“Blood for the blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!”
There ends my knowledge of the Warhammer 40k universe. While I have played an early demo for Sanctus Reach (found here) I know almost nothing about this universe. With this in mind I dived into the campaign and had a proper look at the game.
From what I garnered so far, you control a detachment of the Space Wolves that have crash-landed on an Ork controlled continent. One thing I noticed from the get go is that the smaller skirmishes that I have played through so far are much more enjoyable from the massive fight that the demo showed off. Sure, a large confrontation may look cool and may be a good way to prove the power of your engine, but individually controlling 20 units one-by-one does not a good time make. With smaller groups, keeping a coherent front-line as well as remembering who does what and who has already fired is much easier.
The mouse control is still a little slow, having to back out after giving a troop an order, requiring a second unnecessary button click. The menu is a bit of a pig, with a title in the campaign menu acting as a button and several wrong turns until I managed to start up the tutorial. The tutorial, while simple does explain the core mechanics of the game, limited though they may be. Movement, shooting and setting reaction arcs are all effectively delivered in the quick tutorial.
One mechanic that has been introduced since that earlier build is the concept of morale and the ability to diminish it. Units such as flamers can almost entirely rid the enemy of their morale, leaving them shattered wrecks. Morale-less units cannot attack, and may (or may not) be able to flee. Those that can’t flee are so shaken that they’re regularly left standing there as their skins are roasted off their screaming flesh. Sorry, I got a little carried away there.
The sound design is excellent, with various types of Orks making unique noises (my favourite is the little gretchlings which sounds like tiny deranged children) and their ‘run away’ squeal when they are attacked. The weapons all sound very visceral, especially the death sound, which sounds very much like several lumps of flesh slapping onto the ground.
Throughout the campaign, your units will gain experience and rank up over time, going from green recruit to hardened veterans of war, giving you the opportunity to make interesting battle formations, experienced troops leading the charge or using weak units as bait. The campaign does not take you from one mission to the next, instead completing a mission will mark a certain amount of the map as completed, any any missions that share a border with the finished one will be available to do.
All of the units available to both you and the enemy can quickly be identified and are easy to ascertain what troop type they are, such as a flamer unit, a skirmish trooper or a standard grunt unit.
An interesting mechanic I discussed in my early preview was the fact that stray shots could injure enemy and friendly troops alike, making proper positioning a must and providing a risk/reward effect to risky shots. In this latest version that has been changed, with stray shots only damaging enemy’s, not friendly troops. While this does make engagements easier, friendly fire was a really interesting idea that with a little bit of balancing could be something that I’d like to see more of in strategy and RTS titles.
Despite having played turn based strategy games for many years, Sanctus Reach is really hard. Not in a ‘enemy has unfair advantages’ but more ‘those Orks really know what they’re doing and how to counter my tactics’ hard. The Orks will field a large amount of weakish units, with a few powerful troops to really give you a challenge. You have nowhere near the manpower to match even a single front of Ork attack, so you must instead focus on good positioning and strategy, such as luring enemies into a gap in your line, where you can then engage them from multiple sides.
To further introduce strategy into your movements, most units have two actions per turn, which can be spread between normal attacks during your turn, or reaction shots during the enemy’s turn. This means that although you may be able to force the enemy line back quite a bit in your turn, if you don’t have any actions left over the enemy has free reign of the battlefield to flank you during their turn. Orks will also set up reactions shots, which when combined with their multitude of troops can make troop movements very risky. Tiles that are covered by the enemies reaction arc are coloured red to help you not march you troops into a massacre.
Overall Warhammer 40k: Sanctus Reach is a finely built turn based strategy game from a proven publisher and promising developer combo Despite having no knowledge of 40K lore, I still understood most of what was going on and enjoyed myself. The strategy is difficult but rewarding, and I look forward to facing others on the battlefield.