Abnett-Scripted Warhammer 40K Action-Adventure Eisenhorn: XENOS Out Now

Time was I’d jump for joy at any Warhammer-related game announcement, but these days a fast-track to madness would be trying to name every 40K title that was released over the last couple of years. F’rinstance, this is my first time hearing of Eisenhorn: XENOS, a “fully 3D adventure game” based on the novel series of the same name by fondly-regarded ubiqui-scribe Dan Abnett. You play As Gregor Eisenhorn, one of the Empire of Man’s feared Inquisitors (Secret Judge Dredd but more so, basically) who has “agility, psychic powers and a selection of the Imperium’s most iconic weaponry” on hand and is voiced by Kermodian chum Mark Strong.

All of which, you may note, reveals very little about what kind of game this actually is, so I gunned it up to try and find out.

The answer is a super-linear third-person action game with a bit of quicktime-eventing and a whole lot of story. Mark Strong, highly practiced in the art of playing glowering hard-nuts on the silver-screen, does a fine job of playing the grim, privately remorseful Eisenhorn despite clearly reading a script aloud, but sadly it’s amateur hour for the rest of the cast, which makes for a sadly disjointed atmosphere.

Eisenhorn’s also made for iPad, and frankly it shows – we get early-last-gen graphics, a mostly railroaded structure (press A to jump here and only here, that sort of thing) and puppety animations.

It’s not awful though, thanks both to Mr Strong and some pleasantly huge’n’gothic 40K environments, but it does feel a touch low-rent. If I stuck with it, it would be primarily to hear Mark Strong narrate the majority of a Dan Abnett novel, with a side order of upgrading beloved entries from the 40K arsenal. I don’t suppose I shall ever tire of the sound of a chainsword.

So, somewhere between the Space Marine game and a more rudimentary Telltale adventure – though I haven’t encountered any choice’n’consequence in the first hour. Reportedly some is in there, however. Not sure I’ll stick with it unless I have a long run of rainy days – frankly the all-over-the-place production values are just that bit too distracting – but had there been more a budget attached I suspect people would have been rather fond of this one.

Eisenhorn: XENOS is out now on Steam for £15, or £25.54 with an ebook copy of the original Abnett Xenos novel, soundtrack, artbook and e-comic, or £7.99 if you want to go the iOS route.

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35 Comments

  1. LuNatic says:

    Damn it Abnett, you are delaying Penitent for this?

    • mejoff says:

      I know right?

      Come on, Pariah was such a good start and it’s been years! Were it not for the huge volume of other stuff he’s produced in the meantime I’d be calling him some kind of Rothfuss/Lynch monster.

    • Surgeon says:

      And don’t forget about The Warmaster. That’s been delayed for years now.

    • malkav11 says:

      Probably not? He wrote the book the game is based on, that’s not the same as being the one that adapted it to videogame format. And if he was the one that did that I bet they would be shouting it to the high heavens.

  2. Jakkar says:

    … Well, at least it’s more exposure for Abnett – his books and comics are *meant* to be turned into a good CG film by someone like Gareth Evans, of the Raid films.

    I read Xenos only recently – very enjoyable, but the later Ravenor is even better.

    Although I also picked up his first Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus (trilogy + short) and was stunned, it’s fantastic. And his collaboration with his wife, the Gilead books set in Warhammer Fantasy start poor before suddenly kicking into gear and becoming quite delicious.

    • thanosi says:

      While we’re praising Abnett it’s also worth noting the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, in character if not plot, is largely based on his and Andy Lannings superb run on the comic.

    • iucounu says:

      Gaunt’s Ghosts is an excellent series. Really, really excellent.

      • Tendehka says:

        Eh, I’d argue that. Gaunt’s Ghosts got super formulaic, super fast.

        That said, Abnett is probably the most regularly good of the Black Library authors.

        • TomxJ says:

          Gaunts Ghosts is Sharpe in Space. Nothing wrong with that though.

          Eisenhorn is the only novel I’d recommend to a non 40k fan. Its brilliant and stands up very well on it own.

          • mejoff says:

            Eisenhorn is the Daniel Craig Casino Royale of 40k books (even sharing some significant plot points!), obviously and iconically The Thing for existing fans, but executed with the kind of style and flair that makes it an easy sell to people who simply like good books/films.

