- Developer: HeroCraft
- Publisher: HeroCraft
- Release Date: 1/23/20
- Price: £16.19 / $17.99
- Review code provided by HeroCraft
We begin with a story: I take my Switch everywhere I go, so when I first fired up Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, I was gearing up for an hour-long train commute. Imagine my immediate disappointment when I found that it cannot be played offline, period. As in, you cannot even get to the title screen without connecting to the internet, and you need to stay connected to continue playing. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
When I finally got the campaign rolling back at home, I found that it wastes no time in throwing you into its wild world, for better or worse.
Reunite and fight
As a newcomer to the long-running Warhammer franchise, I went into this game with zero expectations. The longstanding series has a massive body of lore, but I decided not to read up on it until after I got a sense of whether this game’s story stands on its own two feet. The verdict: it doesn’t, but in the end, it doesn’t really need to.
What matters is that our main character is Valgard the Space Wolf, he’s a big Space Marine in big power armor, and he hates Chaos Marines with the fiery passion of a thousand suns (to put it very lightly.) He and his crewmates have crashed in the enemy’s realm, also crawling with skeletal Necron warriors, and our heroes must now reunite and eliminate them all.
All of this information comes at you quickly through dialogue in combat, with little to no context. The bad guys are traitors who deserve to die, and that’s all you really need to know at the end of the day. I honestly prefer it that way: the game doesn’t waste time pretending to have a deep story, it just lets you focus on the action. Case and point, don’t play this game for the plot. It was originally a mobile game, after all.
The setting during combat missions does a great job of supplementing any lack of exposition: you can see a world at war without being told about it. From pitter-pattering rainfall to raging fires, the visual and audio effects are a big contributor to the game’s overall Sci-Fi dystopia mood. Not to mention, close-up kill cams will briefly pull you from the top-down view and right into the action on the ground. Nothing like a cinematic view of your arch enemies being hacked to death!
Once you’ve exhausted the story levels in Campaign mode, there is still plenty to do. In the Challenge menu, you’ll find survival modes and side missions with difficult objectives to keep you on your toes. Some will rank your scores against other players online. I especially enjoyed exploring this feature when I got stuck on difficult levels, and just needed to give my brain a break.
Kill the traitors
Combat does well to mimic the fast-paced strategy tabletop game this title is based on: placement matters, you need to plan ahead, and every move counts. You’ll spend action points to move characters on a grid, positioning them to fire at enemies based on the ranges of their weapons.
In campaign mode, you receive objectives that usually involve killing enemies or reaching checkpoints. Each level also has bonus objectives. They’re totally optional, but you’ll be rewarded for your effort. As levels get increasingly difficult, you may opt to go for the bonuses later – another excellent source of replay value.
New enemies, allies, and obstacles will spice things up along the way as you chug through these long-drawn battles. The individual battle length becomes a bit of a downside when you realize there aren’t autosave checkpoints, and you can’t quicksave – so the only way to bookmark your progress while taking a break (or going somewhere without internet) is to leave the game running while your Switch is in sleep mode.
If you have real-life allies who want to help you in combat, co-op is a cinch! Just hand your friend a joycon, and they can control Valgard’s teammates. Plus, if a battle is too difficult – or perhaps not up to your speed – you can always change the difficulty in the pause menu. Making levels harder in this way also gives you a chance to get a fresh experience out of a mission you’ve already beaten. Meanwhile, making them easier can help make levels accessible to less-experienced friends who want to join in on the action through co-op.
Whether you play with a friend or by yourself, beating a level will inevitably make you feel pretty satisfied, since it requires tactical thinking.
Draw your weapon
Delving deeper into how battles work, this is your standard turn-based strategy game, but there is a twist: you will draw each movement, attack, and ability from a deck of cards. This mechanic is not only unique, but it saves the game from feeling repetitive and tedious, as you have to strategize based on the tools currently at your disposal. I felt gratified every time I knew I made a smart decision in a tough battle, because I certainly had to think hard about how to budget my cards right.
There is a variety of weapon cards, which deal different kinds of damage at different ranges. (The types of attacks you have will depend on your class, which we’ll discuss here in a bit.) Some special weapons need to be equipped first, and periodically reloaded. You will also find movement and healing cards in your arsenal, as well as ones that boost your defense. Finally, Chain cards will make your attacks even stronger automatically. For example, one chain card adds a burn chance to your flamethrower attacks, and another adds damage to melee strikes. Saving a weapon card till you can make it a chain attack maximizes the potential of a single turn. You will find new cards throughout the campaign, and can craft even more in the Forge menu.
As I played, I did notice features that don’t translate well after being ported to Switch. One example of this is how unnecessarily difficult it is to move characters when the grid is diagonal; since you’re unable to point and click on your desired spot, or rotate to a better angle, you’ll find yourself repeatedly jamming the joystick in odd directions – often to no avail. Another glaring issue is the tiny font; while it’s no problem if you are sitting directly in front of a good-sized television, it’s absolutely an issue if you are playing from the comfort of your couch on the other side of the room, and especially on handheld mode. Cards flash across the screen so quickly, and with such miniscule text, that even folks blessed with perfect vision will find themselves squinting at the screen.
Play to your strengths
Before battles, you can choose from three classes: Power Armor, Scout, or my personal favorite: Terminator. The classes are well-balanced and individually strong, so whether you tailor your choice to the specific missions, or stick with your favorite, you should be able to hold your own. You can upgrade and customize the abilities of all three in the Armory. Allies you unlock also have unique traits, which can be leveled up in the Squad menu.
Each class has different strengths and cards at its disposal. For example, you’ll deal massive 1-on-1 damage as a Terminator. After beating some levels, you can craft or upgrade cards in the Forge menu, and customize all three of your class decks. In the Forge, you can also open any booster packs you’ve picked up along the campaign. There is a section for promo codes, too, so if you buy this game, be sure to keep an ear out on social media for freebies from HeroCraft!
Just remember, the red-clad Chaos Marines also have unique abilities. Some of their attacks will sap your cards, or buff their allies. Many will have chain cards of their own, too.
Great value, with a catch
The Switch console’s “schtick” is its unmatched portability. That, combined with the fact that this is a mainly single-player game, makes the online-only requirement my main complaint with this otherwise solid title. This would be totally forgivable if you only had to be online to do Challenge mode, but you cannot even access the title screen without internet. It’s an egregious mistake, because that feature alone makes the game nearly unplayable for people like me who mostly enjoy their Switch on-the-go.
If, however, you mainly play at home with reliable internet, this game will certainly scratch your Sci-Fi strategy itch. With a variety of fun classes and an easy-to-learn playstyle, it provides a steep and rewarding challenge as you progress, without any unnecessary bells and whistles. Plus, with multiple difficulty levels, class customizations, Co-op, and Challenge mode, this is a game that keeps on giving.
- Challenging, unique combat
- Seamless local co-op
- Excellent replay value
- Totally inaccessible while offline
- Difficult movement
- Miniscule text
Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf boasts great value with a unique combat system, plenty of content, and on-the-fly local co-op, but cannot be enjoyed offline in any capacity, despite being mainly single-player.