Hello, reader. Reader, here’s Strategical Showcase. Strategical Showcase, here’s my favourite reader. What kind of cryptic concoction is this? Well, my dearest, Strategical Showcase is a new feature by yours truly. Expertly crafted- afters years of study- to showcase games that might interest you, going in-depth with some of their core mechanics and with a very handy, 5 star rating in the end. Strategical Showcase will run alongside it’s twin brother “Wargaming Showcase” where “wargames”, in a more traditional sense, will get the same treatment.
I’ve written more about Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector than any other game in this website, so I’m not going to go over everything else I’ve already written. Let’s compile and readjust what needs adjusting and start from there. Let’s begin strong: “I’m pleased to say that Battlesector sent me back into long, eye-straining wiki reads to refresh my goldfish memory”.
The Devastation of Baal
After the clapping of Baal by the tyranids, the homeworld of the Blood Angels was saved from the brink of extinction by the Indomitus Crusade and the very convenient opening of the Great Rift. Now, with their ranks reinforced by the new Primaris Space Marines, it’s time to shaft what’s left of the Tyranid Leviathan fleet. Sergeant Carleon rocket jumps into Baal Secundus and is now tasked with assessing the battle-prowess of these new soldiers against the tyranid menace and clear what’s left…
The tyranids are either a hit or miss kind of enemy- not universally loved nor hated- they thread a precarious middle ground within the Warhammer community, and their lack of personality and generic look means that there’s not a lot of interesting story to be told, meaning they really can’t help elevate the story of Battlesector and the Marines they’re fighting. But hey, if generic space bugs whose favourite tactic is to soviet charge better equipped defenders doesn’t outright kill your interest in the game (like it didn’t to me), then read on. Besides, the well-voiced characters of Sergeant Carleon and his battle buddies is engaging enough to carry the simple story on it’s own. In a day where dynamic campaigns plague every other turn-based-strategy game, the campaign of Warhammer Battlesector is as straight as they come. Don’t go in expecting a dynamic campaign akin to the one in Dawn of War 2 and disappointment is sure to be kept at bay.
This lack of dynamism is quite welcome and the missions, while hard coded to happen in a very predetermined way, are actually quite diverse, with a wide variety of objectives to fulfill instead of very generic and abstract victory points. Rather than going with the usual “kill everything and we’ll see what happens next” – usually that’s the last objective after everything else has been completed- even so, Black Lab Games opted to create multi staged missions with objectives evolving over time. I can recall back to a time where younger me used to hate this, complaining on how unfair it was that he had to restart entire missions because there was no way that completing the mission was feasible with whatever ragtag bunch of half-dead teams had survived, after completely neglecting to protect the life of every single man, gambling an easy win into mindless, frontal charges and dubious tactical decisions. Older and wiser me of today really enjoys this “unpredictability” (at least in the first playthrough).
Mission objectives range from “let’s go and blast some Tyranids” to rescuing Adeptas Sororitas or collecting gene seeds from the bodies of dead people. These varied objectives are great but at the end of every mission, Sergeant Carleon and his men are always tasked with killing the remaining tyranid forces. Narratively it makes since but after a daring rescue or an exciting charge unto an enemy position, being tasked with mopping up what’s left leaves a sour taste of boredom in what was otherwise an exciting and memorable moment. These last bits of every mission end up portraying the glorious and brave Sons of Sanguinius as glorified exterminators that use plasma cannons, tanks and power armour instead of bug-spray and hazmat suits.
New units are introduced every couple of missions and, gradually, company commanders like yourself will be able to progressively unlock more skills, boosts and equipment. with new units being introduced every couple of missions. Once units are acquired they’ll stay in your roster permanently and can be called to fight whenever you want.
Combat is a bloody delight
Now, you might attempt to scold me for having called Battlesector a X-COM-esque combat system before, but is there a more universal description than that? Your turn: move Units using Movement Points. Done moving? Take your shot with your Action Point; or vice versa. Each unit has their own set of squares they can traverse along the battle grid and, when it comes to Action Points, regular units have one single AC and heroes have two.
Sporting a reasonable amount of units and each of which with their own bits and bobs to learn, the unit variety and their utility isn’t a neglected department: chainswords, bolters, flamethrowers, metaguns, grenades, gatling-guns. There’s a weapon for every fight and a equipment to every situation.
