The Warhammer 40,000 space fantasy setting, launched way back in 1987, has been and continues to be a favorite amongst gamers. WH40K was created by Rick Priestley and produced by Games Workshop as a companion piece to the classic Warhammer Fantasy Battles tabletop wargame. Since then, its dystopian universe has been adapted into various entertainment genres, including books, a movie, a collectible card game, and video games.
Fans of WH40K video games have long enjoyed the dismal perpetual war environment that began with 1992’s Space Crusade. That’s a fact not lost on Games Workshop. They have plans for about a dozen more WH40K-based video games in the foreseeable future, not including the recently released Total War: Warhammer.
But before we drift any deeper into the grim darkness of the Warhammer universe, let’s take a Devilfish transport for a look at my recommendations of the best WH40K video games so far. The games here are listed in order of release, not ranked in any preferred order. These are the games I think you absolutely should play for the immersive WH40K video game experience.
Developed by Random Games and published by the magnificent Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI), Chaos Gate is a turn-based strategy RPG that looks and plays similar to XCOM. As Captain Kruger, you’ll lead Ultramarine Tactical, Assault, Devastator, and Terminator squads against the Chaos forces lead by Lord Zymran as you both search for the Concordat Chaosium.
Chaos Gate is available at GOG.com for Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8).
Dawn of War was developed by Relic Entertainment and published by THQ, and was the first huge WH40K hit video game, spawning three also very successful expansions. DoW plays out in real-time strategy mode, and instead of controlling one Marine at a time, you’ll move whole squads as one unit. You’ll control a company of Blood Ravens Space Marines in the short 11-mission single-player campaign, but get to expand into playing as Chaos Marines, Orks, and Eldar factions in multiplayer.
The Dawn of War GOTY edition is available on Steam.
Winter Assault is the first expansion for Dawn of War, and is also from the Relic Entertainment / THQ team. Winter Assault will have you take charge of the same factions as in DoW in two single-player campaigns to discover the location of an Imperial Titan, a colossal ancient war machine capable of dealing massive damage. It’s also notable for having a few different game endings available, each depending on your path through the single-player missions.
Winter Assault is available on Steam.
The second Dawn of War expansion, Dark Crusade (Relic Entertainment / THQ) is unique in that it is playable as a standalone game, and not dependent on having Dawn of War to play. DC bumps up the playable factions to seven, and breaks away from the previous standard campaign paths to opt for a non-linear single-player campaign. Similar to Sid Meier’s Civilization series, you’ll pick which faction you want to play at the start of the game, then set about building up your forces while methodically destroying the others in classic RTS fashion.
Dark Crusade is available on Steam.
Iron Lore Entertainment (Titan Quest) took on the development of the third Dawn of War expansion, Soulstorm, published by THQ. Soulstorm also doesn’t require the base Dawn of War in order to play it. Soulstorm’s gameplay is the same non-linear style as Dark Crusade, and involves an interstellar conflict over the sudden appearance of a Warp Storm. This expansion adds two new armies (Sisters of Battle, Dark Eldar), and adds new flying units to each faction.
Soulstorm is available on Steam.
Just less than a year after the release of Soulstorm, Relic Entertainment and THQ released Dawn of War II. DoWII kept its RTS and RPG roots, but also drastically changed the gameplay to a much more strategic direction, influenced by hardcore wargames such as Company of Heroes. Base building was done away with, the AI and physics engine improved, and Skirmish and Last Stand modes added. As far as story goes, the arc through DoWII and its expansions is my favorite -- not to take anything away from the previous story arcs.
Dawn of War II is available on Steam.
Chaos Rising (Relic Entertainment / THQ), the first DoWII expansion, continues the intricate storyline from that game and takes it to a deeper and darker level. As expected, CR adds new units and upgrades to each faction. The big addition here is called the Corruption System, which tracks how close your forces are to giving in to Chaos depending on the choices you make in certain in game events. Your choices also lead to you having one of the multiple endings play out at end game. Really, you’ll want to play through again and again to see all the endings.
Chaos Rising is available on Steam.
Retribution (Relic Entertainment / THQ) is the last DoWII expansion, and is also another standalone expansion, playable all on its own. You’ll choose which faction to play at the start, and you’ll have to play each faction through to completion in order to experience all the different endings. Retribution has new units and new upgrades to old units, and the Last Stand mode gets upgrades, as well.
Retribution is available on Steam.
Regicide is my final pick for this list. If you love WH40K, and you also love chess, then this game is your bag. For me, it takes me back to the 80s when I spent countless hours sneak-playing Archon: The Light and the Dark on school computers. Except these chess matches take place in the grimdark of WH40K, which means some exceptionally brutal combat.
Regicide is of course available on Steam.
I also want to mention two other WH40K games before closing. Total War: Warhammer launched in May 2016, but, sadly, I have not yet played it. Everything I’ve seen and heard about it has me thinking it will definitely make this list. Same goes for Dawn of War III, whenever the powers that be decide it’s ready for release. I anticipate I'll be spending many hours in each of these games.
So if you’re looking to get into the best Warhammer 40,000 video games available, take my list of suggestions here and play them all. And tell us which WH40K video games are your favorites in the comments section below!