Review: Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach: Horrors of the Warp05 Jun 2018 1
Review: Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach: Horrors of the Warp
Released 24 May 2018
I've got a love-hate relationship with Straylight Entertainment's Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach. Another description may be wild enthusiasm tempered by slight disillusion. It's an accomplished take on the tabletop game, and the closest we've come yet to seeing the physicality of the world-famous miniature game on PC. But Sanctus Reach also a game that suffers from a few glaring design issues that haven't yet been ironed out.
Despite its short-comings, Sanctus Reach is one of the best turn-based strategy games around. You should check out the others.
We're three expansions deep now, and for all my gripes about weedy camera controls and constipated rhythm, it's easy to admire how Sanctus Reach has grown. Not all of it has been roses, but with Horrors of the Warp tailing Sons of Cadia and Legacy of the Weirdboy, the game offers an appeal to more patient franchise fans. People who can appreciate dice rolls and the relatively anemic special effects, divergent to the arcade sensibilities of real-time strategy. With Chaos in the mix via this new DLC, things get even more varied.
For the uninitiated, Sanctus Reach is grid-based Warhammer 40K in digitized form, no more and no less. There are still percentages and dice rolling powering the combat, in addition to fresh wrinkles like experience-based proficiency and ability awards to celebrate a unit's level. It's good, honest, perfunctory turn-based strategy and it comes with few surprises.
Horrors of the Warp continues the Space Wolves' hold-out on Alaric Prime, battling at first the Orks and bolstered thereafter by the Imperial Guard. Chaos have now entered the fray, in all their terrifying glory.
The Chaos forces -- available to battle in the campaign and command in skirmish and multiplayer -- are in keeping with the game's beautifully-rendered models. As gorgeous as they are grotesque, Straylight have captured the look of a tabletop miniature in fastidious detail. Truly a sight to behold. Chaos Spawn actually look like they've been snagged from the pages of a White Dwarf magazine, with a painterly colour gradient. For those that have ogled the windows of a Games Workshop, or coveted the Golden Demon, the cleanliness of the Sanctus Reach toy box is especially inspired, and Chaos continue that trend.
They're also largely melee-centric, which is a nice shift in faction design from prior armies that field more ranged cadres. Orks were skewed more towards melee, but you could still have a decent ranged-roster if you wanted. Chaos do have some ranged units in their ranks, but it's an army that gets in close and goes to town. Some of the heavier units, like the Tzeentch Soul Grinder, are powerhouses of the battlefield, and loosed on an opponent's line require an inordinate amount of manoeuvre and fire to halt the horror's advance.
But while the units look stunning, Horrors of the Warp stumbles with its somewhat-iffy mission design. The DLC comes with a core number of campaign missions that incrementally unlock via completion of smaller, standalone skirmish matches. The campaign missions feel like a missed opportunity for Horrors of the Warp, for the most part being large, glacial and generally uninspired.
The first mission has players command a massive Ork army, squeezing it around a spiral channel with little in the way bar massed clumps of Chaos. The terrain is relatively uninteresting and the tactical choices negligible, an exercise in weathering demonic attack and whittling down their forces. The problem therein is encounter design versus time expended.
The fundamental combat is sound, but the scenario is an example of what can undermine solid mechanics. The attrition ever so slowly tilts to leveled Orks, and the mission morphs into trudging Boyz and their insane damage modifiers up to the next clog of Chaos. It wouldn't be so egregious if the map wasn't so sprawling and wouldn't be so frustrating if the map was more interesting. This is a tone that continues through much of Horrors of the Warp's campaign. Granted, if the core battle mechanics have been your bag up until now, this is a slew of content. But if you were chasing some new twists on mission design that saw a brief (and glorious) glimmer in Legacy of the Wierdboy, demons might not be enough.
Not every mission is like the aforementioned. The sub-missions such as assaults or hold-outs, or even just concise army-on-army clashes are great palate-cleansers between the huge campaign missions. With Horrors of the Warp, less is certainly more. Not to say that shorter missions ameliorate the perennial pebble in the shoe, though.
Horrors of the Warp retains the ever-present niggles of the base game, namely fickle unit selection. Often, given the density of ranks, you'll click through a unit to its neighbour, despite best intentions. Selecting and deselecting, simultaneous movement orders or trying to select another unit before another has reached its destination is a crapshoot, even though it'd help smooth over large army manoeuvres. These little flaws can seem a lot bigger than they are if a mission is overly long by design.
But even in the shadow of the game's shortcomings, Sanctus Reach is still very enjoyable, and Chaos are a fine addition. I love seeing the units formed in bulwarks, their grimdark regalia on show. The mechanics are simple without being simplistic, and positioning for a withering en masse overwatch is a satisfying art. Horrors of the Warp might not have the most invigorated mission design, but it comes with a terrific faction.
If Straylight are able to loosen up the persnickety interface and inject as much pizzazz into map and mission design as they have with the unit models, expansions like Horrors of the Warp would soar. As it stands right now, the expansion is merely ‘good’, and the only modifier would be how much Chaos floats your boat.