What Battlesector doesn’t have is mixed weapons squads. Meaning a Squad of Intercessors will sport ONLY one kind of gun. An Assault Squad will only carry swords and pistols. The ability to change weapons at will could (and would) kill in-game balance but seeing Agressors sprinting with chainswords would be akin to having two meters tall and very roided out medieval knights charging a band of poorly armed peasants. A missed opportunity, but easily understandable why.
When it comes to weapons, it took me awhile to realize how hit percentages work (this might be in the tutorial; That I skipped. Oi! Who doesn’t?). Every weapon has a different “optimal range” that increases it’s chances to hit- meaning that being in punching distance isn’t always good thing; in fact, Hellblasters are terrible at melee ranges, with hit percentages so small they couldn’t hit the side of a barn if they were inside one. This adds an interesting layer of unit positioning to take into account when directing them in the battlefield. A couple squares to the right would mean a 90% hit chance in killing those pesky Tyranid Warriors but it will put your Intercessors in the open, risking them being melted down by the closer Tyrannofex. Fortunately, this decision is made easier by ditching terrain modifiers.
Across the campaign, chapter commanders will be constantly unlocking new updates and some optional lead (or laser) spitters to replace their units basic guns. These new weapons have different 3D models and stats but won’t radically change the way a unit plays. In fact, a complain that can be rightfully leveled at the game is that, for a game taking place within the 40K universe, there’s a lack of melee action and options. With just heroes and Assault Squads carrying chainswords. Usual line soldiers have no option to go into melee, a rather unusual lack of options given their massive size and proficiency in the art of beating things until they are dead. Once again and same as before, it might all be for balancing reasons but it still comes out looking rather odd given the circumstances.
Fortunately, the animations are everything but unimpressive. Bolters look imposing and sound appropriately menacing. The lumbering Furioso dreadnoughts stamps the field with it’s heavy footsteps and the melee animations are both graceful and violent, never failing to draw copious amounts of Tyranid matter, spray painting the desert moon floor in shades of red.
Enemy turns go by rather quick but it’s easy to keep track of all that’s going on without much trouble. The player is also free to look around while enemies are moving and executing actions. One thing that is truly exceptional is letting player set up multiple actions at the same time, instead of forcing them to rewatch the whole move- firing animations. While a unit is moving into position half a dozen squares away just select another one and other them to move or fire. Small things like this go a long way towards avoiding a game’s combat overstaying its welcome. X-COM does this by showering players with cinematic action cameras, Battlesector goes the simpler route.
On a side note, here’s something I love: this game has done some fantastic work on path finding. Units don’t automatically follow their squares towards the enemies, acting less robotic, charging and retreating between friendly lines seamlessly .
To finish this section it’s time to address the momentum system. While interesting in paper, across more than a dozen missions I can count with the fingers of one hand the amount of times I used them. It’s not that they are bad, because they aren’t (they empower an ability or allow for an extra action), it’s just that they aren’t really all that necessary, at least in the regular difficulty. And add to that, that it takes a long, long while to gather the necessary momentum to do anything with it. More careful commanders are going to have an even harder time to garner the necessary momentum because overwatching and not engaging enemies will drain your meter. On the other hand, tho: more spectacular and impactful are the commander skills: i.e. strafing run being the first you unlock also being the coolest – simply because it can mow down three basic units of Hormagaunts.
I wish I didn’t need to say this but, for a game that focus on the affirmation of the Primaris in the battlefield, it does little to highlight how important their existence is, especially after the Blood Angels were driven to endangered-species status following the Devastation of Baal. You see, my dearest reader, thing is that losing a soldier of a unit has no impact in the following missions, that soldier will be replaced as if nothing had happened. And worse yet, there’s no unit experience accumulated between missions so, in the end, there’s little reason to care about what happens to those units that stood strong and true from the first mission. In fact, I went out of my way to challenge myself to avoid losing any units, just because it made sense to me and made me more engaged in the story the game is trying to tell me.
