Has Space Hulk: Deathwing been improved by its updates?

space-hulk-header

Update Night is a fortnightly column in which Rich McCormick revisits games to find out whether they’ve been changed for better or worse.

Bolters are the standard-issue weapons of Warhammer 40,000’s Space Marines, and they fire bolts. But they’re not just bolts — not really. As befitting the grim darkness of 40K’s far future, the bullets that Space Marines fire are individual rocket-propelled grenades, each backloaded with enough fuel to force them through ceramite armor, and frontloaded with enough explosive to shred the soft meat hidden inside that armour.

The Umbra-pattern Storm Bolter typically carried by Space Marine Terminators is two of these guns, lashed together and set to fire extra-large magazines on full-auto setting. It’s a gun so chunky that it can only be fired by eight-foot supersoldiers wearing tactical dreadnought armour — the only plate sturdy enough to support a storm bolter’s firing without popping the wielder’s arm out of joint.

But Space Hulk: Deathwing’s storm bolter doesn’t feel like the kind of weapon favoured by the 41st millennium’s toughest space-fascists. It barely feels like a popgun. That was the case in Space Hulk: Deathwing on its release in 2016, and, sadly, it’s still the case even after developer Streum On Studios updated their game late last month, releasing an Enhanced Edition of Space Hulk: Deathwing free for all current owners.

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Deathwing’s storm bolter isn’t the only underwhelming weapon in its arsenal. In Warhammer fiction, the plasma cannon is meant to launch superheated streams of white-blue matter, burning anything it touches with the force of a sun. Here it goes “pew” quietly, a puppy’s sneeze issued apologetically as the gun coughs up a slow-moving ball of weakly glowing goo. The Spear of Caliban — a legendary weapon named for the Dark Angels’ homeworld and invented for Deathwing — isn’t much better, a rapid-fire plasma cannon variant that manages to feel weaker than its already-flaccid bigger brother.

There’s a similar problem with Deathwing’s melee weapons. Terminator power fists are meant to be giant Hulk-hands of crackling energy, capable of cracking tank armour and splitting daemon skulls with a single punch. Here, they whiff more than they hit, and when they do connect, enemies don’t explode so much as gently crumple. The thunder hammer and shield feels better, connecting against alien heads with an audible crack, but its ponderous swings mean that a solid interaction feels just out of reach — too often I was stuck just hammering Q until the latest wave of suicidal gribblies had cleared.

My weapon of choice became the heavy flamer: a fire-belching weapon that sat under my Terminator’s right wrist. Fire is a slower way to kill the xenomorph-esque genestealers that infest the eponymous Space Hulk’s corridors, but it was still effective, and the throaty woosh that the gun coughed out whenever I pulled the trigger made the decision to fire it a more enjoyable one than most of its peers.

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That’s not to say these weapons aren’t effective. It’s the opposite, in fact: Deathwing’s basic genestealers tend to collapse at the slightest contact with bullet or blue goo alike. But that hollowness means there’s no satisfaction in mowing down waves of hive-minded monsters, and despite a stompy step effect and some screen-shaking recoil, there’s no real heft or weight to these outsized weapons.

That the weapons were underwhelming might not matter so much if there was more to Deathwing than just killing through corridor after corridor of aliens, but that’s not the case. Streum On’s game is a horde shooter, and that horde’s intelligence is markedly low. It certainly jives with the genestealer’s heritage that they’re mindless slicing drones — they’re the shock troops of the Tyranid invasion fleets, the advance wave sent out by the extragalactic invaders. But that also means there’s no complexity in their eradication, their only imperative to sprint in a straight line toward the player until they get blasted into spiny splinters of biomass.

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On the plus side, those streams of genestealers are now running at full speed. At launch, Deathwing had its own technical gremlins slowing its framerate down, but the Enhanced Edition ran smooth for me, even on older hardware. New special missions, introduced last year, also go some way to adding replay value to the game once players have completed the nine-chapter campaign. These missions re-use levels from that story mode, handing out random objectives in parts of the campaign maps I’d either visited or left largely unexplored. These objectives change with each playthrough, and tasked me with assisting tech priests, scuttling ships, or activating consoles. But despite their story conceits, these objectives all had the same solution: waddle to a place, press E on a thing. They had the same outcome, too: the thing, having had E pressed on it, heralds the sudden arrival of multiple waves of genestealers.

