21 July, 2015

Review - Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion

Much like the Tyranids themselves, Warhammer/Warhammer 40,000 games continue to pour through our defences, and they are not all winners. Let’s hope the virulent taint hasn’t touched Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion, the latest Warhammer 40,000 release.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion


Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion
 

Spawned from the minds at Rodeo Games, the developers behind Warhammer: Quest (2013), Deathwatch: Tyranid invasion, rather shockingly pits the Deathwatch against a Tyranid invasion – and suddenly the double colons make sense. Deathwatch is a turn-based strategy game on iOS, though beyond that and to foreshadow a little, the overall quality, Deathwatch has precious little in common with Warhammer: Quest.

Deathwatch feels very much inspired by Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It uses a grid to calculate movement and weapon range, each character has a set number of action points (APs) dictating what they can do in a turn, and there is an ‘overwatch’ ability. The ability allows your Space Marines to fire at moving Tyranids during the enemy turn – vital I think we can agree, for combating the foul Xenos horde. Much like XCOM, the core gameplay is simple, the depth comes from the weapons, equipment, and abilities of your squad, and of course the capabilities of the Hive’s monstrosities. I played on the normal difficulty, though there are two harder options. On normal the game has a smooth learning curve, however I’m not convinced anything would have properly prepared me to face my first Carnifex – nor the second for that matter! That in itself is quite different from say 2013’s Space Hulk, also a turn-based game, only one that will happily allow you to fail the opening mission in just a handful of turns. To continue the analogy, whereas Space Hulk is all tight corridors and confines, Deathwatch takes the fight to more open environments, with greater lines of sight. As such, the Tyranid horde swells with larger creatures, like the Carnifex, there are also Warriors, Tyrant Guard, accursed Pyrovore, and much more. Sadly, there are no flying or burrowing units. However, Tyranids will pour in from just about anywhere on the map, especially when fighting inside Hive Ships.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion


I was pleasantly surprised by the games length, while there isn’t an in-game save system to provide an exact number, I estimate I spent over ten hours with the game on normal. There is a healthy variety of maps, both in terms of visual style and structure. While all combat takes place on a single flat plane, the size of the maps and the density of the terrain, effects the gameplay quite drastically. Objectives aren’t the most inspired but there were enough variants I never felt bored, most missions are simply; go somewhere, trigger something, or survive. There are some, more bespoke mechanics; detonable mines, random large explosions that you have to avoid, and extracting heavy equipment, preventing your soldiers from fighting back. These kinds of objectives are used only once or twice, and even the simple ‘go here’ objectives are often framed differently; one mission you may be poisoning a Spawning Pool, another detonating Promethium reserves.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion


As I mentioned, Deathwatch is a game where the make up of your squad, or kill-team if you prefer, is crucial. Throughout your campaign to protect the Astolat sector against a tendril of Hive Fleet Leviathan, you’ll gain Tactical Marines, Devastators, Assault Marines (though without their Jump Packs), and Apothecaries. These warriors herald from the chapters; Blood Angels, Space Wolves, and naturally, the Ultramarines. Tactical Marines are of course the most flexible, but while the Bolter is trusty why not upgrade to a Plasma Gun? Which can be charged for a more powerful shot, but be wary, such a gun overheats when you need it the most. There is a whole arsenal, providing plenty of options for all the classes. Devastators pump out long range destruction; each of their powerful attacks takes two APs, to a standard Bolters one, still I would never deploy without one. Assault Marines proved harder to come by for me, and so for perhaps half of the game I was relying on a single Space Wolf to carve a path with Chainsword and Bolt Pistol. Apothecaries you would think were the healers, but you’d be wrong, anyone can carry medpacks and their Narthecium make for a more than adequate melee weapon. Unlike XCOM, there are no permanent deaths but the price for falling on the battlefield his high; the fallen character will lose all their unspent experience points. These points are used to upgrade the Space Marines based health, accuracy, and critical chance, as well as unlock gear slots, that allow grenades, seals, and the like to be equipped. There are also passive traits, and active abilities, many of which are chapter-specific.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion

All the characters and equipment are acquired randomly from packs granted after completing missions, acts of the campaign, or by purchasing them with either in-game currency or real money. Each item, Space Marines included, has an associated level of rarity, and looks visually distinct, champion Ultramarines sport the bold decorations, including crested helmets, veteran Blood Angels are covered in red tear drops, and Space Wolves have a lot of fangs… Rarer items have inherently higher stats, the weapons and gear especially, but on normal difficulty, I had no problem fighting with some of my older less-glittery warriors. I would always recommend taking the most powerful weapons however. Interestingly Space Marines can be renamed, but there are no visual customisation options and that’s not unexpected; they are Deathwatch and aside from chapter markings, all Deathwatch armour is uniform black.

There’s no real story to speak of, beyond a few sentences of justification for your current objective and the overall war. And that’s fine, the game isn’t structured in a way that would accommodate further exposition and the Tyranids don’t exactly allow for much narrative exploration. Mission briefings are delivered by the stoic Watch Commander, but he’s not the only person who talks; your squad will during missions, engage in what I imagine is idle chatter for Space Marines. Lines are repeated occasionally but there is a lot of material there, it is probably also worth me stating that this is all voice-acted. The conversations vary between inter-chapter banter; Space Wolves talk about fangs, and call the Emperor the All-Father, Ultramarines reminisce their days on Macragge and so forth. It’s fan service certainly, but exponentially more interesting than mere variations of, ‘The Codex Astartes says…’. The game shows evidence of some real dedication to the source material, I mean they even mention the Storm Lords – that’s a level of commitment I wasn’t prepared for.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion

Deathwatch uses Unreal Engine 4 and looks awesome. It’s got great lighting, the textures and Space Marines in particular are detailed, with metallic elements shining as they would on real miniatures. On my iPhone 6 it ran flawlessly, though it did utterly ravage my battery. Rodeo Games clearly have an eye for authenticity. Not only are the Marines’ chapter-specific details spot-on, but the environments; the architecture and terrain, especially the Tyranid pools and growths, look like they were pulled straight from Forge World itself. Additionally, the game really benefits from a very clean and Spartan user interface, it’s unobtrusive and useable, when it could have easily been gun-metal grey and covered in Purity Seals.

Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion is a strong turn-based strategy game, its long campaign studded with tense scenarios. It sustains itself on a healthy diet of new equipment, abilities, and enemies. You can replay missions on harder difficulties, but in a singular progression, the repetition is kept to a minimum, new mechanics and variations of the objectives are introduced regularly, though never overused. It looks great, and demonstrates a far greater appreciation for the Warhammer 40,000 material than I had anticipated.   

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