As for the Tyranids, their AI is somewhat lacking in the brain department. Most of the time it appears to fire randomly, with no real objective in sight, rarely focusing specific and really threatening units. Never finishing off units with low HP and even moving into melee range of my units and taking no actions. The AI acts really erratic and could use some fine tuning before the final release.
Overall, the combat within Battlesector is a healthy mix of variables, easily presented to the player that allows for the creations of traps, combos, defensive and offensive play styles and a lot of different ways to complete a mission. While the story is- thankfully- railroaded, the combat- thankfully- is not. Battlesector combat is not a demanding task however complex it may be, and that’s because it displays all the necessary information very simply, without having the player navigating convoluted menus and tabs to find all about a simple modifier. Like I wrote above, it’s these small things that make a big difference in the end. It knows what is information is necessary to have at hand, so commanders can focus on making decisions instead of aimlessly reading stat sheets.
Looking good, for the Emperor of Manking!
It’s no secret the Emperor of mankind is a fine looking man all around. Tall, long, luxurious hair and an absolute unit of a chin. It was inspired by His holy looks that Black Labs decided that the utmost respect and work would be needed to highlight the sleek lines of the Primaris Space Marine design. They say an image is worth a thousand words, so here’s a gallery displaying Primaris Marines and friends in their… prime.
Manage it like Roboute Guilliman
Army manager is primarily composed by three tabs: an “Add Unit”, that will display units available to lay down their existence for the Emperor. Next is the “Units Under Command” which features those whose life will be definitely be laid down for the greater good of Mankind. The “Reserves” tab is where your units whose unimportant continuation is given another day before facing their inevitable end. Select a unit to bring’em over to inspection and their stats are laid bare: HP, unit members, action points, movement points, weapons, campaign history and abilities.
An RPG-style upgrades screen also exists, popping-up between missions and allowing the Blood Chapter commanders to vastly upgrade the units at their disposal. These range from basic flat boots of +HP, +Melee Accuracy, +Movement etc. to commander and unit active abilities like Frag and Krak Grenades.
Also, if bolting xenos to walls with single shot rifles isn’t metal enough, the game will allow for the outfitting of other alien gutting equipment. From what I’ve seen so far, and I’m nearly 30 hours in, most units will have a choice of one or two weapons, with the Furioso Dreadnought having 3. These changes not only reflect on stats but also on the visual side of things. This might seem minor for some reading this but to me, visual feedback, even in the smallest detail is extremely relevant. It showers the games with a layer of authenticity and shines bright and true a level of care and attention on the developers side.
Battlesector is fantastic but it’s not perfect. There are a couple of issues I won’t mind seeing ironed out before the game goes live. The camera, when resolving unit combat, takes a plunge into the never ending abyss by clipping outside the map. While it’s easy to forgive that in older, jankier games like Combat Mission, but when a game has the graphical fidelity of Battlesector it’s just hard to let it pass. It’s not game breaking, by any means, but it’s still there and it’s somewhat nauseating to look at.
Going back to unit upgrades I can’t help but feel that it all strikes me as a missed opportunity, not only to expand gameplay choices but also to incentivize multiple playthroughs. The flat boosts and percentile stat boosts add no gameplay variety whatsoever, just making units thicker, durable or more accurate. A few upgrades are, I would say, pretty indispensable.
The UI is absolutely fantastic in Battlesector but it needs a very small adjustment: there’s no obvious notification that your momentum is now available to be turned into an advantage. Just need to make that a little bit more visible or, even better, give it an audio cue.
The emperor wants you to join the ranks!
Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector strengths lie with the fact that it’s a weird mix between that familiar feeling of X-COM-esque turn-based combat, beautifully realized 3D models and effects that are barely seen in other Warhammer titles and a brutality so over the top it can only begin to make sense within the grim darkness of the far future.
I reckon Warhammer: Battlesector is a great game in its own right. Packing smart tactical decision making with meaty Marines sporting astronomically (and disproportionately) large weapons splattering tyranid matter to kingdom come. It is not only a very good turn-based tactical game but also the best turn based strategy game to ever come out for the Warhammer franchise. I’m expecting Battlesector to be used as a platform for other campaigns and factions. Get on with adding Ultramarines, Orks and Necrons. Do it, Black Labs. Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector is also getting slapped with a Strategy and Wargaming Seal of Approval.