Cool aesthetics can’t save this co-op shooter from boring gameplay.
Left 4 Dead-esque co-op shooters with endless waves of enemies and escalating stakes always intrigued me. It also doesn’t hurt that the last Warhammer game to pull of the formula and throw in loot-grinding, different classes and other nifty mechanics was Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Expectations for the oft-delayed Space Hulk Deathwing were somewhat high. Sure it may not “wow” but solid gameplay and shooting should be enough, right?
"Melee kills don’t feel nearly as satisfying as tearing through entire waves with a shotgun or assault cannon but the combat is still the strongest part of the game."
Well, despite the feel of the shooting being on point, Space Hulk Deathwing is exceedingly clunky, unwieldy, annoying when it’s not outright frustrating and at times pretty boring. The presence of the Warhammer 40K license which lends to the imposing cathedrals, hulking nights and bleak star-ships of yore somewhat redeems it but this can only go so far.
As a Librarian of the Dark Angels, a company of the Space Marines, you and two other squad-mates are tasked with entering a Space Hulk – an incredibly over-sized oddity of a ship – and retrieving some special McGuffin within. Lest you think that’s too easy for a heavily armoured warrior such as yourself, there are Tyranid Genestealers with.
You have a variety of weapons and Immaterium, essentially magic spells like fire, to use against the Genestealers. If the Storm Bolter isn’t cutting, move in with a sword and slice your enemies apart. Melee kills don’t feel nearly as satisfying as tearing through entire waves with a shotgun or assault cannon but the combat is still the strongest part of the game. At the very least, in a first person shooter, the shooting is on point throughout.
"Trudging along as a super-powered, heavily armoured killing machine in a fantastical universe with terrifying foes should feel more special than this. And unfortunately, most times, it just doesn’t."
Anytime you need to revive team-mates, heal yourself or change weapons, you need to use a Psygate and return to your ship. The limited number of times this can be done is a little off-putting. While it heightens the importance of each trip, it’s no fun to find yourself with the wrong weapon or on low health with no Psygate trips remaining. Furthermore, you could find yourself on the edge of death before a major battle and have no other option but to restart the level. A joke could be made about extending the game’s playtime with this practice but it would be neither funny nor appropriate. At the very least it would be nice to be able to swap load-outs mid-mission or pick up new weapons.
The other problem with Deathwing is just the sheer number of things you can do…or can’t do rather. Each level is a slow romp through hallways, murdering Genestealers – which show little variety in the beginning but gradually switch things up as you progress – and pulling switches. The mission objectives are all about killing enemies, there are no secrets or different approaches to missions and every single mission just plays the same.
It would be one thing if, like Left 4 Dead, you had a variety of different challenges to deal with, cooperating with your team and not knowing what lies around each corner (not to mention the overall pacing and level design). Trudging along as a super-powered, heavily armoured killing machine in a fantastical universe with terrifying foes should feel more special than this. And unfortunately, most times, it just doesn’t.
"Though it didn’t crash as frequently for me as others, there were times I’ve been unceremoniously dumped back to the desktop."
That’s not including other problems with the experience like the dumb-as-doorknobs AI that either can’t use their abilities properly or idle about in one spot, dying continuously. Even if you decide to go it alone, you’ll face overwhelming odds without these meat-bags to at least soak up some damage. In this case, co-op alleviates much of the frustration but then your friends will be forced to suffer through the dreary gameplay as well.
Despite some decent performance at times, Space Hulk Deathwing also has problems with stability. Though it didn’t crash as frequently for me as others, there were times I’ve been unceremoniously dumped back to the desktop. Disconnects and the like are nothing new for multiplayer games but encountering such crashes when playing the campaign is just insufferable.
The work that developer Streum on studio put into the visuals is abundantly clear. Despite not being a Warhammer aficionado, I was immediately impressed by the grim, medieval-meets-mecha sci-fi and the deathly atmosphere that envelope the Deathwing. It’s just a shame that not much has been done with this imaginative setting.
"Some things just aren’t meant to be though and Space Hulk Deathwing is more or less dead on arrival."
The voice acting and music are domineering, fitting the tone of the universe well without really standing out. It’s nothing exemplary but it gets the job done while immersing you in the universe.
However, there are a bunch of other elements that Space Hulk Deathwing should have worked out before release. Technical issues like AI, crashes and limited Psygate returns can be fixed with patches. The underlying fundamentals of the gameplay, from the repetitive combat and objectives to the utter lack of variety, are more deep-rooted and it’s doubtful whether the developer can fix them without overhauling the game altogether.
Space Hulk Deathwing should have done for Warhammer 40K in the co-op shooter space what Vermintide did for the End Times. It should have ushered in an era of guns and glory, sci-fi Left 4 Dead-style action and fun set-pieces. Some things just aren’t meant to be though and unless the developer makes some major changes, Space Hulk Deathwing is more or less dead on arrival.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Strong aesthetic that faithfully captures the Warhammer 40K universe. Decent voice acting. Overall combat is good with strong shooting throughout. Co-op with actual players definitely works better than solo.
Shoddy AI teammates. Boring missions and objective design. Extremely linear and no real exploration or variety. Psygate system leads to frustration, especially with limited uses. Stability issues lead to crashes.
Like Left 4 Dead without the undead heart or Vermintide without the variety and hooks, Space Hulk Deathwing will satisfy only the most die-hard of Warhammer 40K fans. And even then they shouldn't expect much.