Impressions: Warhammer 40,000 Eternal Crusade

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only:
Pound shops
WAR, of course
Unsold Kylo Ren merchandise
Battlefield but with Space Marines

Poll Maker

I have spent a full half of my adult life waiting to play a Warhammer 40,000 MMO. In 2007, in the full flush of a WoW obsession, it was pretty much the best thing I could imagine. By 2009, and fatigued of MMOs, it seemed like the most profound disservice imaginable to Games Workshops’ maximalist, tongue-forever-in-cheek sci-fi setting. Experience points and hotbars? No sir, that is not how a Space Marine space marines. Give me death without mandate, killing without restriction, sacrifice without regret.

It is 2016 now, and Dark Millenium, THQ’s long-planned 40K MMO appears to have died with its publisher. But we are in a new age, one where Warhammer 40,000 games appear to be anyone’s for the taking. I can be a Space Marine in two dozen different ways. The concept of Space Marining on a monitor is less exciting now. But still no MMO; no persistent Space Marine having indefinitely ongoing Space Marine adventures. So here’s Eternal Crusade [official site], a whole new project from a different team entirely, but the closest thing yet to the 40K MMO. And I think that, once again, I do want a 40K MMO: even though I barely know what “MMO” really means anymore.

An alpha has been available to Eternal Crusade “founders” (i.e. those willing to give the project money long before anything had been released, with the promise of in-game rewards once it was out; not entirely dissimilar to the Star Citizen model) since last September, but it’s only now that the bulk of us get to see what manner of beastie it is. While PVE dungeons and assorted gear is planned for further down the line, right now what we have is a team-based multiplayer game with barely a hint of any persistent world potential.

That’s fine and I’m not going to judge it on the ground of what it isn’t at this very early stage: I just wanted to warn you that, if you put down money today, what you’re getting is an online shooter that’s a bit like earlier Battlefields. But with jump-packs and power swords. That is very important. Later, hopefully, if all goes well, you’ll be slaying NPC Tyranids and sticking skull designs upon your shoes, but right now Eternal Crusade is about capturing command points and trying not to get run over by a Rhino in the process.

It’s fairly basic, and the technical performance is abysmal (more on which shortly), but I think it’s working. Even if it did become nothing more than a team shooter, there’s enough that works here already that they can probably pull it off.

Eternal Crusade uses the well-worn dark cartoon take on 40K, familiar from the Dawn of War games, rather than the elaborate gothic murderfests seen on the front of Games Workshop books, so please don’t turn up expecting to experience the insurmountable daily misery of life in a universe locked in perpetual warfare. It’s big-shoulder-men shooting and bashing each other. Only Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines are in the mix for the time being, and bar some horns here and some axes there, they’re pretty much mirrors of each other in their current forms – which means neither of them fall too far from the man-with-a-gun tree. Eldar, Orks and non-playable Tyranids are due further down the line, and the balancing act there will be fascinating to see.

As for the current guys, Eternal Crusade doesn’t do a huge amount with the fact they’re wearing multi-tonne battlesuits, while the classes on offer (which can be switched between every spawn, as in Battlefield) don’t go into any of the wilder stuff like Dreadnoughts or Terminators, but there’s a decent crunchiness to the game. The melee-focused Assault classes are the standout as far as I’m concerned, one of which pairs a chainsword and pistol with a short-range jump pack, and the other of which has a powersword and a shield.

The guns don’t feel particular exciting, although the madcap framerate badly gets in the way of enjoying them, but all the right clanging sounds happen when metal hits metal. That said, there’s an odd stunlock system in melee combat that I haven’t entirely figured out: I kept ending up blurred and immobile even when I was sure I’d struck first.

That’ll sort itself out with practice, and in the meantime I’m just really, really enjoying the slam-attack of the jump pack-equipped Assault Marines. Burst into the air, hover above a target until perfectly placed, then hit right-click to thump right down onto an enemy or enemies’ heads. There’s a knack to the timing and more experienced enemies can see it coming a high-mile off, but it’s a delight when it works.

A couple of vehicles are in the mix too – Rhino troop carriers and Predator tanks. The maps aren’t small, but they’ve been designed with strategically-placed blockers so that a guy in a tank can’t make everyone’s lives hell indefinitely, while capture points are usually indoors, so you’ll have to get out of your padded seat and go get your hands dirty if you want to actually win a match. There’s a neat sub-strategy involving Rhinos though, which is that your squad can use one as a spawn point for as long as it remains unexploded.