  3. Eight Rooks says:

    Their previous game on iOS, Spiral, was much the same. Some very pretty tech (the Unreal facial animations were quite impressive even on low-grade mobile hardware), and they’d clearly put a fair bit of effort into it, but for all the “LOOK AT THIS INCREDIBLE FEAT OF INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING” hyperbole it was plainly “Walk around featureless, near-empty environments, button-mash through simple melee combat, watch seemingly interminable cutscenes telling a story that’s not really worth anyone’s time”. The promised Episodes 2, 3 etc. never materialised, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why. I admire their persistence in nabbing a 40K license after Spiral tanked (even if GW do hand them out to anyone these days), but it looks awfully like this is basically the exact same formula with a bit more budget, someone else’s IP and a couple of semi-famous names to try and whip up PR.

    • mejoff says:

      At least in this case, “someone else’s IP” means it’s a good story’s worth of cutscenes padded out with dull gameplay.

    • Baines says:

      What is really bad is that months ago they were claiming that Eisenhorn was a game that was being made for PC first, and hyping the amazing strides forward they were making in being able to keep the mobile version comparable. They were a bit defensive over the news that the PC version would cost twice the price of the mobile.

      Then TotalBiscuit got to play the preview build, and released a video showing a game that was clearly designed for mobile from the start. The devs tried to defend the design by saying that they wanted to make a title that was accessible to everyone.

  4. Doc Revelator says:

    Sad that Mark Strong is phoning it in here; the script is pretty good, as might be expected. Gotta pay the gas bill, eh?

  5. Premium User Badge

    Jekadu says:

    I met Dan Abnett at a signing a few years ago and it was the first time I’ve ever felt star-struck. I might have made a bit of a fool of myself when I told him that my favorite scene written by him was the one in Legion (Horus Heresy) where one of the Space Marines is taking a piss break alongside an Imperial Guardsman. Very humanizing scene, very weird to praise it in hindsight.

    • mejoff says:

      Love Legion so much, mainly for all the little touches like that.

      • Premium User Badge

        Jekadu says:

        Yeah, I think it might be the best 40k work I’ve read (haven’t tried Gaunt’s Ghosts yet, though, despite having a signed copy of the first collection at home).

        • mejoff says:

          It’s certainly the one of the best in the Horus Heresy sequence (on the other hand, some of the other authors contributing to that are so very, very bad that the bar isn’t super high to be in the top three) but the best 40k books i’ve very read are Aaron Dembski Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy.

          ADB is even more careful and clever with his prose than Abnett, and his grasp of what the term ‘tragedy’ actually means in literary terms makes his finales proper gutpunches even when he’s writing about such silly archetypes as Chaos Space Marines.

          • stuw23 says:

            The Night Lords trilogy is absolutely incredible, by far my favourite 40k books. He took what could have been a huge bunch of cliches – as most 40k books are, especially those that deal with Chaos – and produced something astounding. I’d argue he’s the best writer that The Black Library have on their roster (yeah, they publish a lot of sub-par material, but there are real diamonds to be found in the rough).

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    Unironic naming of protagonist Greg Eisenhorn makes me question the alleged writing talent of Dan Abnett.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jekadu says:

      Also, while on the topic of Dan Abnett, I picked up the first volume of Hypernaturals on a whim and was completely enamored. Very clever take on the superhero genre, I thought. I should see if I can find the rest at some point.

    • Chiron says:

      He’s the least shit of GW’s writers. As such his writing stands out for being so much better than the rest of them that it passes for great.

  7. Skeletor68 says:

    Can I get advice on where to start with 40K and Abnett? I’ve always wanted to give it a read but a lot of stuff seems out of print?

    • Surgeon says:

      Personally, I’d start with Gaunt’s Ghosts.
      Get The Founding, which is an omnibus of the first three novels.
      Great characterisation, superb action, and great general premise of The Tanith, First & Only.
      Over the course of the series, you really start to love all of the main characters.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Eisenhorn (the omnibus book) is really the best place to start for Abnett’s WH40k material. The character development is fantastic, Abnett strays away from everybody else’s gun-porn grimdark bullshit and paints a rather more interesting view of a living Imperium from the perspective of actually existing IN the Imperium rather than on the always-war fringes.

      If you feel like being confused a lot, Ravenor (again the omnibus) is another great start in the same fantastic storytelling tradition/lore as Eisenhorn, because it’s essentially a parallel sequel trilogy from the perspective of one of Eisenhorn’s proteges.

