Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade (PS4) Preview – I Have Seen the Future, and it is Death

I often talk about Warhammer 40k with the same kind of regret-filled, misty-eyed lust that your average recovering alcoholic does about Vodka. I guess, in a manner of speaking, I’m what I would call a recovering table top war gamer. I still my 10,000 point army of Tyranids in a box in the loft somewhere. Though I often consider (in my weaker moments) reclaiming the box from that leaky corner of the attic, patching up my army and getting back into it, the drain on both my bank balance and personal relationships would never be worth it.

So now I simply stick to the soft stuff; the video game adaptations. Since THQ snuffed it, Games Workshop have decided to let anyone with a half decent idea adapt their venerable IPs.  This means that everything from their flagship games to their smaller properties (like Blood Bowl and Mordheim) are getting the video game treatment (please could someone give Necromunda a crack). It was only a matter of time before someone pitched the 40K game that fans of the series have always hoped for.

That game is Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade. An Online only MMOTPS that hopes to cross the grand scale of the universe’s biggest battles with the immediacy of a class-based tactical shooter in 30 vs 30 PVP combat. Think of a  huge, multiplayer version of 2011’s Space Marine, and you won’t go far wrong.

Icelandic Developer Believe’s pitch was a simple one. They walked us though their ambitious plans for Eternal Crusade as being “Bigger than World of Tanks and cooler than Gears of War”. Set within the never-ending conflicts of the 41st Millennium, Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade takes players to the war-torn planet of Arkhona. Abandoned by its human settlers, the planet is now a staging-ground for a power struggle between the game’s four playable factions (though more are promised further down the line), The Space Marines, The Eldar, Orks and Chaos Space Marines.

Each race has five classes to choose from; Infantry, Heavy, Jump Assault, Ground Assault and Support. Each recreates an iconic troop type from the game, and in this regard, the Orks and Eldar are far more interesting to play as, since they’re far more distinctly different from the slightly-differently-armoured marine units. In the case of the Eldar, these are the different aspect warriors that make up the space elves different warrior castes.

As you progress through the game, you’ll have the ability to unlock thousands of character customisation items, such as armour variants and weapon skins. Achieving the tank of Veteran, Hero or Elite will allow you to play as famous characters from the 40k universe. The list of the characters set to appear looks as though it will include the likes of the Orks’ Bad Doc Grotsnik and the Eldar’s Eldrad Uthran.

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All of the game’s future updates, such as new factions, maps, game modes and units (they suggested that full blown Land Raider battles and Dreadnaughts were on the way) will be free, ostensibly because Believe “are nice people”. The actual trade-off, we were told, was that Eternal Crusade will ‘feature’ microtransactions to help the team’s fund the development of additional content. They then went on to stress that nothing that could affect the balance of the game will be included in the store. Instead, all gear available via the in-game store will be merely cosmetic, allowing you to customise your character with elaborate armour, weapon skins and other such customisation items. In other words, you can pay to look cooler, but not to win. Items that you buy will make you looks badass, but won’t boost your stats in any way.

Though I’m not a fan of microtransactions in retail games, it does at least appear that Believe are being open and transparent with the reasons for their inclusion.  We hope they will stay relegated to fluff items. If it helps me one day pilot an Imperial Titan, in this case at least, I’m happy to live with a necessary evil.

Combining both cooperative and competitive modes, spread across a persistent campaign in the battlefields of Arkhona, players will either be fighting in skirmishes against the other playable factions or working together in its three PvE modes. These modes, (Defend, Deliver and Purge) task you with pushing back a damn near never-ending horde of Tyranids, who have also begun to infest the planet.

The main bulk of the game, however, is focused on PvP combat, with factions vying to expand their territory in modes like Domination and Tug of War, though most of your time will be spent playing Fortress.  Fortress is a 30 vs 30 game of territorial conquest, in which two sides battle it out to control a series of nodes, with infantry backed up by each faction’s tanks as fire support. The Marines and Chaos get Predators, while the Eldar (ever the flash buggers) take the field in Falcon anti-gravity tanks.

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As only certain classes can capture objectives, it forces players on each side to work together in order to coordinate a successful strategy to either capture or defend each node. Each class has its own loadout and unique set of abilities, whether you want to get up close and personal as a Howling Banshee, mow down everything in your path and take on tanks as a Devastator marine or boost around the map with a giant rocket strapped to your back as one of the Storm Boyz.  I think i’ll be offering up more blood for the blood god as a Chaos Berzerker. There’s no drought of choice, and you’re bound to find a class you enjoy playing.

After the presentation, we finally got to go hands on with Eternal Crusade’s current console build. Though Believe are targeting to have the console version on par with the PC by the time it launches, at the moment it has a long way to go. Though it certainly looks the part, with all the units and bombed out scenery gorgeously rendered in UE4, we were hit with a slew of technical issues throughout our time with the game. These included (but were certainly not limited to) connection issues, some ear-shredding sound glitches and a frame rate that crashed through the floor when more than a handful of players entered a match.

Underneath all the technical issues, its clear that there is (or will be, rather) a solid game here. In the brief period that Believe managed to actually get the game to run, we had a lot of fun capturing nodes, shooting up the place in hijacked tanks, and creating some impromptu political satire (I never before figured Jeremy Corbyn as a Blood Angel).  The PVE modes also look like they could be pretty enjoyable, giving off a distinct atmosphere that reminded me a lot of the classic 40K spin-off Space Crusade

Most importantly to many, Eternal Crusade has the look, feel, and tone of the Warhammer 40k universe down. The Marines feel hulking and robust, while the Eldar are nimbly slick (sadly, we didn’t get to see the Orks in play). There’s a visceral brutality to the combat, with chainsaws growling and sparking as they tear through armour and flesh as they meet their mark. That said, melee combat feels a little basic, especially considering it’s such a core part of combat in the tabletop game. On the flip side, guns are grotesquely big and loud, and the cover shooting elements are well constructed and responsive.

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On paper at least, Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade has the potential to be one of the best video game adaptations of Games Workshop’s bleak sci-fi universe since Space Hulk: vengeance of the Blood Angels. It’s clear that the team have a great deal of love for the IP, and with the right level of care and attention to detail they could be on to something big. Tyranid Hierophant big. In its current state, the console version is going to need to see the Tech Mages working overtime to ship a game worthy of such accolades, but for now I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade is currently available on Early Access on Steam, with an official launch currently scheduled on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in summer 2016. Then again, from the little I’ve seen of the console build thus far, I really wouldn’t be surprised if this was pushed back.

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