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Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters — Brutal and Brilliant

After having more than a few lukewarm experiences with the Warhammer gaming library recently, I’d resigned myself to thinking I’d likely not see a great game in the universe for a while. That’s until I got my hands on Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunter, an XCOM-like strategy game that is the best use of the licence I’ve seen in years. It’s a bonus too that it is a bloody excellent game.

At first, Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate Daemonhunter may seem like just another strategy game with a Warhammer paint job, and trust me there are a few of them. But this outing is much more than a copy-paste throwaway and is in fact a deep, robust, and sometimes brutal offering that makes for a fantastic gameplay experience and also treats the 40k license with respect.

I could tell I was going to enjoy my time with Chaos Gate within the first hour, not only because it gives a great showcase of the depth and potential of its gameplay, but because it sets up a pretty interesting story. Finally, a Warhammer game with some interesting plot. This foray into the 41st millennium has players take command of the Grey Knights, a secretive and specially trained chapter of the Space Marines tasked with dealing with anything and everything concerning the daemons and corrupt power of the Warp. You are tasked with rooting out a new and deadly plague called the Bloom that’s begun to spread across multiple worlds, purging it without hesitation in proper Grey Knight fashion.

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Each character is distinct and interesting both design and personality.

You’ll do this aboard your ship The Baleful Edict with the help of your loyal general, a tech priest, and a prickly and uninvited inquisitor. These three spend just as much time bickering amongst themselves as they do guiding and debating how to handle the threat of Nurgle’s new plague, but they do so with much more character than I’ve seen from other 40K games. Each of their clashing ideals and personalities makes them all distinct and memorable, and cutscenes and dialogue between them are genuinely interesting. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a Warhammer game really make its characters a worthwhile addition, and they add to the game’s narrative brilliantly. Add a few twists that shake up the story and gameplay, and you’ve got a plot worthy of the IP and shows developers Complex Games did their homework.

It’s clear to those familiar with the genre that Chaos Gate borrows some of its DNA from its grandaddy XCOM. The combat is the typical strategy game fair, with you controlling a squad of four grey knights who use a mixture of ranged and melee weapons to battle across pretty sizable arenas, fulfilling mission objectives that are just varied enough to keep things interesting. You’ll use cover, elevation, and some smart thinking to outwit your enemies and bring a rain of bullets and holy wraith onto your enemies. 

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Those familiar with XCOM strategy games will feel right at home.

Beyond that, Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate Daemonhunter has a ton of additions and features that give it a unique identity. For one unlike XCOM, you aren’t beholden to random percentages to inflict damage on enemies, instead, it’s a case of the line of sight and your weapons range with distance and cover reducing the damage you inflict. If you can see them, you can fire away. It’s a simple change, but a very welcome one that eliminates the infuriating feeling of near-perfect strategic plays ruined by a point-blank near-perfect shot chance misfire. On top of that, the combat makes far better use of its melee combat than in other games in the genre. Grey Knights like to get up close and personal, and whether it’s a simple power sword or a hulking warhammer, they all have their own attributes and uses in combat. There’s even a V.A.T.S (From Fallout) like system called precision targeting for melee attack, which lets you target certain parts of enemies after scoring a critical hit, hindering the enemies’ effectiveness, or just flat out brutally executing them. 

Then we have Willpower, a resource used by Grey Knights to use psychic abilities in the field. Using this, you can enhance your attacks, buff allies or deal more damage with your weapons, with each enemy killed replenishing your Willpower. These along with all the other elements of combat make for some incredibly tense and challenging gameplay, that’s got great tactical depth and choice that makes you feel in complete control of your squad and it’s so much fun to play because of that.

Now we get to the real test of what makes a Warhammer game, customisation and choice, and oh boy does Chaos Gate deliver. There are tons of options in how you build your Grey Knights. There are eight classes in total, four standards and four advanced that unlock as you progress through the story. You have heaps of ranged weapons, melee weapons, equipment, and armour you can acquire from missions that all have different stats and attributes that affect your knight’s capabilities. There are skill trees with a selection of abilities to unlock and upgrades you can earn as they level up, each helping craft your knights into whatever playstyle you want. Whether it’s a heavy weapons specialist with a chaingun-like blaster or a hulking paladin with his storm shield and spear, every unit has value and depth to their gameplay that lets them shine if you use them right.