Braving these waves becomes a more appealing prospect with a friend — or at least an internet stranger — as Alec found out in his review of the original game. Humans are quicker, cleverer, and more reliable than Deathwing’s lumbering AI Terminators, but trying to find a multiplayer game two years after launch is a difficult affair. I had to rope in a friend instead, and found that parceling out firing lanes over voice chat and flipping between loadouts made the Space Hulk a more enticing place to spend time.

If you can find enough multiplayer games, then you’ll (slowly) unlock specialisations for various classes of Terminator armour. This includes the brand new Interrogator Chaplain — a cheerful guy with a skull for a face and a crozius arcanum (read: righteous bonking stick) for a melee weapon. Interrogator Chaplains are a bit of Dark Angels-specific lore, torturers who put both the “grim” and the “dark” in 40K’s grimdark, but in action they function similarly to their less torture-y peers — albeit with a helpful instant resurrect power.

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It’s not just genestealers that you’ll be facing in the Enhanced Edition, at least. Except, it kind of still is just genestealers. Streum On has added an exploding flavour of the Tyranid terrors in the latest update: a purple glowing suicide bomber that announces its arrival with a nasty scream. It’s fun to pop one of these volatile creatures while it’s in the midst of its friends, but too often they’re obscured by a mass of chitin and claws, and make themselves known only when they arrive to kill your squadmates instantly.

Aberrants, too, are another new and frustrating addition to the Enhanced Edition. They’re the biggest departure from classic genestealers on Deathwing’s menu, and are hulking mutants: half ‘stealer and half human, and even taller than a Terminator. They give some visual difference in amongst the hordes of Alien-a-likes, but their weapon — a mining laser — was the cause of my most annoying deaths. It’s monstrously powerful, able to tear a significant hole in Terminator armour with a single blast, and while it takes time to heat up — time I should’ve been using to seek out its owner — it’s not always viable to find far-off mutants while you’re having your neck nibbled by their close-range pals.

It’s particularly annoying when you’ve given yourself a close-combat loadout. I experimented with the lightning claws for a few levels, trying to wield the two-handed melee weapons like a lumbering Wolverine. But while I’d do my best to give my two AI Terminator compatriots directions to shoot the mutants I couldn’t, they’d regularly end up either missing their shots or looking at me forlornly like giant clompy babies, their armour getting chipped away by gun-carrying genestealer cultists.

That’s a lot of talking about imaginary space guns, but in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war, and guns are pretty integral to war. Deathwing, even in its rejigged state, can’t fall back on either advanced AI or complex mission design to draw the player in, as neither are present. That leaves weapons, and while Deathwing’s look the part — as chunky and scroll-encrusted as you’d hope from the ultra-gothic Warhammer 40,000 setting — they just aren’t fun enough to fire to make trudging around the corridors of smashed-together spaceships worthwhile.

18 Comments

Top comments

  1. DasBilligeAlien says:

    So much of the oomph of vidja game weapons is part of the sound. When i lost my hearing game weapons that felt awesome before kind of lost their magic. I am not sure how to replicate that purly with visual and rumble effect.
    I regained some of that hearing again but I am used to play without sound now. It's interesting how much less fun overwatch is for hearing impaired.

    So what makes good weapon feel?

