I’m feeling in a Warhammer mood this week. That’s all. I’ve been playing through Obsidian’s “The Outer Worlds” recently, which I have been loving but are far from completion. I needed a game to review this week, and my initial plan was to purchase and get as far through “Hades” as possible, until my friend asked if I wanted to go to Dice Dojo with him this weekend. Dice Dojo is a great local games store for all things tabletop, be it Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) or tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), Magic: The Gathering, or Warhammer 40k. And I haven’t bought new minis in a while, so I decided this would be a good time to reward myself for getting this far in the semester. And while I was deciding that, I said to myself “Hey, you know what’s a surprisingly good game that not a lot people know about? Space Marine” So this week I’m going to be reviewing a game not a whole lot of people outside of entrenched Warhammer fans have heard of, because it’s surprisingly good.
The elevator pitch for the game will probably go right over your head unless you’ve spent at least four hours watching Luetin09 videos, but no one reads my articles regardless so I’m going to give it anyway. The Ultramarines chapter is sent to the Adeptus Mechanicus forge world of Graia after an Ork WAAAAGH! invaded and overran the forces of the Astra Militarum. You play as Captain Titus of the Ultramarines who is tasked with hunting down the Ork Warboss and later a Chaos lord after the forces of the warp opportunistically invade as well. Got all that? Basically, you play as Master Chief, and instead of fighting the covenant you fight orcs but spelled with a “k” because it's Warhammer 40k. Get it? The Orks are basically fantasy orcs that speak with a thick cockney accent and pilot giant scraps of metal cobbled together to resemble a ship and wield similarly makeshift weaponry. In the lore, hordes of Orks produce a psychic field capable of manifesting superstition as reality. Meaning if enough orks believe something, it becomes true. They’re technology doesn’t actually “work,” any other race that takes apart ork tech will find only loose scraps of metal and wires; but because enough orks believe it will work it does. This also names everything matter-of-factly, but pronounced in a thick cockney accent. So they don’t have guns, they have “shootas,” and similarly they’re axes and swords are called “choppas.” They’re great.
Okay, so the story has flown right over your head. That’s fine. Honestly I’m not going to pretend like “Space Marine” is a great introduction to the 40k universe. It’s much better structured to give substance to those who are context and fanboy fervor. So what might keep you there if you have no idea how important Graia is to the Collegia Titanicus or Segmentum Tempestus as a whole. Well, I can confidently say that what “Space Marine” has to offer is a perfect representation of the grimdark genre. One need not know how many primarchs are left in the galaxy to appreciate that. Ok, ok, I’ll tone down the references. The point is that there is plenty to appreciate in “Space Marine” even if you aren’t a 40k fan. The derelict manufactorum gives a perfect background of industrial decay to the hammering of artillery fire and the rhythmic zap of lasgun fire. It gives off a mood, one unique to 40k. The characters are also quite enjoyable. While the protagonist, Captain Titus, is somewhat generically noble and heroic, he is also appropriately badass to give the player agency. The rogue Inquisitor Drogan is wonderfully vague, hinting at ulterior motives and malicious espionage; and Lieutenant Mira’s desperate fight to keep hope in her defeated troops seeking their survival. All the characters are surprisingly well done. Except Leandros. Screw Leandros. All my homies hate Leandros.
Alright, alright. So maybe the characters and atmosphere don't appeal to you. So how does it play? Well it's an unusual mix of melee combat and shooting. It all takes place in the third person, and feels kind of like a mix between hack-and-slash where you can break out a gun to pick off enemies at range. It works surprisingly well, mostly because it takes two preexisting combat systems and lets you seamlessly swap between the two without trying and failing to mix them. The melee hack-and-slash portion isn’t all that deep, with a few basic combos to get by. But the game isn’t very long, and most hack-and-slash games will have about as many bread and butter combos players’ll spam. Melee combat is mostly used for clearing away hordes of enemies, with more AoE options and stunlock potential. Gunplay is used for exactly what one might expect, when there are fewer enemies that are more spread out or at greater distance. And for the most part the game does a good job giving you queues of when to swap from one to the other appropriately. And most importantly the combat feels kinetic, both the guns and melee weapons pack a satisfying kick to them. The level design is also, generally, quite nice. It feels a bit retro shooter-esque with it’s branching paths to hidden goodies. I haven’t seen too many games with a mix of shooter and melee combat outside of immersive sims and similar RPG’s, which expect you to spec into one or the other. The fact that “Space Marine'' manages to pull it off respectively well is a testament to it’s solid design.
Still not interested? Well, ok, I admit I might have a sliiiiiiight bias. The game is far from without its problems. Bugs and other technical issues are more than a bit too prevalent, and the difficulty is all over the place. And it strongly assumes you have a solid enough foundation in the 40k universe to understand what’s going on. But it’s fun. It’s not fantastic, but solid. Enjoyable. A perfect middle of the road game, not a diamond but a respectable quartz. And you’ll get a kick out of it. Yes, you, the editor. The only one who ever reads my articles. Play it.
Also if you do have any interest in Warhammer 40k, feel free to join the new IIT 40k club! https://discord.gg/p77JqCZ
Final score: 7/10, a perfectly likeable game. Nothing spectacular, but unique and likeable enough to be worth your time.