For years I’ve been a big fan of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 table top miniatures. Since 1987, 40k has been a fan-favourite, set in a dystopian future with a galaxy engulfed in perpetual war. Though the lore started humbly, it has been expanded monumentally since its inception, with the violent and gritty world being explored in a variety of ways. First there were spin-offs, but eventually books and video-games appeared, proving the true depth of the story they created. The most famous was the RTS series Dawn of War; a game which I spent many of my teenage years playing and which spawned a successful series of expansions and a sequel.
One of the first spin-off games of the series was the critically acclaimed Space Hulk, which told the story of a group of Space Marine Terminators; genetically mutated Humans in massive power armour, exploring a derelict space-ship infested by vicious alien beings. Following its massive success a variety of video-game adaptations were released; the first in 1993, another in 1995/1996, and the most recent in 2013. The first few were well-received for what they were; faithful recreations of the board game, but the most recent was criticised for that very reason.
However, from the same developer comes Space Hulk: Ascension. An expanded version of the 2013 release, it adds a variety of new features and changes to spice things up, but is it the fresh take which fans have been crying out for?
The first thing you need to know about Space Hulk is that it is very much still the board game. As in the original, it’s painfully faithful to the source material, from the mechanics to the character and environment design. you play as a small group of Terminators slowly exploring the derelict ship and fighting off endless hordes of Genestealers. It’s turn-based, as you strive to reach a variety of objectives. Each marine has a certain amount of moves per turn, and these are used for all actions; moving, firing, going into overwatch, even turning, and it’s the fact that you have to consider all of these actions separately which makes the game so interesting. It’s a simple affair, but you need to have every angle covered at every moment, as one break in your defences will leave your entire squad vulnerable. There’s as much space management as there is combat, and every single turn must be perfect and considered if you have any chance of a full evacuation at the end of the mission.
However, this is where the similarities between this version and the pre-existing 2013 version stop. The 2013 version, essentially the same game, was criticised heavily for its lack of content, rigid adherence to the board game and general lack of polish. In all of these areas, Ascension is a completely different beast.
Firstly, they have addressed the lack of content. Rather than being stuck with constantly playing the generic Blood Angel Space Marines, you can now choose from three separate campaigns. The Space Wolves and Ultramarines make an appearance, with differences between the three teams aplenty. There are over 100 missions to take on between these chapters and new enemies to encounter within them. The generic nature of the enemies was a severe weakness in the original, stemming from the board-game, so it’s good to see that expansion to the gameplay. It’s also very difficult, so those 100 missions will last a long while.
Secondly, the actual mechanics have been completely reworked. Whilst the basic idea is still intact, new elements have been added alongside them, most notably extensive character customisation options. I’m also impressed when I can add my own personality to my squad, so this is a welcome addition, as are the RPG-light elements. You can upgrade your squad’s abilities and weapons throughout, taking different combinations of soldiers to augment your play-style. Each chapter has different options, with the Space Wolves focusing on Melee and the Ultramarines preferring a ranged style, and it makes you switch up your tactics considerably.
Finally, there is a much higher level of quality to be seen throughout the game. It feels like a full video-game experience rather than a simple port of a board-game. It’s notable that they made the choice to make the whole thing much darker, which I feel is more fitting to the source material. There is a real sense of anxiety and fear in fighting the horde which wasn’t present beforehand, and which is really what Space Hulk has always been about.
On the flipside however, I also have some issues with the title. Firstly, the graphics, whilst improved, are still rather jagged. I would have liked some more detail in terms of the textures, but luckily the stylised 40k aesthetic helps some of the issues. The audio also leaves much to be desired, as although it accurately reflects the atmosphere they want to portray, it feels far too simplistic, with guns not sounding anywhere near as punchy as they need to.
My biggest issue with Ascension is the pricing, and the sheer fact they released this as a full title. Sure, it’s great for those who didn’t own the original version like myself, but frankly it looks a little insulting to those who have followed the Space Hulk franchise from Day One. Realistically it should have been released as both an expansion and as a standalone product, so that loyal previous customers wouldn’t have had to shell out another £20 for enhancements which really should have been in the original, and instead could have bought it as DLC.
Talking of DLC, dev’s Full Control have recently announced a new chapter as DLC for the game; The Imperial Fists. For better or worse, at least it’s more content.
All in all though, I think that Ascension Edition is just the breath of fresh air that Space Hulk needed, if you like this kind of thing. Personally, it’s not really my cup of tea, but I can see there is a lot of potential for some fantastic turn-based destruction in the punishing setting of the 41st Millennium, despite the handful of issues.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.