The Warhammer 40,000 universe has huge untapped potential for interesting stories and compelling narratives, especially when it comes to the strategy and tactics games set in this future war torn world. With Battlesector, the developers at Black Lab Games and publishers at Slitherine are attempting to marry the narrative core with the enticing tactical gameplay.
Battlesector feels like playing a really good virtual adaptation of the Warhammer 40K tabletop miniatures wargame. Players will have control of a number of single-entity units, characters, and squads with the goal of completing mission-specific objectives in a turn-based grid format. Unlike in the miniatures game where story is only secondary to gameplay and the beautifully painted figurines themselves, Battlesector puts story on par with the tactical gameplay. Though the preview build only showed two disconnected missions, the emphasis on narrative in Battlesector is quite apparent.
Black Lab Games have certainly laid a promising foundation for Battlesector, with the two main highlights being the complex tactical gameplay and presentation. If the developers can enhance and build off of these two elements then they can truly make a compelling and exemplary Warhammer 40K game.
The dev team’s track record of working on licences like Battlestar Galactica serves them well for tapping into Warhammer’s deep well of lore for compelling tactical design. The main standouts for Battlesector’s tactical missions are the large unit variety, vast array of active abilities, and large open maps.
Though only a small portion of the army rosters of both the swarm-like Tyranids and the power armoured Blood Angels Space Marines were present in my preview, the unit roles were distinct and capabilities varied. The great number of unit and player active abilities adds further tactical options and defines each faction’s playstyle. These abilities can range from unit buffs and active weapon systems to a command point feature where players can order off-map support abilities.
One new addition to Warhammer’s tactical landscape is the introduction of the Momentum system. Units will earn momentum points for defeating enemy units. It essentially works as a levelling system for units. Where the value of Momentum really shines is in the moment a unit levels up as players will have to make a choice to give a unit either a strategic persistent upgrade or a short-term tactical boost. These conundrums will pervade every mission, all the while adding interesting and important dilemmas even while in battle and more so add a personal touch to each unit throughout Battlesector’s campaign.
The tactical complexity of varied unit rosters and abilities would be nothing without a battlefield to play in. What immediately struck me was how large and open the mission maps were, giving plenty of space for maneuver warfare with fast moving units and varied formations and approaches. Not only that, but this makes situational awareness and good scouting all the more important for effective tactics.
Alongside the good tactical gameplay, the developer’s attention to excellent narrative presentation spills over into Battlesector. While the preview didn’t give a sense of the story, the excellent voice acting, dialogue, and writing was immediately apparent. This is likely the facet where the game could find the most success, exploring the normally stilted zealous and steel-faced Space Marines and giving them legitimate personalities and character development.
Battlesector is not without its issues, however. There are of course some technical issues, such as stiff or odd animations and awkward camera behavior, as well as UI issues like small font or oversized elements, though I’m confident the developers will clear these things up by launch.
However, some of Battlesector’s more notable issues center around its mission pacing, balancing, and the oversaturated faction choice and genre. It may be a difficulty setting issue or possibly the maps being a bit too big, but I found myself waiting around in noticeable stretches for the sparse and spread out Tyranid forces to finally reach me. When they did, it was quite stunning how absurdly strong the Space Marines are compared to the Tyranids. If not addressed, these issues will undermine the game’s high quality tactical design by making the experience uneven and taking away any challenge, which can also become a big problem in the promised multiplayer mode.
The most prominent issue for Battlesector is its tired choice of factions and presence in an oversaturated tactics game market. Yet again, players will fill the armored boots of the Space Marines facing yet another threat to humanity for the umpteenth time. From a narrative and even a tactical design perspective, this exhausting repetition of supersoldier protagonists undermines any potential for innovation, as the game simply retreads old ground. While a good story and excellent writing can alleviate such a cliche choice, it still betrays the expansiveness and depth the Warhammer 40K universe has.
In parallel, tactics games are an extremely common sight for games set in the Warhammer world and there are surely many more on the way. Battlesector raises the question: where are the large-scale strategy and grand strategy games? At this point it seems there’s an obsession with making Warhammer games primarily as tactics games, which will make it increasingly difficult for games like Battlesector to stand out.
For all its faults, Battlesector does look like it will at least be a solid turn-based tactics game, which feels very much like a Starship Troopers game, given the factions. Coincidentally, Slitherine has a real-time Starship Troopers strategy game releasing some time this year. It remains to be seen whether Black Lab Games can deliver an exceptional story to solidify Battlesector’s place amongst the high-quality Warhammer 40K games, but at the moment the solid tactical gameplay doesn’t quite make the game exceptional.
A Steam key was provided by PR for the purposes of this preview.
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