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Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf Early Access Preview

Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf is setting out to be an above and beyond mobile-to-PC port, but it's not without its problems.

There's something to be said for a developer bringing a mobile game to PC with the full intention of changing and balancing it for the PC audience. That's exactly what's happening with Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, from developer Herocraft on Steam Early Access -- and it's worth noting they're already doing a great job.

Plain ol' mobile to PC ports have a bad reputation, but I probably don't need to explain that to you. A lot of mobile developers just lift the game off mobile do a nearly direct 1-to-1 conversion when porting to Steam, ignoring the tastes and requests of the PC community.

Lazy porting is somewhat understandable when it comes to casual games because the market for them is simply massive on Android and iOS. Not so much with more hardcore games, though -- and Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf definitely leans more toward that category.

In its PC conversion, Space Wolf has gained an actual price tag (no microtransactions here) in exchange for graphical and UI improvements, balancing changes, and additional playable content. That's a lot when compared to most other ports from mobile, and after pushing my way through most of the available campaign, I'm excited to see what Herocraft has in store for this iteration of the game despite its current issues.

The gist of Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf

Warhammer fans are well-acquainted with the Space Wolves and their place in the 40k universe. One has to state that perhaps a turn-based game was not the most suited to the notoriously battle-hungry chapter, but here we are.

Space Wolf is (get ready for a mouthful) a card-based turn-based grid-based tactical RPG, which in itself isn't entirely modern or considered to be a hardcore genre in this day and age, but is pulled off well enough in this instance.

Grid-based turn-based tactical RPGs are not entirely common these days, which in itself got me interested in the game. The card-based part of the description was added icing on the cake -- that combination of genres goes right down Ashley Lane.

Those familiar with tactical RPGs both free-moving and grid-based should be right at home with Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf's flow of combat and slower pace. You move a Wolf, choose a direction for them to stand, and (hopefully) attack in the direction they're standing. All the while you're managing action points and effort points, the former affecting how many actions you can take in a single turn while the latter affecting the turn order.

The cards themselves are your only means of performing any actions. Utility cards, such as those to heal, move, or summon companions are used solely for those actions, with some having passive triggers called "chains" for further effects on other actions. The far more important weapon cards are used not only to attack, but also to move or equip, depending on the card and what you need to do.

A big part of the fun of the game is, in fact, balancing the use of your weapon cards. Some can be equipped, but standard weapons are single-use. If you're not drawing movement cards, you have to decide which weapons you want to use to move that turn -- and that can be hard to decide.

But the balancing act doesn't end there. Beyond the cards are enemies with their own cards, chain actions, action points, and effort points. Past their actual actions is their spawns -- in just about every mission map, more enemies will be drop-podded down as you either push forward or simply take too long to reach the map's goal.

WTB balance

If this all sounds good, you'll probably have a good time. But with the game still in Steam Early Access and only on patch 0.0.4, you have to be aware there are balancing issues.

I mentioned enemies being drop-podded as you progress through a map, but there is no way for me to really emphasize exactly how often this happens. You take a few steps forward and there are more enemies. You take too long to kill or get to the objective, more enemies. Waves upon waves of them that just do not let up.

Please just stop dropping. Please.

One could argue that the sheer amount of enemies the game repeatedly throws at you is to shape a fight's pacing, but it gets so tiring struggling with wave after wave that it is very possible you may just ragequit. I know I have a couple of times so far, and chances are I'm going to do it again.

This isn't an issue in PvP matches, but it is a very real issue in the campaign. This is only compounded by the combat's slow speed. You have only a few Wolves at a time and the game spawns enemies in twos and threes, and you have to watch all of their actions. It really starts to drain your morale when you're sitting there with three or four of your own units waiting to take a turn while the AI marches around and attacks with its own seven or eight.

The balancing and the speed are two things that very much need to be worked on before Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolves leaves Early Access and are my only real complaints about the game. The actual combat system is a lot of fun but gets so bogged down with pretty much endless enemy drops and waiting for turns that anyone not already into card-based turn-based grid-based would be turned off from the game almost immediately.

The very first mission alone functions as a sort of test for new players, icily tossing them into a scenario with the game's hallmark enemy spawning and expecting them to be able to clear it.

I like hard games, I really do. I'm all right with having to do the first mission twice to clear it, because it's not like I really know how to play. Do it, lose, figure out pushing forward to trigger spawns then retreat to attack, all that jazz. But for the average gamer, PC or otherwise, the first mission is an unforgiving and brutal introduction that could very easily turn them off from the game forever.

The difficulty trend set with the first mission continues into the rest of the campaign, and each time it's a struggle not to get angry over the game throwing so many enemies at you. As you become a seasoned Wolf, you get less angry but continue to be perplexed at the enemy spawning.

You're going to get pretty upset more than once.

Considering the game is in such an early patch state, one can only complain so much. Many of Space Wolf's current issues will be ironed out as development pushes forward. Even in its current bone-gnawing state, it's a fun and rewarding entry to the genre, and it has some amazing music to boot.

You see so many typical CCGs trying to ride the Hearthstone train these days, but you do not see all that many actual RPGs using a card-based system, and that's what is here in Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf. The grid-based movement and choosing the direction a character is aimed is reminiscent of the type of CRPG that was popular over a decade ago, and that's not a bad thing. Especially when combined with the more modern card system it totes.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf is at a lower price point on Steam now while it's in Early Access than it's going to be at full release. If you're a Warhammer fan or simply a fan of turn-based tactical RPGs, don't be deterred by the difficulty as laid out above. Quality of life and balance improvements are guaranteed to come as Herocraft fine-tunes the port for the PC audience. Did they expect the PC market liked their games harder than they actually do? Probably. But that's what Early Access is for and Space Wolf could easily be shaped up to be even better than it is in its current state.

Disclosure: The writer was granted a review copy of Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf by the developer.

Published Feb. 26th 2017

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