The Dark Angels are, perhaps, my favorite Chapter of Space Marines in the world of Warhammer 40,000. This Loyalist Chapter is entrenched with—bear with me—a dark history during the Horus Heresy, one that they are still trying to atone for 10,000 years later. Typically when the Dark Angels enter the scene, it’s for one of two purposes, if not both:
- to purge xenos and/or heretics at the order of the Emperor; or
- to cover up their sins from the past.
Space Hulk: Deathwing delightfully takes on both purposes for this particular story. I nearly squealed with glee when I learned that this tale of the Dark Angels was going to be a first-person shooter instead of the typical real-time strategy treatment this franchise receives. I was even more excited to learn that it would hop from PC to console. However, it’s a good thing that the lore explored within is somewhat sound, because the gameplay doesn’t appear to have made as sound of a jump from the Warp.
Blessed is the mind too small for doubt.
The 1st Company of the Dark Angels (the Deathwing) found a Space Hulk drifting in the Immaterium, which could hold a treasure trove of history and technology if recovered. This particular Space Hulk includes the lost Dark Angels ship, Caliban’s Will, lost thousands of years ago. As an Epistolary Librarian for the Company, it is the player’s job to lead a team of two other battle brothers to find out what happened to this ship and recover all Dark Angel relics on board. Who knows what Heresy secrets they could reveal if another Chapter finds them.
Of course, Space Hulks randomly traveling through the Warp and space attract all kinds of xenos vermin. This particular Hulk, named Olethros, has become a hive for Genestealers, the most vile of all the tyranids. As the Librarian with his two battle brothers (one thankfully being an Apothecary) make their way deeper into the Hulk, they will have to purge the filthy xenos within.
The deeper you go, you learn a bit more about how precious the Caliban’s Will truly is and why none of the Genestealers can be left alive (like there was any doubt you weren’t going to kill them all). It’s, in a way, typical WH40K faire as far as a Space Hulk exploration would go, but it has none of the zest and flair a Dark Angels story is known for.
Popular and excellent WH40K writer Gavin Thorpe helped pen the campaign, but the writing is as lifeless as the Space Hulk itself. It simply goes through the motions of what the Deathwing company would do on a Space Hulk such as this. I’d believe Thorpe helped ensure that the campaign stays true to the Dark Angels, but I can’t believe he’d write something as dull as this. It’s one thing to have mindless soldiers running through the Hulk, but when you have a Librarian at the helm, there needs to be more than PURGE THE XENOS as a motivation.
Perhaps there’s more than one reason why the above Imperium quote flashes at nearly every load screen; the game wants you to have that blessed small mind to not question your purpose. You’re there to purge xenos and chew bubblegum. Don’t look for anything deeper. After all, thoughts beget heresy.
Purge the Xenos, Or at Least Try to
And yes, there are plenty of xenos to purge. In many ways, Space Hulk: Deathwing has this undeniable inspiration from DOOM. You’re either walking around, minding your own business and exploring a/k/a looking for relics or defeating hordes of Genestealers. The Genestealers will come from all directions, but there’s no real motivation to kill them all. Unlike DOOM, defeating a horde doesn’t instantly create progression. Part of this is because each level’s map is so large that you have a lot of options of maneuvering through or past swarms all together. You’re rarely locked in a room, as you would be with most shooters, forced to stay put until everything is dead. When you are, it’s usually because there is a boss fight or you’re waiting on some calculations to take forever to load.
Normally, I would not consider this a bad thing. There’s something refreshing about shooters offering more than one approach to dealing with hordes of enemies. That said, there’s nothing that satisfying at the end. Sure, it may have been fun to try out a few of your new psyker abilities, but when it’s said and done, they’re just all dead. There’s no other real reward from the experience. There’s no guarantee of progression, no new lore to unlock, and nothing new to learn. The whole combat affair became as robotic as a Techmarine, and became less and less satisfying as the campaign moved on.
There’s rarely even a checkpoint set for these random battles, so if you die before reaching your next mission goal, you have to start back from the last auto-save. I got so frustrated from losing hours of exploration and relic collecting because I died right before the next auto-save, I stopped exploring completely. If I found a relic, fine. If I didn’t, whatever. Relics, along with your overall performance for the level, grant you fervor points to spend on skill trees, but the potential frustration wasn’t enough for me to get a few extra psyker or combat points on the trees.
