In the grim future, there is only war. Of course, the nature of this war is pretty varied, whether it be a reskin of Panzer General (Tides of War), a scrap between Space Marines and Orks, including Titans (Final Liberation) or an XCOM inspired tactical conflict (Dark Omen). The ’90s saw a lot of very strong Games Workshop adaptations to the PC but since then, the scale of the output as gone up as more and more GW licenses see print, whilst the quality is sometimes a bit iffy.
Warhammer 40K BattleSector from Slitherine games and Black Lab Games is a new tactical strategy game, casting the player as either the Blood Marines space marine chapter or the Tyranids, horrible bio-engineering space monsters with a distinctly insectile look.
It’s worth stating that this preview is based on an early access code granted with kind permission by Black Lab Games and therefore I’ve not been able to see the full game or the campaign overlay. I’ll briefly summarise these elements, which all sound like they’ll add a lot to the game.
The campaign sees you play as Sergeant Carleon, a Blood Angels marine sergeant leading a force of the red armoured marines in a series of battles against the tyrannids. You’ll generally be outnumbered and often tasked with reaching and securing objectives or keeping units alive. The full campaign promises “an epic twenty mission single-player campaign that explores the aftermath of the Devastation of Baal. Help Sergeant Carleon and his allies purge the Tyranid infestation on Baal secundus and preserve the honour of the noble Blood Angels.”
The game plays out in a standard turn-based fashion with squads of units and individual vehicles and leaders on the map. Each has action points to allow them to move, activate abilities, or fire, though most units can ordinarily only fire once per turn. Units can also set an overwatch and change facing, which is important in this game as charges and attacks at a flank or the rear will do extra damage and avoid counter-attacks in the case of melee and charging.
Once all your units have moved, the enemy takes its turn and the Tyranids have a penchant for melee attacks, though they can also fire poisonous weapons at you or render a couple of game spaces toxic, causing your marines to become poisoned. As mentioned before, you’ll generally be outnumbered and need to make careful use of supporting tactics and overlapping fields of fire to survive a battle with the swarm.
In the scenarios presented in this build, there is a pre-set army but in the complete game, you’ll be able to fine-tune your roster of units, ranging from leaders, vehicles, squads of marines with various weapons and assault squads with jump banks and chain-swords who excel in close combat. You’ll also take command of exotic units like librarians (psionic capable units in this setting) and even a huge dreadnought (think a big suit of lumbering battle armour with powerful guns).
Another interesting element to the game is the concept of “momentum” which is gained in different ways dependant on the faction you control. For the marines, it is gained for kills and for moving forward, so the game rewards you for charging forward aggressively and engaging with the enemy. Whilst you can still conduct an “overwatch creep”, you’ll lose momentum if your units end the turn without spending all their action points.
Momentum can be spent to engage “surge effects” and even to upgrade a unit mid-battle to give it stronger abilities. This is an interesting idea and could offer players some interesting different ways to play the game.
Graphics wise, Battlesector is fine, with nice models and a good level of zoom. The map, which superficially looks a bit like Mars, is also fine too. Weapon effects are decent and the sound effects offer a nice crunchy sound, with nasty splattering sounds when you hit an enemy. Speaking of which, the game does not spare the blood and gore which flies freely when battle is joined and blood-stains the ground as the battle progresses.
The game has voice acting for the cut scenes and for unit acknowledgments which are perfectly serviceable and whilst a bit hammy, they certainly feed into the world-building of the 40K setting which isn’t exactly famous for its subtlety.
Battle-Sector is a fun tactical game, though its hard to get too invested without seeing more of the campaign or seeing things such as unit progression. It doesn’t appear that units acquire XPs or level up between battles but this may be a feature that wasn’t seen in this build.
The complete game also promises multi-player support including hot-seat to allow Tyrannid v Marine battles. Having only commanded space marines, I can only speculate on the challenge that commanding a Tyrranid force may offer but imagine it could be a lot of fun and push you towards a swarming tactic.
Battlesector isn’t without its flaws, though it must be said that the version played is still an early build. Camera controls can be a bit clunky at times and there were a couple of minor issues with objectives not being where they were said to be. Equally the “M” button will bring up a map but the maps facings are different to the default rotation of the game and does not rotate with the camera, meaning it isn’t easy to make use of.
Another minor quibble is the nature of the battles, which will generally see your marines forming up into firing lines and just pouring gunfire into massed hordes of Tyrannids. There are variations on theme and obviously the full game will offer more units and more need to change it up but this did lead to a slightly repetitive feel.
Its hard to offer a full recommendation of the game without seeing what goes into the full campaign, which will make or break a game like this. The developers have promised a great campaign though and with the option to tailor your army to suit your play style, this will also add some variance.
Warhammer 40K: Battlesector is an interesting new offering and is similar to Sanctus Reach, though perhaps a bit more refined. Of course, Sanctus Reach has had several DLC and a lot of support, as well as offering a very different set of enemies with the orks.
With the right development by Black Lab, hopefully, Battlesector will offer a really interesting tactical combat game and another foray into the dark and bloody 40K universe.
- Solid presentation and decent graphics
- Simple intuitive controls
- Promise of a long and challenging campaign
- As this is an early access version, I’d expect to see the game far more polished on release.
- Fighting against the Tyrannids can get a bit repetitive at times
- Some minor issues with camera controls and other minor graphical quirks