As the freshly appointed commander of the Baleful Edict, I am in charge of a limited roster of Grey Knights and a battlecruiser in dire need of repairs. As I plot my course back to Titan, for some much-needed respite, the ship gets commandeered by one Inquisitor Kartha Vakir. She needs its resources for her investigation of the Bloom, a new and insidious plague of Nurgle that threatens the Tyrtaeus sector.
It’s safe to say that Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters doesn’t put you in the best of starting positions, but persevering through its campaign against the Plague God is certainly worth it. There are plenty of daemons and Death Guard to kill, warp storms to brave, mastercrafted gear to obtain, and ever-flaring tensions between the inquisitor and the Grey Knights leadership to manage. Duty does, indeed, only end in death.
Daemonhunters’ splits its gameplay between a strategic and a tactical layer, both of which play important roles in your efforts to combat the Bloom. Although the former isn’t necessarily deep, it has enough parts that anchor you in the universe’s grimdark atmosphere.
Using its Star Map, you can see the entirety of the Tyrtaeus sector and the pathways used to navigate it, but also control the passage of in-game time. The serene light blue of uncorrupted planets gets progressively replaced by different colors, as various strains of The Bloom take hold. Missions reliably pop up after a number of days pass and you’ll want to complete as many as possible, reducing the spread of the plague.
A well-thrown grenade makes for one explosive opener
You can see the level of corruption at a glance alongside any warp storms you might have to fly through and the movements of Death Guard fleets. Encountering these or simply passing time triggers text events that require you to pick from several available decisions. The effects of your choices can vary, from gaining valuable Requisition or a morale boost for your troops to having wounded Knights and disabled systems on the ship for a number of days.
While the Strategium lets you review the status of your Grey Knights and their gear, the Manufactorum is where you can improve different aspects of the battlecruiser. You do so by consuming Servitors, one of a few resources obtainable primarily from successfully completing missions.
These upgrades let you expand the size of your barracks, allowing you to have more Grey Knights at the ready, reduce the time it takes to heal wounds, enable you to pass through Warp Storms unaffected once you unlock the Geller Field, or grant access to Prognosticars. The latter are a valuable strategic tool that, once assigned to a planet, gives you more time to reach missions in an area of the map, reveals the enemy types you’ll encounter, and slows down the Bloom’s effects in battle.
In addition, Inquisitor Vakir’s research aids you in the fight against the plague by reducing its effects while on the ground, unlocking Stratagems - powerful one-use abilities that can turn the tide of a battle - and pushing forward the main story.
While on board the Baleful Edict, you can also talk to important figures like Brother Ectar or Inquisitor Vakir
The last bit of the strategic layer is the Planet View, where you get a clear look at the expected effects of the Bloom in combat, the enemies you’ll face, as well as the rewards you can obtain when the Steward of the Armoury offers his support for your efforts.
When selecting missions, you need to take into account both the potential rewards and the distance you must travel. The former can see your barracks and armory bolstered with additional Grey Knights belonging to random classes as well as mastercrafted weapons that make your warriors more effective in battle.
Ship upgrades allow you to sometimes reach two missions in time to stop the plague from progressing, but there’s no way to completely halt it. This turns the campaign into a bit of a race against time, given how when a planet reaches maximum corruption, a flowering event is set in motion. If you don’t stop it by completing a fairly challenging mission, it brings the universe closer to the doomsday event you’re desperately trying to avoid.
And yet, while I did feel the need to always weigh my decisions, on Standard difficulty, I was nowhere close to losing the game. A number of planets did fully succumb to certain Bloom strains, with others being close to fully corrupted, but the pressure you feel isn’t immediately tangible. It’s more of a slow-moving presence that you’re, nonetheless, constantly aware of.
Burn the heretic (especially if he's into unauthorized interplanetary gardening)
Before each mission, you can select your squad’s composition, loadout, and – if you’re chasing additional Requisition to spend on rewards – its associated Glorious Deed, which adds a risk/reward element through optional bonus objectives. Not only can they limit the arsenal you can use, but failure also costs you some of your existing Requisition reserves.
After leaving the relative comfort of the Baleful Edict, you arrive on the field of battle, where Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters shines the most. The clarity of its UI and reliance on precision stand out immediately. With the exception of a few abilities, you always know how much damage you’re about to deal prior to striking.
You also know how many action points you have left even before committing to an action, and can opt to move, attack, and use most abilities (with the exception of overwatch) in any order. This grants a lot of flexibility when you’re planning attacks and enough tools to find the best way to respond to different combat situations.
Mixing and matching Daemonhunters’ available classes and loadouts means you can experiment as you specialize your four-man squad to suit your playstyle. I was quite fond of a balanced approach, with an Apothecary that could heal or a Chaplain that provided passive buffs while dishing out a healthy amount of damage with his Crozius Arcanum.
My Purgator was a ranged solution to all problems, able to enhance its main attack to hit enemies in an area using his limited Willpower pool. Sometimes, this was enough to satisfyingly eliminate multiple opponents in a devastating hail of psychically-infused cannon fire.