    I would say:
    1. muzzle flash/effects - needs to be fast enough and appropriate for the weapon. Sometimes you want the weapon to feel elegant not powerful. Like the walter ppk with silencer from goldeneye.
    2. weapon component animation - A good example is the flak gun from unreal tournament. Shooting sets of a range of motions the includes recoil dampers and a reloading mechanism. You can see the state of the weapon alone by its animations.
    3. impact effects - sparks, dirt, water splashes, blood, flickering shields. Often is see powerful weapons that have the same impact effects then much weaker weapons. That contrast is important. Vanquish is an awesome example here.
    4. target reaction - Same problem as above. But a very different part in the game making process. Again contrast is king and it also helps to define the capabilities of enemies. Shooting your assault rifle in to unarmoured mercenaries should look different then hitting a dude in power armour in same game. The division is a game which has that problem.
    5. recoil - Mostly the correlation between weapon animation and actual precision/bullet spread. I am not sure how much a game needs to fail in this regard, to destroy a good weapon. And as its so obvious that most devs get it at least okish.
    6. cross hair animation - not just change from recoil but also target lock, ammo or weapon state. there is a lot one can do with a nice crosshair and of course it should fit the weapon type. Again halo is a great exemple.
    7. bullet trail - not the easiest to balance, it gets too much very fast, but its super powerful when used to highlight a weapons cadence and precision. My favourite examples are the needler and the sniper rifle from halo.
    8. rumble effects - more relevant to consoleros but i really love a good rumble effect. an with the impressively precise rumble motors in the switch joy cons, one could make for some incredible weapon feel.
    9. Sound - I still think the most important part of making a good gun. Rumble is a good replacement for it for the hearing impaired or deaf. Especially for lower frequencies. But for higher frequencies it's much harder to use as it feels unnatural. could still work.
    10. uniqueness in the arsenal - if your game has to many similar weapons it's hard to make them stand out. Not only the high and low points of all the values are filled but everything in between as well. That is super hard to balance when making games with a gazillion guns.


    It shows that i haven't played many of the more recent triple A games. Any really awesome guns lately?

    So how do what makes a good bolter?
    1. muzzle flash/effects - Surprisingly I think the muzzle flash is less important. A decent sized and formed flash is enough.
    2. weapon component animation - A bolter is stoic weapon not many moving parts. Here the most important factor is the oversized bolt that should move visibly and of course absurdly large bullet cases tumbling out of the gun. (A bolter case does not spring or fly. it's to heavy for that)
    3. impact effects - one half ot the heart of a good bolter experience is impact. like described in the article. The (by GW writers) beloved blood mist should be quintessential when hitting soft targets. armour or concrete should send out clouds of dust and sparks. you can't have to much. But the aftermath of a bolter fight should look the part as well. Large decals with burn marks, craters on the wall and ground.
    4. target reaction - This is tricky as you need to balance the gameplay with the weapon feel. But a boltgun should throw away lighter targets and even other space marines should be forced into shock or an impacted state until the can muster the strength to fight or flee.
    5. recoil - here it depends on who is carrying the weapon. for a sergeant of the guard a bolter should be a monster that needs all his er and strength.
    For a space marine it should be part of his body. as such a space marine should not have too much of a recoil and reflect their stoic super human nature.
    6. crosshair animation - same as above. also the crosshair should have not to much extras. a simple effective weapon. nothing to fancy
    7. bullet trail - more important than for most weapons. it reflects the rocket propelled nature of its ammunition and can be spiced up with different stages of the trail. The part when the rocket motor starts for example.
    8. rumble effects - basically mimicking the sound.
    9. Sound - The other half of the heart. A boltgun is a deep heavy garand not a minigun of some kind. The most important part is the fa-shump. The firing of the bullet itself then the starting of the rocket motor. I think the stalker bolter from relics space marine is very close to how I imagine a bolter shot.
    10. uniqueness in the arsenal - well there are way to many different bolter variations but compared to the puny lasrifles or the arcane plasma guns its has clear place in the 40k lore and feel. As should it have in a 40k game.

    I hope this makes sense and now i want to create a bolter prototype...
  1. BaaBaa says:

    So no then?

  2. Beefenstein says:

    “…they’d regularly end up either missing their shots or looking at me forlornly like giant clompy babies…”

    Giant Clompy Babies return with their new hit single, “Imaginary Space Guns”.

