair of trainers when you realise the same strategies and mantras will keep you alive here, too. The smart move in most situations is to stand back, blow up the walls with your ample firepower, and mow down the opponents.

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters. Credit: Complex Games.

To Daemonhunters’ credit, though, this feels like being dropped into an amped late game campaign from any other turn-based strategy game. Your Grey Knight Space Marines, even at base level, are lumbering behemoths, and so to make the game feel challenging every mission is practically awash in enemies. Every mission I’ve enjoyed has ended with Space Marines surrounded in gore and still-conscious enemies in every direction, hacking away with their swords desperately hoping to make a hole in their ranks. As you get stronger, the Space Marines feel even more impenetrable. Until, of course, you find an even bigger demon. This means you can never get truly comfortable, and sometimes the game feels like a constant escalation of power as you and the game each repeatedly one-up each other.

A cool idea is the way that your units can interact with the world around them. Kicking through a flimsy door or levelling a building with explosives is expected, but shooting a statue so that it falls on a crowd of cultists, hurling a manhole cover at a big demon or even blowing up a bridge to dump enemies into a deep trench below all feel like cool additions to the formula, and occur in regular play without hanging a huge set-piece on them. This feels emergent, and you’ll feel smart for taking those opportunities.

Progression stretches out in a dozen different directions as you can level up your units, your arsenal of gear for them to use via post-mission loot, your ship via research and even your ability to loot items. It’s a constant rolling storm of progress that is… well, exhausting as you try to make sense of it between missions. While at first there’s a nice endorphin rush to finding a shiny new sword or getting a new skill, it eventually starts to feel meaningless as things pop off between each mission.

Ultimately Daemonhunters is a lot of fun, wrapping in some messy UI. The overall core of the game is good, and it’s engaging to play, but it’s slightly janky in a way that will frustrate a lot of potential fans. Still, PC strategy die-hards are going to be used to a few rough edges, and the meat of the game is worth getting to grips with.

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters launches on May 5 for PC

The Verdict

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is a solid turn-based strategy game that plays to the strengths of the 40k license. Those without an attachment to turn-based strategy or 40k might struggle to get past the complicated UIs and slight jank, but it’s worth persevering with as it’s an engaging entry in an unloved genre.

Pros

  • Playing as space marines makes you feel powerful
  • Deep strategic gameplay
  • Very few games let you toss a manhole cover at your enemies, this is one of them

Cons

  • Overwhelming progression
  • Clunky UI
  • Very few new ideas
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