Purging Xenos, One Turn At A Time

HIGH A combat system that rewards aggression.

LOW Two factions are not enough.

WTF Please let me cleanse heretics too.

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only… skirmish?

Warhammer 40,000’s epic space opera setting plays out its violent horrors on a scale beyond human comprehension with every manner of god, monster, and alien battling across an entire galaxy with a crumbling theocratic human empire at its heart.

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector nails this grimdark setting — at least in miniature.

The moon of Baalfora, orbiting the planetary home of a chapter of the superhuman gene-altered warriors of the Space Marines, is beset by hordes of the ravenous, bug-like Tyranids. The single player campaign sees the player commanding Sergeant Carleon and his men (plus some women from the Sisters of Battle) to uncover a dangerous alien intelligence lurking somewhere on the surface.

The gameplay focus here is on battle with only limited army management and some tech tree advancements taking place between scenarios. During a mission, players will move heroes and various troop squads — as well as mechanical monstrosities like landspeeders, tanks and the mecha-like dreadnoughts — in turn-based fashion around a gridded terrain to get in position and kill alien scum.

There are options a-plenty to achieve that goal. Melee attacks, ranged attacks, explosives, overwatch and special moves are all here alongside an array of modifiers to give the combat system enough depth for a dedicated player to sink time into mastering.

The most brilliant aspect of the system is unit momentum — do violence, get points. Rack up enough momentum points and a unit gets either an extra action point or a super-powered version of one of its special moves, giving players a penchant towards aggression that keeps the doldrums away and fits the setting’s mood perfectly.

This all works well, but the biggest issue is the rather meager scale of the game itself — which, as this is obviously not a big budget production, I might be remiss to criticize too harshly. Unfortunately, this ‘smallness’ bleeds through everything. Although the player gets to command more than a dozen different types of units, the majority are from the same Space Marine faction. The enemy is slightly more limited in its variations, and the opposing army is always, always Tyranid.

The two factions are buffed by a solid presentation with dynamic animations for the beautiful 3D models and gratifying sound design, including an appropriately deep and resounding boom for the franchise’s signature bolt guns. Fully voiced dialogue from the campaign’s heroes is also a special treat, although seemingly underutilized without a more cinematic accompaniment. Instead, these conversations appear at the mission briefing screen or alongside a single static artist rendering of battle at mission start.

Points for music, though — the soundtrack offers dark orchestral and choir pieces well-fitted to this feudal space dystopia.

Relegating the plot to a single moon means most (but not all) maps are visually similar — red desert sands with some varied structures to mix it up. The actual scenarios offer differing objectives to keep gameplay fresh but at their conclusion the player must always mop up the remaining Tyranid units — a somewhat tedious task that seems to exist only to extend playtime.

I’ve put about 10 hours into the campaign, reaching about halfway through the 20 missions. Multiplayer does offer its own delights but a limited player base means gamers will likely need to join the official Discord to find a sparring partner. Of note, there are options for matches to be live (sans the single-player ability to speed through an enemy turn, obviously) or asynchronous turn by turn.

Since release, developer Black Lab Games has announced plans to tweak the game to include new units and even more factions. That means Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector will be prime material for future “Is it worth playing in 2022?” YouTube videos, and I am personally excited to see what comes next.

In spite of any future expansions or additions, the game is still very much worth playing in its current state, particularly for fans looking for a quality entry in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Battlesector’s engaging combat system and grimdark characters offer a solid foundation only slightly marred by scope — but there’s nothing necessarily wrong about a game that leaves a player wanting more of it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

— Stephen Cook

Disclosures: This game is developed by Black Lab Games  and published by Slitherine Ltd. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Two hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game has not been rated by the ESRB at the time of review. This is a violent game with rampant blood and gore. There is no swearing or nudity.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Dialogue is accompanied by text. Subtitles can be turned on for all audio cues, including unit callouts. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. The control scheme is mouse and keyboard.

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