Warhammer 40000: Chaos Gate was the kind of strategy game — set in the grim darkness of the far future — I’ve wanted a modern iteration of for a long while. And I got my wish! Sort of. Warhammer 40000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is the upcoming sequel to the 1998 original, and I got some hands-on experience with it.
In Warhammer 40,000, Grey Knights are special among all other Space Marines. They aren’t just superhuman warrior monks clad in the best armor and armed with the most fearsome weapons mankind can muster. They’re also psychic warriors that use all manners of arcane tools to fight the daemon threat constantly plaguing the Imperium of Man. And this time, an Inquisitor seizes a Grey Knight cruiser returning from a disastrous hunt to stop the Bloom, a daemonic plague spread by the servants of Chaos God Nurgle.
I’m not entirely happy about the choice of Chapter or the enemies. Daemons, especially Nurgle or Khorne, are extremely played out. But that’s neither here not there, so let’s move to the gameplay.
The Codex Astartes says you’re a daemon
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is like XCOM 2, in a way. But instead of a barely functional helicopter base filled with the greenest fighters the human resistance can spare, you have a badly mauled ship and its complement of superhuman warriors. That’s about the extent of the campaign management that I got to engage with. The demo was set up to show off the main specialty of the Adeptus Astartes: killing.
In keeping with traditions that date back to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you’re sent into combat with an arbitrarily small number of troops. Your goal is to slaughter your way across the map and accomplish certain objectives. Just like in XCOM, you’ll encounter nebulous enemy patrols that materialize into real troops when uncovered. The objectives are varied, from capturing plague seeds by defeating marked enemies in melee (Space Marines aren’t big on live capture) to just slaying a specific large enemy.
A setting like Warhammer 40,000 also allows for bosses in the shape of Greater Daemons, which are subject to all sorts of boss fight nonsense. When fighting the Great Unclean One, I could do three actions per turns: smack my troops, spawn Nurglings (the smallest daemon and the source of some of the best miniature designs), and use spawns as ammunition, health, and chip damage. As far as I understand, we’ll get one Great Unclean One per variety of Bloom.
The rest of the combat Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters revolves around dealing with cultists, daemons, and Death Guard. The latter are traitor Space Marines who decided that worshiping the god of plagues was a good idea. The enemies all have their own tricks (including mundane skills like going on overwatch), but none can match or seriously imperil the Knights individually. After all, Grey Knights are already powerful when compared to regular Space Marines.
Employing the full panoply of war
To fight the assorted filth arrayed against them, the Grey Knights can employ their storm bolters, force weapons, and grenades, as well as a wide variety of psychic powers. Also, being warriors modified possibly past the limits of what can be considered “human,” they get three action points each. Eat your heart out, XCOM. Knights can also bounce back from being downed on their own once per battle. However, this takes three turns and halves their total health for the mission. But hey, they can get stat-changing augmentations out of it. They also regenerate a point of Willpower per kill, and melee executions even regenerate AP.
Grey Knights can use their psychic powers (capped by Willpower points) to empower their attacks. This ranges from making storm bolters less embarrassingly piddly (I shot a cultists and he’s still standing? Come on!) to turning a machine gun salvo into an AoE explosion. But if you’re using actual powers, you can buff a trooper’s defense, use special strikes or, as an Interceptor, teleport up to 15 squares and attack as many enemies as you can within that range. That’s how I nearly completely destroyed one patrol in a turn.
Oh, and another thing, Space Marines aren’t in the business of missing their targets. Attacks will always hit and deal their full damage unless harm is mitigated by cover or sacrificial Nurglings.
However, fighting in Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is hard. The Grey Knights can’t just set overwatch and wait for the daemons to waltz into their sights. The Bloom tracks advances every turn, and once it reaches a threshold, all enemies receive a buff. This can be fairly nasty, like all melee attacks causing immobilization. What’s more, since using psychic powers means drawing power from the demon realm, Willpower expenditure adds to the bar.
The trade-off might be worth it in many cases, especially when you consider the utility of ridiculous teleportation shenanigans. But those aren’t the only tools you have to destroy your enemies. Special objects in the environment can collapse onto enemies, and explosive barrels exist even in the 41st millennium.
Welcome to the daily life on the Baleful Edict
Outside of the battle, you can hang out in the cruiser, chatting up a senior Grey Knight, a heavily augmented Techpriestess who looks after the ship, and the inquisitor heading the investigation. They can provide more information on other characters and share bits of lore that will be helpful for people who don’t know anything about Warhammer.
One thing to note is that a lot of research seems to center around capturing Bloom Seeds. Since there are a few different strains of Bloom, some research will be locked behind collecting that specific kind of seed.
The rest is fairly simple as far as I can tell. You equip your Grey Knights, mess with their cosmetics, level them up, repair your ship, and travel the local star systems looking for missions. Periodically, you’ll get a Grandmaster’s Report, which allows you to talk to the Grandmaster (and let your mouth get you in trouble), as well as to spend requisition points to upgrade the odds of getting better rewards after battles.
Visually, Warhammmer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters already looks great. The developer went for a more stylized look, which makes the Grey Knights look like toys close up. But the rest I can barely comment upon. The game is still in development. Maybe the Death Guard models will swell with more detail yet.
All in all, Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters is shaping up well. Some of it is due to lessons learned from XCOM (like working against the tyranny of overwatch), and some of it is specific to the setting (like Space Marines not being paper-thin grubs). Now, to wait for the full release.