Like I’ve said before, there are too many Warhammer games, and one of the big downfalls of that carefree licensing is that when there are so many games coming out with the same branding they just become background noise. Which is a shame when one comes along that deserves to stand out.
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters released on PC earlier this week, and if all you saw was its stupid name and basic premise—it’s a turn-based 40K game where you control Space Marines—you’d be forgiven for completely ignoring it. After all, didn’t we just play one of these?
Yes, we kinda did, but while Battlesector was more of a recreation of the board game experience, featuring larger battles, Daemonhunters is trying something else—straight-up cloning XCOM—and it doesn’t care how shamelessly it does it.
While there’s a whole genre of games that are XCOM “clones”, few are as explicit as Daemonhunters is. Literally every core system and menu in this game is lifted straight from Firaxis’ classic, from a central base (that has to be repaired and upgraded) to roster management to the passage of time, right on down to little cutscenes for each dramatic battlefield moment and a parasitic blight that is growing over time and can’t be allowed to take over.
This is a bit of a disappointment. It’s so overt that it’s a real stretch at times to make the more intimate XCOM formula a thematic fit for the grand, 40K-scale action taking place, and it’s pretty bad that I can sit down with an entirely different game made by a different developer and not even need the tutorial because, having played XCOM, I know what every button and command does.
But really, in most ways I do not care. I really like XCOM, and I really like 40K, and everything XCOM does well this game does almost just as capably. It does something XCOM—and Gears Tactics just to spread the praise around—recognise as being vital in this genre, and that’s being solid, chunky and visceral. Your characters have real weight and purpose on the map, and there’s nothing more fun in this game than opening a door, because in Daemonhunters you don’t open doors, you run up to them and kick them with your giant Space Marine boots, smashing them into a million pieces, and everything goes WHOOSH and THUD and it rules.
It’s also, when not stretching itself thin to fit the XCOM formula, a tremendous use of the 40K license. I could take or leave the character art, but the voice acting is straight from the top shelf of Foreboding Britishness, and your Marines really come to life with their designs, weaponry and grim determination to maintain a stiff upper lip no matter how much wild demonic shit is going on around them.
Most importantly, though, it’s a blast to play. Your Marines, each of them named and able to be levelled up and specialised, allow for a huge amount of tactical flexibility, which you’ll most definitely need. Even Daemonhunters earliest missions will throw some objective curveballs at you, and the ability to impose certain restrictions—like playing a mission with three Marines instead of four—in return for greater post-mission rewards keeps even the most basic encounters interesting.
And it’s worth pointing that in the few ways the game branches off from its main inspiration, it’s an improvement. Bullshit shot percentages are gone (you know damage ahead of time), and there are cool moments where you can interact with the environment, like bringing down ancient columns on top of bad guys.
I’ve had a better time with Daemonhunters than I have in a long time with 40K, maybe even since Space Marine, its combination of tactical brilliance—no matter how much of it is borrowed—and an understanding of the license making this a great game for 40K fans, a great game for turn-based tactics fans and perfection for anyone finding themselves trapped at the point those two venn diagrams overlap.