I managed to wedge one inside a little-used doorway near the next point my guys had to grab, and for a time we were able to spawn en masse right where we needed to be, the enemy unsure where we were coming from. This meant they had to divert men from protecting the capture point in order to go blow up the Rhino and stem the tide of reinforcements, and this in turn weakened their defences long enough for us to grab the point. Clearly, this is going to happen rarely once people know the game, but I like that strategies other than ‘kill anything which moves’ are emerging.

There’s not too much to Eternal Crusade otherwise, but it feels pretty good for what it is, and there’s not too much in the way of insta-death, so you can feel like you’ve had a fight rather than just been ganked. There’s not even the slightest hint in what we have now that it’ll ever become more than team arena battles though, and I’m not sure those alone will hold my interest for long. Possibly a more fleshed-out character creator would make all the difference if the Planetsideish persistent war aspect doesn’t come to pass, but maybe that’s not the wisest idea anyway. As it is, the purist in me is grumbling that the Space Marines field a mixed team of Blood Angels, Ultramarines and Dark Angels rather than co-ordinated Chapters.

This is an Early Access game, with all the usual risks and caveats that implies, but it is worth saying that performance is particularly ropey at the moment, and unless you just really, really want to support the project you’re going to be best off holding back for a while until they’ve got the performance sorted. Even when I dropped down to 720p and low settings I couldn’t escape huge framerate drops, and never mind any high spec FOV-fondlin’ hand-wringing; simply aiming my gun was regularly a nightmare. It’s not an unattractive game, but nothing about its appearance convinces me that it should make my graphics card feel sorry for itself.

Presuming that gets sorted out, I do think Eternal Crusade has plenty of scope to rage on for longer. Even aside from its lack of MMOness, it’s not currently as complex as recent Battlefields, either in a tactical sense or in terms of unlock overload (although it does plan to open an items store at some point), so perhaps it’s more comparable to Star Wars: Battlefront. What it lacks in comparative prettiness, it gains in a sense of a flow: your vehicles are there on the field, to be passed around or demolished, rather than magic icons, weapons feel much more distinct from each other and generally there’s a surer sense of front lines moving back and forth. It’s not my dream Space Marine roleplay, not yet (if ever), but it might just shape up to be satisfying lunchtime heretic-burning.

Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade is available on Steam Early Access now.

30 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Since it’s 3rd person, is the shooting especially reliant on auto-aim?

    What kind of TTK is there?

    Is teamwork emphasized at all? Is it rewarding?

  2. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    I like that you tried out both Chaos and Loyalist sides by picking a Dark Angel.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Dark Angels are total loyalist faction, definitely no fallen angels here, no sir

    • Farsearcher says:

      Silence! We are loyal! The most loyal! And if you say otherwise the Blades of Reason shall be applied to your facial area.

  3. KDR_11k says:

    How much does it play like Relic’s Space Marine multiplayer? I liked playing as an ASM with a ranged weapon and constantly repositioning myself to lay down fire from unexpected angles.

    • TormDK says:

      It’s about 90% faithful to Space Marine’s multiplayer as I’ve experienced it.

    • Carlos Danger says:

      Melee was more fluid in Space Marine, which is the main difference between the two I have experienced. They are still tweeking the system and I do believe that they will eventually get that right as well.

    • ZeroWaitState says:

      Since it basically _is_ the Multiplayer code from Space Marine, I would assume it’s faithful. It’s taken this long to get to where Space Marine was in 2011, plus some additional character models and the physics for the new vehicles. Behavior Interactive historically does licensed kid’s games and console backports, so their core competency is taking other people’s code, in whatever state it’s in, and turning it into a deliverable that can be monetized. I’m hopeful, but I’m not preordering.

  4. vorador says:

    So a F2P Battlefield clone?

    Hopefully it’s just a bite sized part of the full game, otherwise i’m not interested.

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      Clearly you’re waving a lazy hand and making broad, uneducated assumptions about the game. No, it’s not F2P. Yes, currently it’s probably most similar to Battlefield, but their intent is to make it more like Planetside 2 (supposedly surpass it, but we’ll see about that).

      Considering the differences in races (and their unique skills), the fact that the “free to play” trial players can only play ork boyz (which is fucking brilliant), and their long term plans for the tyranids, I think the game has huge potential… they just have to realize that potential and not every game manages to.

      Time will tell I guess.

      • Nahorn says:

        Pretty sure they dropped the F2P orks mode if you you look on steam forums unfortunately.

      • trjp says:

        Definately not F2P – it costs £32!!

        I can’t help thinking that’s a big ask at this point and not likely to build a playerbase – and it needs one of those…

        I said this about Vermintide too – I think the days you can ask big money upfront for a multiplayer-only game may be over – you need as-many players as possible to get the game rolling AND you need ongoing income to keep it rolling so F2P/subscription/ongoing DLC models work better.

