This week, action-RPG Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr came out of Early Access on Steam, the latest in a long line of incomprehensibly titled games inspired by the Warhammer miniatures series. It’s a decent spin on the kill/loot/explore formula popularized by Diablo, but what it’s especially good at is making the complex and daunting lore-filled world of Warhammer 40k feel approachable.
Inquisitor - Martyr begins with you, playing as the titular character, arriving at giant melting pot of baroque cathedrals that have been fashioned into a single, ornate spaceship. In the Warhammer 40k universe these things are called Space Hulks. While I have no idea why that’s the case, they are a sight to behold, like something out of a Dark Souls game that’s been spliced with sci-fi industrial DNA of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
This isn’t a conceit unique to Inquisitor - Martyr among the other Warhammer 40k games, but Inquisitor - Martyr does a wonderful job of capturing the scope of the anachronistic Space Hulks. After all, you’ve boarded the ship not to rescue crew members or hunt down an alien, but to investigate demonic anomalies on behalf of a galaxy-spanning bureaucracy run by violent religious zealots. Despite being intrigued by Warhammer 40k from afar for years, seeing a Space Hulk up close for the first time made the appeal inescapable to me. Blowing up undead with a plasma pistol moments later drove it home with the kind of elegance I wouldn’t have expected from a licensed fantasy game.
It’s made by NeocoreGames, best known for the Van Helsing series of action-RPGs which were surprisingly decent, who, along with everyone else and their mom it seems, decided to spend the last few years working on a Warhammer game. Where Van Helsing focused on more on a traditional story-based campaign, Inquisitor - Martyr pitches itself as a shared-world game where players’ progress across dozens of bite-sized missions will build toward the larger development of the Caligari sector it takes place in. While the game has a single-player campaign, which I’ve spent most of my time playing so far, it’s the Warhammer 40k worldbuilding that’s really the selling point. Currently, the Steam reviews of the game are incredibly mixed, with many people who love it and others who hate it (servers issues at launch earlier this week and some continued problems with multiplayer haven’t helped). But as something of a newcomer to the Warhammer 40k universe I’ve fallen in love with the little, isometric slice of the galaxy the game offers up to be explored.
Missions, which often take place in mini-labyrinths of winding and intersecting corridors, are filled with objects to scan and incredibly droll banter between the main character and other agents of the Empire of Man he represents. Together they paint a picture of an incredibly old but futuristic world (40k stands for the number of millenia that have passed approximately since year 0 on the Gregorian calendar) where pulpy violence and rigid government protocols are constantly intermingling. Combat consists of right and left clicking and managing a small array of cooldown abilities while also navigating destructible cover. It’s not the smoothest, but the slower, crunchier pace is a nice alternative to Diablo’s often frictionless combat. And while there’s loot to collect and skill trees to progress through, they don’t feel developed enough to be the force that propels you through Inquisitor - Martyr. At the end of the day it’s the blood-caked space marines and gothic space horror that does that.
I’ve played some Dungeons and Dragons, read my Tolkien, and traded plenty of Magic: The Gathering cards. In the three decades I’ve sat, crawled, or walked on this earth I’ve played even more games inspired by their aesthetics and universes, and yet until recently I’d never touched anything related to Warhammer. Vermintide 2 was my first game set in the Warhammer universe, and it turned out to be an unexpected delight. More recently I tried the Warhammer 40k version of that cooperative brawler, Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition, and found playing it to feel like repeatedly stubbing my toe while walking up a long flight of stairs in pitch black. Several hours in though, Inquisitor - Martyr has been a much more positive experience and convinced me the only thing to do is dive deeper into 40k’s grimdark scifi hellscape.