Think that’s all the game offers? Oh no, there’s plenty more. Even outside of your knights and combat there are plenty of decisions to make. With the limited resources you gain from missions, you can upgrade the Baleful Edict’s facilities, letting you gain stronger knights, increase your ship’s defences, increase wounded knight recovery speed and a host more options. Research lets you learn about the Bloom and how to fight back against the plague, as well as use five different plague seeds you collect from enemies to gain new tools and stratagems, abilities used once per mission that can offer big help in moments of need. 

There’s so much control over how you play and a lot of systems to balance, that it may seem a bit much at first. But Chaos Gate does a great job of gradually feeding you each one with enough information to not become too confusing. It’s a good thing too because the game is constantly growing and evolving as you play. With the star map growing larger with more planets to save and so many resources to keep track of, the game gets bigger and deeper, but it never feels too overwhelming, instead feeling like a natural progression that makes you feel in control.

That’s not to say the game will hold your hand. It’s more likely to rip it off at times because Chaos Gate can be downright brutal. Even in normal, the combat can have moments of brutality that test my strategic prowess, and sometimes my patience. Being flooded with enemies or being pinned down can feel like an impossible task to overcome, Made all the more difficult when sudden reinforcements appear right on top of your location and overwhelm you. The occasional difficulty spike is frustrating, to say the least. One moment you’ll be about to clear a room, the next you’re swarmed by Terminators who pummel you into submission. But that moment I found a way to fight back, to turn a near unwinnable situation into a one-sided slaughter, is some of the most satisfying moments I’ve ever experienced in a Warhammer game. Period.

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One right move can turn the tide of battle in an instant.

What makes the game both a fulfilling, excellent and equally unforgiving one is its meaningful, difficult choices. 

Everything you do in Chaos Gate, from choosing which planet to travel to and save through to using your Willpower during combat has a direct effect on how your game is going to shape up. In missions along with each passing turn, using Willpower increases the Warp meter, which unleashes some new random threat onto your team, ranging from debuffs to entire reinforcement swarms when it hits 100%. It also happens multiple times just to make it more unforgiving. Missing a planet before its bloom spreads will make it harder to save, eventually leading to extremely tough missions that really put you through the wringer if you aren’t playing carefully. Your limited resources and time means each choice of research and construction you do is important, and not being careful about how you upgrade and when can have a knock-on effect in later missions.

It’s also these weighty choices that work in the game’s favour. The game gives players so much to play and experiment with that all feel important and worthwhile. When I was customising my Grey Knights, it gave me control over my playstyle. As I tried to manage the limited resources to enhance my ship and facilities, it made my decisions feel impactful, and they had a noticeable effect on my experience playing the game. When I was pummeling enemies and mastered the aggressively tactical gameplay. I felt like a badass as I roamed from planet to planet ready to purge. It’s got everything a good Warhammer game should, and it does all these things brilliantly.

It helps that the game looks great too. Cutscenes are well animated with detail and bring the characters to life along with their great voice acting, the UI is bright and clear — albeit a little cluttered — with just the right amount of 40K flair to make them a bit more visually interesting. The maps are varied and detailed, ranging from plague-ridden ruins swarmed with Nurgle’s abominations, to the more metallic industrial battlefields we’ve seen before, only now they have some interesting scenery and visuals instead of simple metal buildings littered across an open map. It’s just a nice change to have a Warhammer game with a bit of colour finally.

Its deep, layered gameplay is incredible, the story is engaging and interesting with greater characters, and I can’t think of the last game I played that really made my choices matter. It can be brutal and sometimes unfair, but it’s so worth it for how great the gameplay is in this prime example of how to use the Warhammer IP. If you like XCOM, or Warhammer in any aspect, then you need this in your games library. There are no two ways about it, Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is one of the best Warhammer games in recent memory, and easily the best I’ve reviewed in my time at B3.

Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunter is out now on PC via Steam and the Epic Game Store. Check out the game’s Twitter or Website for more details.

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