        Look at Destiny – major AAA release at major AAA price but floundering in content and online support hell…

  5. BenAttenborough says:

    The styling of the vote seems a bit off when it appears on the front page, might need to tweak the css?

  6. malkav11 says:

    I don’t really want any more MMOs at all, much less a 40K one. What I want are singleplayer RPGs, ideally turn-based and tactical at a small squad level, but most sorts of RPG will do, in the 40K universe. Ones based on Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader (i.e., the first two FFG tabletop 40K RPGs) seem like the most obvious fits in that they seem to support the widest array of possible plotlines and derring do (the former casts you as members of an Imperial Inquisitor’s retinue and they go pretty nearly anywhere for a whole host of potential reasons; the latter as bigwigs on the crew of what amount to space privateers), but I wouldn’t object to getting to play various sorts of intelligent xenos (eldar, Tau, technically orks, etc) doing their thing, either. Or Chaos worshippers. Or even Imperial Guard or Space Marines, although since they’re largely involved in straight up warfare they don’t seem like great fits for an RPG. But hey, FFG has Deathwatch and Only War in their lineup, so there must be -something- that could be done in that vein.

    I know the EYE: Divine Cybermancy folks were working on some sort of Inquisitor-based RPG so I’m hoping that a) comes out and b) isn’t as utterly inscrutable and kind of janky as EYE is. But I’d like to see more. Lots more.

    I mean, I wouldn’t object to a PvE-focused MMO either – I enjoyed that side of the Warhammer Fantasy MMO, Age of Reckoning for the little while it lasted – but everyone seems to want to do Warhammer as a PvPfest and I just don’t enjoy that sort of thing. And of course, MMOs die and disappear forever. Like Age of Reckoning did.

    • Blastaz says:

      An actual rpg where you played some sort of comisar in the middle of a corrupt necromuda style hive a la age of decadence would be fantastic…

      • BB Shockwave says:

        Just release a game about the endless misadventures of Commissar Cain, Hero of the Imperium. :D

    • Bowak says:

      I definitely agree about 40K on PC needing an rpg. I really think that it would suit something Mass Effectish to show off the different styles of worlds, probably as an Inquisitorial team to allow some party members to be psykers/biotics.

    • darkmorgado says:

      The Inquisitor game you speak of is a top-down ARPG Diablo clone, made by the same people who did Van Helsing.

      It also completely throws the lore out of window by effectively making the Inquisitor a gun-toting space marine.

      • malkav11 says:

        Oops, you’re right. The EYE folks are doing a Space Hulk shooter.

      • BB Shockwave says:

        No, he has no power armor, for starters. And why, Inquisitors ARE using guns, no? AFAIK each of them have different methods, some are field agent investigators, others are masters of disguise and blending in, etc.

  7. Cyroch says:

    “Eternal Crusade uses the well-worn dark cartoon take on 40K, familiar from the Dawn of War games, rather than the elaborate gothic murderfests seen on the front of Games Workshop books”

    Why is that? There were a couple of games that nailed some parts of 40k but in all of them the general atmosphere just seems to bright, colourful and friendly. Just too optimistic. Are companies afraid we can’t handle the grim darkness of the far future?

    • GernauMorat says:

      The art style of Darkest Dungeon would be ideal for a 40k game

      • JFS says:

        They basically shoplifted that style from GW anyway.

        (which is fine by me, seeing as GW doesn’t really put it to use in video games)

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      I think people get confused. 40K is metaphorically dark, but visually it has always looked like an explosion at the candy factory. See for example this.

      • Cyroch says:

        Sure, some armor and heraldry can be quite colorful. But I think this is mainly to offset the darkness of basically everything else.

  8. JarinArenos says:

    I love how “Unsold Kylo Ren Merch” is solidly in second on that poll.

  9. Butts says:

    Just want to point out that, to an American, a “pound shop” sounds, well…not like somewhere you’d go for cheap merchandise, at any rate.

    • fabronaut says:

      If you think that’s bad, compare with the current value of the Canadian dollar and weep for the northern neighbours! ;)

      • Butts says:

        Hah I meant it in the sense that a pound shop sounds like it could be a euphemism for a brothel, not any comment on currency as such.

        In fact, I really, really hope there’s a pound shop somewhere in the UK called Pound Town.

  10. heliotropecrowe says:

    Once again the hard fighting men of the Guard are ignored and glossed over for the sake of the Space Marines.

    This is sadly on my ignore list until then. Might even look for some one who’ll give me recognition that I deserve.