Death be Thy Compass
None of that would matter if the player had the simple ability to manually save. In addition to the auto-saves within a level, the game also auto-saves upon leaving a PsyGate and finishing a level. The PsyGate ability is super nifty in that if one of your compatriots falls in battle or you run out of medkits, you can call upon a PsyGate to transport you to your crew of Techmarines. There, everyone is healed or brought back to life, and this is your only opportunity to switch out weapons. An entire level can be rendered nearly impossible by a wrong weapon selection. You only get three PsyGate summons at the start of a level, so you don’t want to waste one because you picked a wrong tool for the job.
I wish I could say I never restarted a level due to poor weapon choice, but that would be heresy. At least you can summon a PsyGate in the middle of a boss fight if you need to. It’s too bad you can’t manually save in that PsyGate.
So, in other words, if you have to stop playing for any reason, you will have to either rely upon your PlayStation 4’s rest and pause functionality, waste a PsyGate summon to create a new auto-save, or accept the fact you’ll have to pick back up at your last auto save.
At least shooting things isn’t the only gameplay mechanic available. Occasionally you can scan your map and hack turrets, either destroying them or taking them over. Taking them over sounds like a great idea until you actually attempt it. Your vision is from the turret itself, and you get to control where it aims and what it shoots at. However, if you hack a turret before the enemy spawns, there’s nothing to shoot. If you try to do it after, you’ll either get shot by the enemy while trying to hack it or the turret will kill you before you can get to a safe spot to hack it. Unless you’re only carrying melee weapons and you know for a fact an enemy is already in the turret room, possibly up high and out of reach from your Mace of Absolution, don’t bother hacking a turret. It’s easier to destroy each one you come across instead.
Deathwing‘s greatest travesty, though, lies in its loading screens. I’ve never had such motivation to not die as I have in this game, just to avoid the load screens. They’re not only long, but they spout the same things at you over and over. The little intro narrated to you at the beginning of each level? It’s repeated each time you die. It’s long. It’s boring. I will git so gud if I don’t have to listen to it again. The load screens are so long, in fact, they seem to have issues with those lovely auto-saves I mentioned earlier. Witness one such issue below, where I apparently suck so hard at games, I can die during a load screen.
You can hear the Genestealers hacking away at me while Mr. Narrator drones on and the status bar slowly fills. It’s maddening. The only cure is to load an earlier auto-save, which is practically guaranteed to be 20 or so minutes earlier.
Only the Foolish Ask Twice
The campaign may be rather unpolished, but Space Hulk: Deathwing offers other methods of replayability in case hunting every relic doesn’t sound that appealing. A co-op multiplayer mode is available that pits players in teams of four into various maps of the game with unique challenges. It’s your typical squad-based multiplayer action, but despite being part of an Enhanced Edition, it feels mostly empty. There’s no real meaning or context one usually garners from squad-based multiplayer. It’s as lifeless as the campaign, even with all of the class options available.
I’m not a huge fan of multiplayer modes, but I can always find something fun with co-op multiplayer, some motivation to get friends to play with me. I have none. The entire multiplayer mode feels shoe-horned in, as though someone from Games Workshop said that multiplayer is expected in WH40K, the Emperor wills it, so it must be so. Yeah well, a lack of multiplayer is better than a lackluster multiplayer.
The extra Special Missions, however, do provide a bit of refreshing spice to the same ol’ feel of the co-op mode. The Special Missions randomly generate objectives and enemies, which is as fun as it is nerve-wracking to not know what to expect. I enjoyed this mode far more than the traditional multiplayer portion. Instead of another round of, oh well here we go again, as I usually find with multiplayer matches, I grew excited while waiting to see what it was going to throw at me.
I can’t see me playing a Special Mission each day, but that’s because I’m not sure I can spend more time with this unpolished hulk. As much as I’ve been clamoring for another action WH40K game since Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, it pains me to say this one does not fill that void. Deathwing has so much potential sitting there with the Dark Angels alone, not to mention roaming a Space Hulk, it’s an absolute shame it falls short of the Emperor’s expectations. I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first saw it at several E3s ago. Too bad it’s as void and as lifeless as the derelict ships of the Space Hulk itself.
Space Hulk: Deathwing review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.