For The Emperor!
HIGH An excellent adaptation of turn-based 40K action.
LOW No Tyranid campaign?
WTF How are some of these nasties so flame resistant?
It’s common knowledge that Games Workshop, holders of the Warhammer 40,000 IP, aren’t too picky about who they license to. While there are a large number of videogames based on the property, it would be generous to say that maybe half of them are worth someone’s time. Luckily, Battlesector won its saving throw and turned out to be one of the good ones.
Battlesector’s campaign tells a straightforward tale. Blood Angel Imperial troops (the red-armored chaps with big guns and even bigger pauldrons) go to a planet where xenomorph-like Tyranids have taken root. There’s a lot of exposition before and after each mission delivered via strong, somber tones and solid voicework. However, without more focus on the characters, it all comes off as a bit lore-dumpy. The relevant thing to know is that the good guys are shooting a lot of nasty bugs, and those who aren’t already familiar with the ins and outs of this galactic saga can safely ignore the rest.
Regardless of one’s appreciation for the script, the real reason to spend time with Battlesector is the quality of its isometric turn-based tactics and strategy.
Before each mission, the player has the freedom to assemble an army to their specifications. Each map has a ‘point value’, as do each of the troop types. The infantry-like Intercessors are cheap, but they struggle to bring down heavy targets and crumble against melee. As such, it might be wiser to sink more resources into the expensive Baal Predator tanks (flamethrowers optional), but they’re slow and are frequently targeted by enemy swarms.
Regardless of what’s chosen before battle, the player is never locked into anything if they make a bad call and there’s no limit to the troops available. Players will never ‘run out’ of anything, and if units are KIA, they can be immediately replaced back at the mission select menu. This ability to experiment means the player can restart a map with a brand-new army at any time, and as as long as the point value of an army doesn’t exceed the map’s upper limit (it’s impossible to start a skirmish with 50 tanks, for example) mixing and matching is the name of the game.
Supporting this flexible foundation is excellence in mission and environmental design. While most battlefields hew closely to the scarred blast zones and oppressive statuary typical to 40K in a visual sense, each mission of the lengthy campaign is crafted to offer a specific type of challenge — a location must be reached, certain units must be protected, an army must hold out for a defined length of time, and there are (of course) always situations where the goal is all-out slaughter.
This wonderful variety is matched by the maps — sometimes the fight is in a wide-open space, other times it’s a series of tense exchanges in narrow hallways and channels that troops must push through. Sometimes a wait-and-see defense pays dividends, and at other times the only path to survival is a full forward assault. Each level offers a different spin on how to use troops and how to best respond to a variety of situations, and this diversity in play is what put Battlesector over the top for me. Too many tactics titles fall into the rut of cookie-cutter maps and ‘kill all enemy’ missions, so the effort made to constantly change things up here was greatly appreciated.
Between battles, players can upgrade specific ‘hero’ units with points earned via play, and an interesting twist is that not only do these heroes have options like increasing their health or trading up for better guns, they also act as skill trees for the units under their command.
For example, unlocking upgrades for Tech Marine Croginax means that any tanks on the field will have the option to equip different guns or to earn increased mobility. The jetpacked Sergeant Carleon not only becomes a one-man army, but his troops can unlock explosives or options for death-from-above assaults. In this way, Battlesector continues to support the concepts of flexibility and player choice. Not only is it relevant to decide which kinds of troops are suited for the next skirmish, things get pleasantly granular when choosing between equipping them with a Flame Cannon or a Melta Gun.
The developers have clearly delivered an excellent product here, and there’s not much to ding it for. However, if I had to nitpick, I’d say that I would like an increased focus on the main characters. The gameplay is dialed in, so it would be nice to care more about the plot. Also, I did feel as though the camera was not able to pull back as far as I’d like. Oftentimes I’d want to get a more encompassing view from above to get a better sense of the entire battlefield, but the viewpoint just doesn’t go there. Beyond that there were a few small technical issues here and there, but nothing worth mentioning.
While Warhamer 40,000: Battlesector may not bring radical innovation to the turn-based tactics genre, it’s a treat to spend time with a game that has a mastery of the fundamentals and executes on them while also correctly applying an IP which has historically struggled to deliver positive experiences. Battlesector is definitely one of the good ones, and I absolutely enjoyed my time with it — considering that the 40K license has tons and tons and tons of content left to tap, if the developers add new campaigns as DLC, I’ll be more than happy to keep playing this all year long.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Black Lab Games and published by Slitherine. It is currently available on XBO/X/S, PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Violence and Blood. Honestly, an M feels like an overreaction — a T feels more correct to me. Most of the action is zoomed-out and not very graphic. While blood does spill, it’s not anything I’d be concerned about kids seeing. I don’t recall any instances of salty language and there is no sexual content.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This is a turn-based, menu-based game that does not rely on any audio cues for play. I went through almost the entire campaign with the sound off and had no problems. All dialogue is subtitled. Subtitles cannot be resized or altered. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The A button confirms, the B cancels, Y ends the turn, left stick controls the camera, right stick controls the cursor to select units.
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