For those that don’t already know, Space Wolf is based off an existing IP from the Warhammer 40,000 Universe (created by GamesWorkshop). I personally play the tabletop game (AZ DA MIGHTY ORKZ FUR ANYONE INTARESTED, N THOSE THAT DONT CARE NEED A GUD KRUMPIN) so I’m very familiar with the Universe, its characters and lore. However, I was surprised by how welcoming the game was for beginners and those that have no knowledge of the lore.
The game itself is a turn based combat ala X-Com, however your abilities are determined by cards; i.e Firing a gun or running uses a card. You begin with a pre-made deck of 30, playing the campaign unlocks card and allows access to crafting resources allowing you to improve an update your deck to suit your play style. It’s a complicated system that can’t be summed up in a sentence, so let’s get some context for the story before we delve into this innovative system.
The story revolves around a Chapter of the Space Marines known as Space Wolfs (think Iron Man if he was a Viking). You follow a commander and his squad as they go on a campaign of “purging xeno scum”. Xenos, are non-humans, which are the games main enemies. These xenos are known as Chaos Space marines, corrupted Space Marines that worship various dark gods. The dialogue is rather tongue in cheek; many of the comments are hilariously over the top, as many of the Space Wolves are a caricature of manliness. The campaign isn’t exactly deep; many of the missions revolve around going to X planet and kill Y enemies. I think this is acceptable, not every game needs to have BioShock level writing and the simplistic nature of the campaign adds to how accessible it is. The writers are clearly aware that their content is over the top and use this to their advantage without making the game feel silly unlike something like Saints Row 2, which is pure parody; Space Wolf holds a nice mid-ground.
The main campaign is broken into chapters, each chapters contains 5 missions, which create their own self-contained narratives. I’d highly recommend playing the campaign first, as it not only does it help with the complicated gameplay, it shows some of the more interesting characters from the Warhammer universe. Alongside this the game offers multiplayer, however I’m a sucker for single player campaigns which means I spent much more time working through the story than “stomping n00bz online”. The online is much small-scale in comparison to the campaign as the campaign focuses on your squad vs hoards. The online however is PvP 3v3, meaning both players control 3 units that must destroy the other 3. I liked the online conceptually, however I found myself against a string on enemies who had much better decks than me, meaning my skills and tactics meant nothing as I didn’t have the same power level as my opponent. I’m not sure if this is bad luck, or bad matchmaking, but it’s probably for the best to leave multiplayer until you’ve gotten as many good cards as possible from the campaign.
Now here’s the most important bit, how do the turns work, and why do we have cards? Well, the core gameplay is turn based action; however its unique selling point is its use of cards. Now sometimes cards can be a burden and add an undesirable level of RNG (see Golems Gate). Space Wolf does card combat right however. You earn cards via completing missions and online games. Whilst the cards you get are randomized, there is a lot you can do to control RNG as the game has a multi-tier card crafting system, as well as allowing you to fuse unwanted or extra cards to upgrade them.
The game starts you off with a set of core cards, I was annoyed to find these starting cards could be boosted via DLC, however that’s sadly almost expected with games now. Pay to win as they say.
Each card is based upon an existing weapon from the Warhammer universe; fans of the franchise will instantly recognise the Space Wolves arsenal of Heavy Bolters, Plasma Canons & Lightning claws. The card then has values for attack damage, accuracy and effort. Attack and Accuracy obviously determine how hard the weapon hits and how often, yet effort determines how long the weapon takes to use. Using a string of heavy weapons means your character is more likely to attack last, whilst using a series of low effort cards (i.e Bolt Pistols & Chainswords) you get the initiative.
There is a limit on how many actions you can perform, a two card per turn limit to be precise. The card types are somewhat diverse offering things such as; Equip Cards which allow you to hold a weapon to use later (ultimately saving a card), Utility cards like run (which makes you run faster) or Attack cards (mentioned above). Each card has its own rarities; legendries tier cards normally are the equipment of named characters, whilst anything below is generic equipment. The rarity of the card determines the chance of you pulling it from a card pack, the high the rarity, the lower the chance to get it.
You get multiple characters to play as, with each character having different abilities (which means different classes have unique cards, however some are cross class. The classes are; heavy, jump infantry and snipers.) The range of classes and cards gives you a near endless amount of options, meaning it’s rare to have the same game twice, especially if you alter your deck after each match.
Visually the game looks very nice, which a style that is consistent with other games in the same universe, look at Dawn of War 2 to get an idea of what to expect. Space Wolf makes use of interesting environments, from Jungles, to Cult ridden Chaos temple. This diversity leaves the game with an interesting colour pallet which prevents it being a series of drab grey or brown cities, warehouses or muddy fields like most other action games (yes that includes you Gears of War).
I’m a bit of an Audiophile so a soundtrack really has to pop t o catch my attention (look at Donkey Kong Country, Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time & Binding of Isaac for examples of outstanding soundtracks.), sadly Space Wolfs soundtrack doesn’t stand out, it isn’t by anyway bad, it suits the environment of the game and adds a nice level of ambience.
I do have a rather big issue with the Audio however, it lacks voice acting. I was hoping that I’d be able to hear my commander talk to me as I followed his order, yet all I was left with was a floating text box as I pretended I was having ordered barked at me. What makes this stranger is many of the Warhammer franchise games have fantastic voice acting that adds an extra layer of depth and believability to the game’s universe.
Luckily controls aren’t too pressing in a turn based game. That being said Space Wolf offers an easy to use control scheme which has hotkeys for those that want to play with maximum efficacy, although everything can be done via mouse, which means you can’t blame your pads or keyboards for loosing.
Now, I for one am a veteran when it comes to turn based games, I adore the genre so it was easy for me to get to grips with what I needed to do. It was nice to find out that even without my “sick gaming skills (warning: citation needed)” I would have been smoothly integrated and taught how to play. The tutorial is great; it breaks down all the mechanics into easy absorb bits of information. Some of these mechanics may take a while to get used too, I know I struggled with movement for longer than I’d like to admit, yet I found myself fully familiar with everything after the first chapter. This leads me to the difficulty. The game holds your hand during the first chapter, you can afford to make seas worth of mistakes and misplays and still be able to finish the mission. This doesn’t last for long however, during the later missions a single misplay could cost you the entire mission. Which I feel is fair, these turn based tactics are always about the big picture and most of the time I was punished by not thinking far enough ahead.
Space Wolf offers a lot of reasons to come back, as well as having a decently sized campaign; it offers DLC which adds even more missions to the game. For those sick of the campaign, there is always the online to turn to, which isn’t personally for me; yet that’s due to anti-social tendencies. The online is engaging and works well, I’m sure the more social of you would appreciate it. Oh and for those completionists, the game offers a set of Steam achievements of variable difficultly, which I know can really hook those 100%ers.
So overall, Space Wolf is an incredibly fun turn based combat game. I think its use of cards integrates well with the game and helps add more choices to how you play. The story is enjoyable, especially for those familiar with the universe and even for those that are unfamiliar, the campaign is fun regardless. Its kept true to the lore and is a good game all round, however I don’t think it’s groundbreaking enough to convert a hater of Warhammer or turned based games into a fan. Yet for those that already appreciate the genre or setting, I’m sure there is a lot of fun to be found.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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