Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop wargame set in a grim universe where peace no longer exists, and humanity is eternally at war with aliens, daemons, and cosmic horrors. This franchise has seen many video game adaptations over the years, like the Dawn of War series, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, and Space Hulk: Deathwing, to name a few.
Now, Black Lab Games and Slitherine Ltd have stepped up to present their take on the brutal setting of the 41st Millennium with Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector, a turn-based strategy game that is set to be released for PC in May 2021, and for the Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PS5 at a later date.
This game attempts to combine the rules of the tabletop wargame with the gameplay of turn-based strategy titles like the XCOM series. Does it succeed? Well, thanks to a preview code for the PC version provided by Slitherine Ltd, we can find out. Here is our hands-on preview of Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector.
What’s the mission?
The preview code gave us access to the first six missions of the single-player campaign and a tutorial to help newcomers. I went for the tutorial first because I haven’t played many strategy games. Thankfully, it does a good job teaching a novice like me basic mechanics. like using the overwatch mechanic to fire at charging enemies during their turns or using unit abilities.
Once I was done, I went to the campaign and set the difficulty setting to medium. You can also customize any individual aspect of the game’s difficulty like the enemy’s AI, how often they get reinforcements, or their stats. Off the bat, it’s interesting to see a game that allows you to tweak aspects of a game’s difficulty; you can tone down mechanics that annoy you while ramp up others you enjoy. I wish more games included in-depth difficulty options like this.
The single-player campaign has you command the Space Marines, an army of genetically enhanced super-soldiers designed to defend humanity from anything threatening to destroy it. There are many kinds of Space Marines, and the one you are specifically controlling in this game is the Blood Angels. Your mission is to command Sergeant Carleon and his squad of Blood Angels to purge their homeworld’s moon of the Tyranids, which are a swarm of bloodthirsty alien monsters that are hell-bent on consuming every living being in the universe, leaving entire planets as empty husks.
Purge them in flame
Before each mission, you prepare your army for battle. You can build your army with units that specialize in ranged combat, close-quarters combat, or tanking an enemy’s advance. However, there is a cap limit to how many units you can bring to a mission depending on their army points, so choose wisely.
I built my army to have a balance of unit types so I would be ready to handle any situation that arose during a mission. You do have to use hero units like Captain Carleon, at least in the campaign. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because these hero units are extremely powerful and can save you in a pinch if used correctly.
Once preparations are complete, it’s time to begin a mission. Each mission has a set of objectives to complete, like defending a position for a few turns or securing an item of importance. You must complete these objectives fast, or else the Tyranids will not stop spawning more units and will grind your army into mulch.
After completing your objectives, the Tyranids will no longer receive reinforcements, and you will need to purge what’s left to finish the mission. Space Marines do not let their enemies live to fight another day.
When you complete a mission, you’ll be rewarded with HQ points that you can spend on upgrading your army. These upgrades include new abilities, new weapons to equip your units, stat boosts, Command abilities that Captain Carleon can activate to turn the tide of battle, and more.
As a relative newcomer to turn-based strategy games, I struggled at first. This game doesn’t mess around at the beginning when you have no upgrades and only a small army to fight with. You will need to plan your attacks carefully and decide when to play it safe or go on the offensive. Also, it’s ideal you save your game often in case a battle goes poorly due to making a bad move or pure luck.
The biggest roadblock for me was the third mission when I fought against dozens of Tyranids led by a giant Tyranid called the Tyrannofex. After getting stuck for an hour, I was able to get past it by commanding my units to attack the Tyrannofex directly, letting go of my fear of my units dying. The aggression paid off because attacking the Tyrranofex filled Captain Carleon’s momentum meter. In this game, every unit has a momentum meter that builds up as a unit attacks or kills an enemy. When it is filled, you have the option to either empower your unit’s abilities for a turn or get an extra action point to continue attacking during their turn.
This game does a great job of capturing the essence of the source material.
With Captain Carleon’s momentum meter filled, I gained another action point to finish off the Tyrannofex before it could kill me. Then I slowly whittled the Tyranid army down until there weren’t any left standing.
It felt really satisfying overcoming those impossible odds. It gave me a nostalgic flashback of playing the tabletop wargame when I was a kid — fighting hordes of Orks with nothing but two Ultramarine squads and a Commander. I would say this game did a great job of capturing the essence of the source material.
The last feature I would like to mention is this game’s photo mode. At any time during the battle, you can pause the game with photo mode and take amazing screenshots of your army pulling off epic feats of heroism.
Feedback for the future
My only complaint with the combat so far is this weird gameplay quirk where if a unit is firing from behind cover, their target gets the same cover bonus. This feels counterintuitive because it feels like you lose as much as you gain, especially if you’re trying to stay on the offensive without exposing your units to enemy fire. However, this might be changed before the full release. So, take this criticism as feedback for now.
Aside from that, I really enjoyed my time with Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector, and I am now looking forward to the full release. There will be a skirmish mode in the full game and an online multiplayer mode where you can play as the Space Marines or the Tyranids. I personally hope that if this game does well, there will be post-launch updates that allow us to play as other races in these modes like the Necrons, Chaos Marines, Tau, Eldar, or my personal favorite race — the Orks.
If you’re a fan of Warhammer 40,000 and like turn-based strategy games, I would definitely recommend you put Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector on your radar. It could end up becoming one of the best games on PC.