Great Ork-Killing Simulator
The Warhammer 40k computer license has been split into many sections, which makes sense considering the immense scope of the Warhammer 40k universe. Here I look at the latest attempt to cover the “Warhammer 40k skirmishes just like on a table” aspect of the license with Warhammer 40k: Sanctus Reach.
While there is plenty of room for improvement, the new developers have done a pretty good job here.
Sanctus Reach keeps the focus pretty narrow: you play a band of space marines fighting one of their many enemies, the Orks. A typical battle is pretty close to what you’d play at your local hobby shop: you pick a handful of squads, slap them down on a table decorated with semi-post-apocalyptic terrain, and commence to slaughtering enemies.
In terms of imitating tabletop play, Sanctus Reach probably captures the tabletop feel the best, at least in the basic game. A whole match can be played out in 45 minutes, and attacks are as swingy in effectiveness as one might expect on a system based on rolling six sided dice (especially against armored units, which may take insignificant or massive damage, depending on whether the armor is penetrated). A great hero can get snuffed with a flurry of lucky criticals, while a lone trooper might survive salvos from otherwise competent troops.
While it’s clear the Warhammer 40k rules system was used as inspiration (even including, alas, the ability to take out helicopters with chainsaws), there are many rules tweaks and modifications, enough to make a flip through the rules worthwhile, and to pay attention to the on-screen tooltips as they come up.
The battles are great fun. In addition to the standard sci-fi lazer guns (“bolters”), you’ve guys running around with flamethrowers, battle axes, and chainsaws, among other fun weapons. Whole platoons of infantry can get fried, while destroyed war machines will litter the battlefield, creating both obstacles and cover. You can re-destroy them to clear a path (and might even need to), and you can even destroy fortification walls and other terrain features if they get in your way.
I love burning Orks in the morning. Smells like...victory.
The enemy AI is pretty weak, but it’s fun killing hordes of orks (and only orks, and no you can’t play as the orks, yet). After you’re done with the slaughter, your troops gain experience, leading to random bonuses (totally consistent with W40k). One nice innovation here over the many similar games is units lose nothing for being wiped out or destroyed, beyond not getting experience for that particular battle—in other games, such units are gone forever, or start over from 0, leading to essentially impossible battles at the end of a campaign, or the need to replay missions until you have zero casaulties. In Warhammer 40k, troops are raised to be destroyed, and Sanctus Reach honors that theme.
The game comes with two campaigns, and this is where you really start to get stabbed with the rough edges in the design. You finish a campaign skirmish and…it’s off to the next skirmish. There’s no option to look over your forces, to admire their kills (no stats kept), to tweak the equipment of your troops, or anything. In between some skirmishes are major battles with special combat situations…it’s all well and good, but the uncontrollable randomness and the abrupt transition from one battle the next makes it tough to really get into things. Granted, this avoids the hackneyed prose of other Warhammer 40k games but it sure would be nice to have a better set up and ending to these fights. Even when you finish a whole campaign, your reward is a dump back to the main game screen. Sheesh.
Halfway through my review, the developers released a patch greatly enhancing the game, extending the range of bolters (“ranged weapons” having ridiculously short ranges is a theme of Games Workshop games, but the initial ranges were stupid-stupid-short, instead of the more pleasing stupid-short), among many other improvements. They’re promising more, so the game might well improve dramatically in the coming months, although more likely there will just be another expansion half a year or more from now.
Bottom line, the developers put great effort into making Warhammer 40k: Sanctus Reach a solid turn based skirmish wargame. The bells, whistles, flavor, and fluff are greatly lacking, but if all you want to do is shoot/burn/disintegrate/explode/hack/dismember/terrorize orks, and have nothing against the Warhammer 40k setting, this is probably the best game for you.
Overall Rating: 75