      The Gaunts Ghosts novels are fun but they’re smack dab in the middle of the grimdark always-war fan service motif that so many of the other WH40k novels are also doing. Again the character development is rich and the settings are interesting and intriguing. Abnett describes action pretty well. I got pretty sick of war, war, more war, some more war, hey you’ll never guess but more war, war, war, battle, war, all the time for the plot. Yes, yes, I understand that it’s about a regiment of Imperial Guardsmen Astra Militarum, but even since the last book the surviving characters are essentially doing the same thing again in a new setting that feels like the same as other previous settings.

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        Also Abnett describes psykers and what they can do in far more interesting detail than any of the other Black Library writers that I’ve read. Generally he just seems more interested in writing about a believable, rich, and developed universe that a reader might actually want to experience for themselves because it takes the WH40k tropes that are usually over-the-top and not-quite comical and spins a coherent background for them.

        Basically if you want to read novels in the WH40k canon you really can’t go wrong with Abnett, and any of the Inquisitor Trilogies or the Gaunt’s Ghosts saga are fun.

    • Mhorhe says:

      Don’t believe the naysayers, Dan Abnett is good not only in comparison with the rest of the BL menagerie (which, to be fair, sports some pretty godawful specimens) but he’s, on his own, a really good writer.

      He manages to breathe life in the over the top Warhammery stuff.. I never pictured a Titan fight until Titanicus. Never really imagined the immensity of a hive city until Necropolis. Never saw the scale of planetary warfare until Know No Fear.

      Personally I’d rather pick a book by Dan than by many of the lauded scifi/fantasy authors of the day, but then that’s merely my opinion.

      Basically:

      The Imperium at Peace: Eisenhorn – Ravenor – Pariah. Ravenor is better written, but Eisenhorn is.. I dunno, grander? I prefer it for some reason. The main character, perhaps.

      The Imperium at War: Ghosts. Sharpe in Space as someone said here, but it’s really good, recommended. Yes, war, all the time, but unlike 99% of the BL output he manages to hit a different enough note for almost each book. Now we’re talking Warhammer 40 k grand scale warfare, next up commandos infiltration, next up we’re doing WWI style trench warfare on some backwater the enemy passed by, next we’re doing guerrilla warfare on a Chaos controlled planet..
      Abnett is the only BL writer aside from Aaron Demski-Bowden (incidentally the only other GOOD writer BL has) who manages to give a good account from the Bad Guy’s POV, too. No cartoony over-the-top evilness, no cackling maniacs..

      These if we’re just talking series. I intensely disliked his collaboration works, both Gillead and the Darkblade series.

      However there are quite a few independent gems by him. In fact, Abne

      Riders of the Dead is, for me, hands down the best Warhammer Fantasy novel. It’s also probably the only one which does Kislev some justice :)

      Fell Cargo is a cute piratey warhammer fantasy book, checks all the possible boxes for all pirate stories, ever.

      All of his Horus Heresy titles basically. I liked Know No Fear best, but Prospero Burns and Legion are just as good. Not to mention the ones in the beginning, Horus Rising I think was his?

      Brothers of the Snake is a cool take on the Spees Merheens.

      Titanicus is hands down the best book about Titans.

      Double Eagle is the Battle of Britain, on a planet in space.

      ..okay gonna stop now :)

  8. Red_Fox says:

    I’ve been meaning to get to these books for years… Can anyone convince me to drop everything I’m doing to get started on them?

  9. jayfreck says:

    For an inquisitor, he looks a bit normal going by that screenshot. Would seem more at home in a new york detective movie

  10. theblazeuk says:

    Dan Abnett (Dabnett) is a great SF writer.

    Catch his best work in the 90s/2000s Legion of Superheroes for DC, which took a dark turn and got exceptionally great before DC wet the bed and ruined everything forever. Or catch him regularly in the pages of 2000AD where he puts out belters like ‘Brink’ about mankind slowly going crazy as they live in rusting tin cans due to turning their home into a landfill (paraphrased from the comic) – or Lawless, a tale of the Judges on the frontier worlds. Or see him at IDW where he nails it with his anthropomorphic take on War of the Worlds with ‘Wilds End’, or at Image with the exceptional but cut-short ‘Dark Ages’.

    Dan is now exclusive to DC but he will likely continue with 2000AD and IDW (maybe Image) – but no return to the glories of Annihilation and Guardians.

  11. Haplo says:

    When I first heard that they were doing an Eisenhorn adaptation I’d taken the briefest moment to hope that it’d be a kind of RPG dealio, something like… Mass Effect, perhaps. Alas.

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