The tabletop gaming of Warhammer and, in particular, the Space Marines was never a concept that really interested me, at least in terms of collecting and playing its series of characters and settings. Even though it was a role-playing table-topper that I never got around to playing, its figurines of heavy armour and weaponry always fascinated me and it has been because of this, that I have always striven to play the video game representations of their worlds and lore. However, whether it was because I was never a hardcore fan or an ardent player of its physical form, I always found their digital representation to be a little lacklustre when it came to the amount of investment and fun I had with them. Anyway, there’s another Warhammer game on the horizon and once again, I couldn’t resist the temptation to dip my toes into its dark universe as the Games Workshop and Herocraft bring us Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf as it heavy flames a release onto the Nintendo Switch.
Much like the Space Hulk series of games, Space Wolf centres around the conflict between the Wolves and Chaos Space Marines in a turn-based strategic form. Whilst it still operates on a grid-based system of movement and combat, this latest journey into the Warhammer universe also incorporates a card deck mechanic in an attempt to bring something new to the table. However, the overall package as a whole plays in the same vein as other generic turn-based formats; although it does represent a challenge that is as foreboding and gruelling as the world set around the lore of the Space Marines.
There are three main game modes you can choose from with a fully-fledged story campaign, a survival mode and local PvP duels; as well as a brand new feature that allows local co-op where you can team up with a friend and take on a common enemy. On top of this, the Switch version also comes with all previously released DLC including The Great Awakening and Fall of Kanak. Whatever game mode you choose to play, the core mechanics of the gameplay largely remains the same with its turn-based combat and card deck features.
You play through a variety of levels, each with their own set of mission objectives and side quests, as you command a medium-sized squad through the bottlenecks and corridors of each level’s design. Each unit within your party hosts a variety of skill sets and weaponry which is largely determined by a customisable, thirty-card deck that you can take into battle with you. These cards feature a whole host of options, from weapon types, such as Bolters, Sniper Rifles, Rocket Launchers, Thunder Hammers and Lightning Axes, as well as numerical values in damage and movement. In all, there is a staggering total of forty thousand weapon variants; each one possessing their own set of pros and cons, such as damage output and mobility values.
Although play is determined by your thirty-card deck, only a limited number are available to play per turn. These can range from weapon and mobility cards to just plain movement variants. As well as the tactical element of troop movement and placement, there’s also a great deal of strategy involved with playing the correct card for a given situation. For example, you wouldn’t want a hand of just movement cards when surrounded by the enemy. The weapon variant cards come with two numerical values, one for combat and the other for movement and you can choose which value to execute; although using a weapon card for movement discards that particular weapon.
It’s a simple to use and effective mechanic that creates tension as you play through the levels. The longer the level and the more bouts of combat you partake in, the lower your number of cards become; leading to some tense moments as you battle against the enemy and distribution of cards that are available to you. If the relentless challenge of the enemy AI wasn’t enough here, battling against the mechanics of the card distribution adds further to the challenge of the game. This is no walk in the park and the game can become frustratingly challenging at times; often requiring you to play through the level a number of times before you get the right mix of tactics and cards to overcome its challenge.
The use of turn-based gameplay mixed with the card mechanics of combat and movement produces a slower-paced game than you may necessarily be more used too. Simple placing of troops and movement can take time and the game’s constant challenge of spawning enemies at certain points slows you down even further. It’s definitely a game that requires careful planning and strategy to succeed and its pacing does suit its style, as getting your whole squad successfully through a level can be a daunting exercise in itself. However, this too can be frustrating, as you can constantly find yourself ambushed and surrounded without the right weaponry to combat the threat. In some way, this mechanic can negate the tactical element of the gameplay and feels more about luck rather than skill; or at least learning the layout of the land so that you can better prepare for your next playthrough.
One area where the game does perform well, is in its presentation, but this can also be a bit hit-and-miss at times too. The game literally throws you in at the deep end, although a series of tutorial instructions do help to pick the game up on-the-fly. One of its most exciting features, comes in the form of a kill-cam that presents a different viewpoint to the combat and some slow-mo, close-up action animations of your kills. However, it doesn’t take long before you’ve seen all the animations on offer and soon, these can become a little repetitive and tiresome the more you play. Successful missions though, reward you with extra card variants to add to your deck, as well as a series of upgrades points that can be used to add specialisations to your combat troops .
Throughout my time with the game, I mainly focused on the story campaign. However, I also lightly touched on the survival modes and local co-op. From my time within these modes, both were enjoyable to play and although didn’t offer anything particularly new, do offer a nice distraction and a variation within certain play-styles. The co-op mode was particularly fun to play, although I did feel that it slowed the pace of the game down even further and should only be played by serious players who are willing to invest the time and patience needed to work through its campaign and levels; something which also applies to the PvP element of the game too.
Overall, Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf is a solid turn-based strategy that brings a few new features to its style. The card -based mechanic can offer a reason to keep playing, as you pick up extra cards and build new decks and the general presentation of viewpoints and character modelling do invest you further into the world of Warhammer. Its variety of game modes, as well as the inclusion of all DLC ensures that there is enough content and variety to keep the game going over the long-term; especially with its gruelling level of difficulty. However, this can also be something that may turn some gamers away and even though I enjoyed my time with the game, still felt that it sits within the same reasoning as my my other experiences within the digital depictions of Warhammer; it’s good, but still feels lacklustre. But that’s just my own personal opinion and to someone who may have spent their time painstakingly crafting the physical models, painting them and embarking on the table-top adventures, this is a game that contains a high level of detail that they’ll simply fall in love with and find a very satisfying level of tactical gameplay with the Space Marines of their youth.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf mixes turn-based strategy and card-deck building in this unforgiving game.