  3. DasBilligeAlien says:

    So much of the oomph of vidja game weapons is part of the sound. When i lost my hearing game weapons that felt awesome before kind of lost their magic. I am not sure how to replicate that purly with visual and rumble effect.
    I regained some of that hearing again but I am used to play without sound now. It’s interesting how much less fun overwatch is for hearing impaired.

    So what makes good weapon feel?

    I would say:
    1. muzzle flash/effects – needs to be fast enough and appropriate for the weapon. Sometimes you want the weapon to feel elegant not powerful. Like the walter ppk with silencer from goldeneye.
    2. weapon component animation – A good example is the flak gun from unreal tournament. Shooting sets of a range of motions the includes recoil dampers and a reloading mechanism. You can see the state of the weapon alone by its animations.
    3. impact effects – sparks, dirt, water splashes, blood, flickering shields. Often is see powerful weapons that have the same impact effects then much weaker weapons. That contrast is important. Vanquish is an awesome example here.
    4. target reaction – Same problem as above. But a very different part in the game making process. Again contrast is king and it also helps to define the capabilities of enemies. Shooting your assault rifle in to unarmoured mercenaries should look different then hitting a dude in power armour in same game. The division is a game which has that problem.
    5. recoil – Mostly the correlation between weapon animation and actual precision/bullet spread. I am not sure how much a game needs to fail in this regard, to destroy a good weapon. And as its so obvious that most devs get it at least okish.
    6. cross hair animation – not just change from recoil but also target lock, ammo or weapon state. there is a lot one can do with a nice crosshair and of course it should fit the weapon type. Again halo is a great exemple.
    7. bullet trail – not the easiest to balance, it gets too much very fast, but its super powerful when used to highlight a weapons cadence and precision. My favourite examples are the needler and the sniper rifle from halo.
    8. rumble effects – more relevant to consoleros but i really love a good rumble effect. an with the impressively precise rumble motors in the switch joy cons, one could make for some incredible weapon feel.
    9. Sound – I still think the most important part of making a good gun. Rumble is a good replacement for it for the hearing impaired or deaf. Especially for lower frequencies. But for higher frequencies it’s much harder to use as it feels unnatural. could still work.
    10. uniqueness in the arsenal – if your game has to many similar weapons it’s hard to make them stand out. Not only the high and low points of all the values are filled but everything in between as well. That is super hard to balance when making games with a gazillion guns.

    It shows that i haven’t played many of the more recent triple A games. Any really awesome guns lately?

    So how do what makes a good bolter?
    1. muzzle flash/effects – Surprisingly I think the muzzle flash is less important. A decent sized and formed flash is enough.
    2. weapon component animation – A bolter is stoic weapon not many moving parts. Here the most important factor is the oversized bolt that should move visibly and of course absurdly large bullet cases tumbling out of the gun. (A bolter case does not spring or fly. it’s to heavy for that)
    3. impact effects – one half ot the heart of a good bolter experience is impact. like described in the article. The (by GW writers) beloved blood mist should be quintessential when hitting soft targets. armour or concrete should send out clouds of dust and sparks. you can’t have to much. But the aftermath of a bolter fight should look the part as well. Large decals with burn marks, craters on the wall and ground.
    4. target reaction – This is tricky as you need to balance the gameplay with the weapon feel. But a boltgun should throw away lighter targets and even other space marines should be forced into shock or an impacted state until the can muster the strength to fight or flee.
    5. recoil – here it depends on who is carrying the weapon. for a sergeant of the guard a bolter should be a monster that needs all his er and strength.
    For a space marine it should be part of his body. as such a space marine should not have too much of a recoil and reflect their stoic super human nature.
    6. crosshair animation – same as above. also the crosshair should have not to much extras. a simple effective weapon. nothing to fancy
    7. bullet trail – more important than for most weapons. it reflects the rocket propelled nature of its ammunition and can be spiced up with different stages of the trail. The part when the rocket motor starts for example.
    8. rumble effects – basically mimicking the sound.
    9. Sound – The other half of the heart. A boltgun is a deep heavy garand not a minigun of some kind. The most important part is the fa-shump. The firing of the bullet itself then the starting of the rocket motor. I think the stalker bolter from relics space marine is very close to how I imagine a bolter shot.
    10. uniqueness in the arsenal – well there are way to many different bolter variations but compared to the puny lasrifles or the arcane plasma guns its has clear place in the 40k lore and feel. As should it have in a 40k game.

