I’ve been traveling a lot recently for work, which means I’ve been able to devote less time to the plastic toy soldiers. Miniatures gaming, wonderful as it is as a hobby, is definitely dependent on having time and a stable environment.
So I’ve been going after the various and sundry iOS games to get my 40K fix, and I thought while I was at it, I might as well review them.
First up, the newly released Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch – Tyranid Invasion, which is a mouthful if there’s ever been one. For the rest of the review, it shall simply be Deathwatch.
Deathwatch is a pretty inexpensive game, weighing in at \$4.99, and while it has in-app purchases in the form of packs of “cards” that convert to wargear and characters. I haven’t found these particularly necessary. \$2.99 will buy you two packs, and \$36.99 will buy you a massive avalanche of 30. But wargear drops from doing them missions, and the characters you get from the packs aren’t so overwhelmingly better that they simply must be bought.
The developer is probably still hoping they’ll get in on some of that long-tail in-app purchase revenue though, so if you’re of the “Collect them All” crowd, have at it.
Deathwatch also gets a point in my book for not requiring an internet connection. The only time it was upset at my lack of network connection was for said in-app purchases. This is massively important to me – half the time I want to play a game like this, I’m either on the Metro or on an airplane, and in neither place is a stable internet connection a given. I especially dislike it when single player games require an internet connection. Space Wolf, I’m looking at you (but that’s a review for another day).
But let’s get onto the meat of things: gameplay.
Deathwatch is of a now familiar pattern for iOS war gamers, along the same veins as XCOM or Warhammer Quest – the latter of which came from the same studio. You have a small party, in this case of five Space Marines seconded to the Deathwatch.
Each Marine gains experience as missions progress, has their own wargear and abilities, etc.
Once you select your squad, your mission consists of usually a single straightforward (albeit potentially difficult) objective, plus potentially the need to move to an extraction point, all presented on a semi-3D isometric map.
Your primary opponents, as the name suggests, are Tyranids. They’re a good, if somewhat predictable enemy to choose – they make for good atmosphere, you don’t have to worry about voice acting, and the somewhat limited AI that games seem to manage on mobile platforms suits them. The gameplay itself is straightforward – your marines have a set number of action points a turn, which can be spent on moving, shooting, melee or other actions, with the option to go into overwatch if they’ve got nothing better to do. As with XCOM and Space Hulk, overwatch is immensely powerful, though it’s not as “set-and-forget” as it is in those two games – you have to choose where you’re overwatching at. This adds a bit of a tactical element to an otherwise powerful but somewhat dull ability.
The system does a good job at making things feel fairly dynamic – unlike my experience with XCOM, where there are “moving turns” and “shooting turns”, Deathwatch manages to allow you to do both, making the game feel like a properly strategic strike at an overwhelming foe. Line of sight is dynamic as well, which is great for atmosphere – there can be Tyranids lurking in every shadow, and as they close in, the far parts of the map get cloaked in fog of war as your troops focus on the closer targets, making overwhelming waves of Tyranids feel remarkably claustrophobic. At least until your Heavy Bolter-armed Devastator clears a path.
Tactically, the game is fairly straightforward – cover mechanics aren’t terribly important, etc. Mostly, it’s managing action points, making sure you don’t get caught without the ability to do things, and moving to your objective. I’d consider turning up the difficulty for any “hold the line” type missions, as I found these particularly well suited to making a castle of powered armor and refusing to come out. But it’s definitely fun. One touch I particularly like is that members of the party around the marine who did the killing also get some XP, preventing a problem I had in Warhammer Quest of having supporting characters regularly several levels behind their frontline counterparts.
It also feels right. The loading screens are beautifully atmospheric, the music a somewhat sinister version of the soothing “starscape” type musing you’d expect in a generic sci-fi game, with just enough flavor text to get things going.
Once you get into the game, it gets even better. The banter between marines is well acted, with just a hint of metallic-y vox distortion without making everyone sound like killer robots. The Space Wolves are hilariously looking forward to getting into the fight, the Ultramarines all stoic and duty and “Remember Macragge!” But it doesn’t feel forced or intrusive, just the occasional admonishment to hold the line, or a comment on not trusting the Inquisition. Bolters fire like they should, thuddy miniature rocket launchers of doom, and to date, I think this is the best rendition of a plasma gun I’ve seen. The game itself is beautiful – it’s done in the Unreal 4 engine, runs beautifully and smoothly on my iPad Air 2, and is just generally speaking pretty. The production values on the game, both graphics and sound wise, are top-notch for a mobile platform.
It’s also a decently long game – I’ve been playing it all weekend, and I’ve not hit the end yet, which involves 40 missions according to Rodeo Games. That meets my length requirement for a mobile game – I have to be able to go on a long trip and not get stuck. It’s definitely $5 worth of entertaining. And it feels like there’s a pretty clear setup in the game for new campaigns – hopefully with new enemies.
In terms of short-comings, there are a few, and they’re more in the “things I’d like to see” category, rather than actual flaws with the game. The first is that there’s no depth outside the missions – you’re following a set path, and while your troops are your own, there’s no strategic decision making. No branching story, etc. I’ve been playing a lot of XCOM in comparison, and being a port of the PC game, there’s a huge amount of base management and the like. I’d have loved to get to tool around in the Strike Cruiser between missions. Though, in fairness, it would likely have resulted in a more expensive game, and right now Deathwatch falls in a particularly good sweet spot.
I’d also have liked to see more variety of Space Marine chapters. They’ve got the big ones – Space Wolves, Ultramarines and Blood Angels (sorry Dark Angels) but lets see some Imperial Fists, Nova Marines, Lamenters and what have you. Adding this, be it in DLC or card packs, is a way I could see spending more money on the game.
Overall though? It’s a great game, lets you get in a little hit of 40K on the red-eye out of Hartsfield-Jackson, and looks like it has room to grow.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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