There’s no shortage of XCOM clones these days, but to say that’s all Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is would be to write it off prematurely. Battlesector comes with one thing that others do not, the fantastic worldbuilding of Games Workshop and its thirty-odd year attention to the lore.
The game also benefits from an impressive development team. Black Lab Games, most famous for the excellent Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, know how to make turn-based work and the slow motion action works just as well here as in their space battles. Plus, it’s published by Slitherine, so you know this game will receive all the support it needs, well into the future.
Battlesector exists as a hybrid between the standard XCOM gameplay, and what you’d find from a tabletop game of 40k. Each side takes it in turns to move, attack, and complete various objectives while progressing through the missions. There’s also plenty of opportunity to fine tune your forces and choose the army composition you want.
The story begins in the aftermath of the Hive Fleet Leviathan’s defeat on the Blood Angels’ homeworld of Baal. You take on the role of Assault Marine Sergeant Carleon and must fight through missions, gathering support and upgrading your forces as you cleanse Baal Secundus of leftover Tyranids.
One distinctive mechanic is the use of a Momentum bar. Unit Momentum is gained by killing enemies and using abilities, and with the Blood Angels, each percentage increases the chance of critical hits by a small amount. At one hundred percent, a unit can spend it to Empower or Surge, the first boosting an ability, and the latter granting an extra Action point allowing for an extra attack.
Momentum, as the name implies, requires constant movement and aggression. If you want to benefit from the perks, keep pushing at the enemy. As individual units gain Momentum, dies, or completes a secondary objective, you also earn Command Points. These go up slowly but Carleon can spend them on powerful off-map attacks unlocked through his skill tree.
Each of the main HQ heroes you unlock during the game have skill trees, each focused on buffing or upgrading different units with new weapons or abilities. You can access these HQ Upgrades between missions and use Tokens earned in battle to level up. These Tokens are held in a pool and can be spent on any HQ unit, meaning there are often tough choices to be made between what you want and what you need.
The rest of the battles will feel familiar to players of turn-based tactics on the tabletop, up to and including the deployment and point limits. I’d say the combat feels genuinely smooth, with nothing jumping out as game-breaking. Even the RNG seems decent… yes, with some shots missing, but most units firing multiple times meaning that I never ended up cursing out my computer.
The battles can be quite long, and the enemy turn time occasionally pushed the limits of my patience, but they do a good job of making you feel like there are endless waves of enemies approaching. The overall size of the maps strikes an outstanding balance as well, with it taking a while to reach an objective, but never leaving you to feel bored.
A lot of combat revolves around ensuring you have the right sightlines and Overwatch set up to deal with the waves and the way the game handles this creatively. A smallish circle of awareness surrounds units with a larger cone in the direction they face, with facing being a free action you can take at any point, as many times you like, until you click End Turn.
This brings us to the UI. Moving, shooting, and using abilities is fluid and they show the details in an easy-to-understand way. You can even cancel Overwatch at no cost if you make a mistake or decide to use your AP for something else. It’s a very refreshing change of pace from games that penalise you for the slightest misclick.
Battlesector’s visuals stand out to me, but that may be because of the serious nostalgia trip I get from the well-executed style taken straight out of the grimdark far future of the tabletop design. I even noticed some scatter terrain spikes from the old Gorkamorka box set.
The combat effects are also really nice, with the heavily excessive feel that you’d expect from 40k. There is a slight issue with certain objects not blocking shots, but mostly the barrage of bolter fire just looks glorious while the plasma looks bright and deadly.
Overall, the combat animations are very gory and very 40k. It’s not hyper-realistic gore, just a lot of bodies. Blood for the Blood God, and all that. I’ll also mention one of my favourite features - you can move the camera during the AI turn and focus on areas you’re interested in rather than being jerked around between units… if you want.
Audio & Music
The audio effects are a bit of a mixed bag, with certain weapons like Chainswords sounding like sputtering lawnmowers instead of the brutal weapons they are. With that said, most of the sound work is fantastic, with the gunfire feeling suitably weighty. This is even more apparent if you click through your units fast enough and get multiple firing at once.
The music is also good and in the dozen or so hours I’ve played so far; I haven’t once felt my usual desire to mute it in the settings.
Overall, the sound design is excellent, and I’d like to put in a special mention for those who did the voiceover work. The skippable cutscenes and mission briefings, while long, are accomplished well and flesh out the various HQ characters and the world they inhabit.
The AI performs in much the same way as expected for a strategy title of this type. The enemy moves into range and attacks, with certain units using abilities that debuff your squads. Larger monsters seem to have less in the way of abilities but when they do use them, they lean more on the extreme damage side of things.
As you are facing the Tyranid hives, expect lots of melee and plenty of straight charges from swarms of smaller units, and although they gain a Swarm buff when nearby others, don’t expect them to act much smarter because of it. They will attack your units in a haphazard fashion, often ignoring heroes or weakened targets in favour of less valuable ones.
Difficulty settings appear to have little effect on the AI itself, instead focusing on applying buffs to the Tyranids and debuffs to the player. However, this can all be customised in the campaign options at the start of a new game and there is an option for ‘Enemy AI Difficulty’ with increases on the very highest preset.
Mutliplayer games come in the form of skirmishes between the Space Marines you play as in the campaign, and the Tyranids you play against. Yes, this gives you the opportunity to play as the Hive and swarm your enemies, which can be remarkably satisfying.
The game performs well with no crashes or major issues at all. The only thing I noticed during my games were two or three animation delays lasting a few seconds at a time. Loading times were also barely present.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Dreadnoughts! Okay, so that doesn’t say much but every time they wade into combat or open up with their Storm Bolters, I just love it.
WARHAMMER 40,000: BATTLESECTOR VERDICT
If you like your battles tactical then this is a great game to sink you teeth into. The campaign escalates nicely and does a good job of selling the desperation of your mission. Being able to easily switch out your units and play around with army composition is also a really nice touch that means you don’t end up locked into a single playstyle.
Campaign re-playability is somewhat lacking but the skirmish mode gives you the chance to play against friends so there is that. Considering how many new campaigns and modes were added to Deadlock over the years, we can probably expect some expansions in the future.
A polished tactical game
Aesthetic feels remarkably tabletop
Great voiceover work
Space Marines Vs. Tyranids!
Likely lacks a lot of re-playability
Can't compare weapon stats on Upgrade screen
About Matthew Ralphson
Matthew cut his teeth on Age of Empires and never looked back. He misses the times when games still came in boxes...