    I hope this makes sense and now i want to create a bolter prototype…

    • Panther_Modern says:

      This is super interesting. On the note of recoil I think a huge part (which CoD got right) is that recoil should feel like a series of small explosions each jolting the gun around forcefully unlike say Planetside 2 where it felt like a hose with the spray turned on the wide setting and bullets flying around inside a larger area or counterstrike where it follows some arbitrary pattern

      • DasBilligeAlien says:

        Sorry for the late reply.

        Yes, absolutly! But that experience changes drastically from gun to gun. Like the needler gun from halo has small tiny shakes for every shot, it’s basically vibrating. But with the shotgun every shot is a huge explosion.
        The hard part i think are energy weapons. With many recoil doesn’t make much sense. Something like a Star Trek phaser for example.
        I think balancing a good weapon feel and the weapon characteristics is a difficult task.

    • icarussc says:

      Yes, it makes sense. I recommend you get right to work on your game — I’ll buy it!

      • DasBilligeAlien says:

        Many thanks! Thats very kind. But i dont htink I have the time/energy to make a full game currently. I will make a bolter prototype though. Something like a shooting gallery for testing my idea how a bolter should feel.

    • Premium User Badge

      alison says:

      I’m not entirely sure why I clicked on this article because I have no interest in the game, but this was a very interesting comment. Cheers.

      • DasBilligeAlien says:

        Many thanks! Like you I was not really interested in the game (I am more interested in the developer) and then this happened.

    • BadCatWillum says:

      Get Michael Manning (@_MGFM_) to do the weapon SFX on your WH40K game. He did (some) of the well-regarded sound effects on The Signal From Tölva.

      • DasBilligeAlien says:

        Thanks for the recommendation I will ask him. But I am not sure if this will turn into a game (also a 40k license gots some bucks I asume). More like a testbed for making a good feeling botlgun. But you never know, maybe it will turn into something bigger.

  4. buzzmong says:

    I actually genuinely don’t understand what they’ve been doing for a year.

    Big plus for the performance fixes, and the new art is good, but after performance, the biggest complaints were the combat and stupid AI. Neither are fixed.

    They decided to add a really bland and boring mostly cosmetic unlock system and also left the weapons still class locked for the most part too.

    If they’d have fixed combat, chucked in a few new weapons and simply allowed a lot more player freedom in choices of them, it would be a much better game.

    Bit surprising as they can come up with good ideas when needed as evidenced by E.Y.E.

    Also @RPS, are you seriously not commenting on the rather questionable behaviour of releasing this update as a “new game” on Steam rather than as an update, so as to get around the existing negative reviews?

  5. HotFightingHistory says:

    I played both the original and then fired up this Enhanced version, and the best thing I can say about it is this: WH40k:Space Marine is still WAY more entertaining. The opening cutscene is freakin awesome tho, which makes the non-existent intro even more terrible to be honest. This game REALLY sucks…. and I love 40k and was very much trying to like the game. I really, really tried.

  6. satan says:

    Got me wanting to play Dawn of War 2 for the umpteenth time.

  7. DudeshootMankill says:

    Guys i can totally recommend Space Beast Terror Fright for some claustrophobic alien shooting in the spirit of space hulk.

  8. Jamerth says:

    Now this game is much better in several ways, unless you have a great blindness.
    Sorry but I don’t understand the strange and empty criticisms that are made of this game, could say exactly the same of 80% of the current games whatever your success and your dev team.
    Of course can be improved / balanced in many things and especially
    add more content (campaign, maps, special missions …)

    I’m not fan of Warhammer universe but I love both games, Vermintide and Space Hulk Deathwing with its virtues and defects.

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