Slashing off limbs is one of the most satisfying things you get to do in Daemonhunters
But by far my favorite method of dispatching opponents involved pairing a Justicar – capable melee fighter able to grant fellow Knights additional action points with the proper upgrade – and an Interceptor, who could not only teleport across the battlefield but also use Teleport Strike to damage multiple opponents as he closes the distance.
While this mobility comes at a cost of not being able to wear Terminator armor, it was my go-to weapon both in terms of focusing down bigger enemies and eliminating entire packs of smaller foes. Daemonhunters does reward playing aggressively and having to rely less on defensive abilities and overwatch is a welcome breath of fresh air.
There are other ways to go about things, though, as you can also grab a Paladin for additional defense, or specialize your Apothecary to debuff opponents while leaving all healing to Stratagems and handy Servo Skulls. There is some skill overlap between classes, but all of them have something that makes them stand out.
Although no single item grants bonuses that drastically change how your character plays, having extra hitpoints or willpower to enhance attacks can make a notable difference, so you will want to chase and upgrade mastercrated gear.
Drawing blood from afar before moving in to draw blood from up close
Plague Marines and weak corrupted humans are the cannon fodder of the early game but, as corruption levels increase throughout the sector, you’ll fight fearsome Helbrutes, Champions of the Death Guard, Chaos Terminators, and even bigger threats.
The enemy variety doesn’t entirely safeguard from repetition, as the path to the mid-game was a bit tedious with only a handful of enemies to face. But once things open up, you’ll have to learn different abilities and prioritize certain targets over others. That is, unless you go up close and use Precision Strikes to fully disable their deadly weapons and abilities by slashing off limbs.
Daemonhunters’ difficulty doesn’t stem just from its big enemies and overwhelming numbers. The different Bloom strains – whose effects are triggered when the constantly rising Warp Surge meter inevitably fills – can throw a curveball your way at some of the worst moments. Enemies receiving additional armor or having your Knights’ healing abilities rendered useless for three turns can actually see a squad that’s caught in a prolonged battle fall quite easily.
Daemonhunters’ limited set of objectives revolves around eliminating opponents. Whether you’re out to murder plants or extract seeds from designated enemies, you’ll fight non-essential packs on the way to your target which, at times, can make some missions feel a bit too long.
Moving the camera closer to the action when you perform certain attacks is a welcome cinematic flourish
I would have liked to see more variety in terms of objectives, even if a few of the game’s more special encounters do pit you against a couple of awesome, unique enemies. But there was enough going on in its tactical layer to keep me engaged when killing mutated daemons and Death Guard for the 45+ hours I spent with the game.
I fought across industrial docks, war-torn battlefields, the outskirts of a hive city, and other locations. Excellent use of colors and lighting really brings ravaged fields and imperial cathedrals covered in unholy muck to life. When I previewed the game, I noted that it looked a little too cartoonish. Playing the full version, I did warm up to its visual style. However, a handful of its characters and some of their animations do still look a little too goofy for my taste.
There are also a number of other imperfections. Two fairly important cutscenes were unfinished in the review build, speeding through their dialogue before I could grasp what was happening. On occasion, friendly combat animations would speed up out of the blue.
The biggest issue I encountered revolved around savegames failing to load. In one instance, the autosave and one save slot were compromised until I completed one pesky mission. The other two or three times this happened, restarting the game was enough to get past these obstacles. But even if they occurred rarely, realizing you have to restart missions because your midway save breaks is far from ideal.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1080p, Daemonhunters’ performance varied from map to map. On a good number of them, getting 60 FPS with maximum details was achievable but others – particularly the more crowded ones – jumped between 40 and 60 FPS.
Not a lot here, aside from the ability to turn cinematic subtitles on and off, unfortunately.
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters is currently available to pre-order via Fanatical for £33.74/$42.49.
WARHAMMER 40,000: CHAOS GATE - DAEMONHUNTERS VERDICT
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters’ focus on clarity and aggressiveness allows for a calculated, more active approach to its tactical battles. A varied enemy roster that consistently outnumbers you coupled with the Bloom’s effects make each fight feel like a battle against the odds. This feeling extends to the campaign as a whole, your barracks consistently housing Knights recovering from their wounds earned in painstakingly won battles.
You’ll need to use abilities creatively to compensate for your smaller numbers, even if the Grey Knights you control are walking tanks you’ll slowly grow to recognize them thanks to their detailed customizable armors and powerful abilities. The plague trades outright ruthlessness for a steady advance across the sector, asking you to always weigh a mission’s rewards against the affected planets’ corruption levels.
Even when you do get a sense of the rhythm of its battles, there’s always something to keep you on your toes, making Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters well worth giving a shot if you’re a turn-based tactics fan.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Using my fully leveled Interceptor to decimate a pack of enemies with one single Teleport Strike.
Clear, precise UI, with the exception of the level-up screen
No random miss chances; if you can hit an enemy, it'll feel it
Varied roster of enemies and playable classes
Smart use of abilities can win battles when the odds are clearly stacked against you, which feels great
Bloom effects keep you on your toes while in battle
Looks great most of the time
Limited set of main objectives
A few savegames would not load in the review build
Fights become a bit repetitive prior to reaching the mid-game