Since I was a lowly teenager I’ve been a massive fan of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe. Whilst I was always a filthy xenos supporter, I would read for hours about how the Imperium of man came to be and religiously scoured the codexes for every morsel of lore. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War was my first online gaming obsession and led me to my first gaming clan; Wing Apocalypse. An excellent RTS with a great community for the time, I loved the chance to battle in the grim darkness. Unfortunately, due to various questionable licensing decisions, the brand has had somewhat of a fall as of late, leading to a raft of lower quality titles flooding the market. Whilst the license was once exclusively reserved for big-budget, high-quality titles, over the last ten years the floodgates have been opened and now pretty much every Tom, Dick or Harry has a spin-off.
In 2014 – a few years back now – Herocraft got their hands on the licence and released their own take on the turn-based strategy genre with Space Wolf; a tactical card-led mobile game. Centring on the Space Wolves; a sub-set of 40k’s genetically engineered super-soldiers (Space Marines), the game was relatively successful on iOS and Android and eventually earned a Steam release in 2017. Three years later it has reached the Switch, but will this new iteration set the world on fire or will it just lead to an exterminatus?
The first thing to mention is that this Is a clearly expanded and rebuilt version of the game. For the full-priced release, Herocraft has scrapped the microtransactions and made everything available to the end-user. They’ve also included all DLC from the Steam version, which adds up to a hefty amount. It’s a great value proposition, especially when you compare it to the other versions; but how does it play?
If you know XCOM, you’ll know what to expect. Your characters start at various points of the battlefield and are tasked to methodically exterminate enemies until they resemble tomato soup. Combat is turn-based, with each unit having two actions around and acting in a set order. The twist in the tale is that actions are decided in a semi-random way, with each being chosen from a unit’s “hand”. Hands are drawn from their deck, which can be modified by the player and which consists of 30 cards. This adds an extra dimension to the tactical combat and whilst the randomness could easily have messed with the flow of battle I found it made the whole experience more engaging. Yeah, the cards seem to dribble in a little too slowly for my liking, but eventually, your stack builds up nicely. At all times you have access to three decks – one for each type of armour – and all three can be customised to your liking. The decks are all quite different, but the variety within each deck isn’t fantastic; most of the time you’ll be choosing between a gun, the same gun with a different level and a slightly different gun. Still, slowly evolving your arsenal with card fusions and the forge does lead to you building in power slowly and eventually you can access cards with a more unique flair. Combos are also a feature, and whilst they aren’t hugely common you can create some interesting plays.
The pace can be a little bit of an issue at times, with the card combat sometimes leading to a somewhat plodding rhythm. It can be a little off-putting to trot across the map little-by-little due to the short movement and firing distances, and this is possibly why the rhythm isn’t the best. Regardless, the overall loop is fun for the most part and I thoroughly enjoyed kicking Chaos Marine behind.
Like most games of the genre, the plot isn’t anything to write home about. Your gruffly-named Space Wolf crash lands on an unknown planet and has to face down a horde of Chaos Marines. I won’t go into spoilers, but aside from the expected Khorne-focused entities, you won’t see many variations. Characters in your team level individually and can pick up abilities as you go, but there isn’t a huge variety amongst them either. Granted, there’s more than you’d see with any other SM chapter and the wolves you eventually begin to see are cool, but I can’t help but wish there was a wider selection to play as or against. It’s a common issue I have with 40k games that they focus primarily on Space Marines and Chaos/Orks, and it’s just a shame that there wasn’t an appearance from some of the other races or factions. Seriously, where are my Tau?!
There are a number of other frustrations I have with this release; the overall presentation isn’t the best, with controls and UI suffering from the move to console. They look and feel clunky and old and I can imagine they were better suited to a mobile platform, but the lack of touch leads to them feeling very frustrating at times and pretty unwieldy. It’s an unfortunate omission and something which I hope gets patched in after release, but it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the game. I will also note that the deck-building screens don’t include the detail and functionality I would expect from a game of this type, which makes it tricky to organise your cards. Again, disappointing but not enough to spoil the experience.
Overall, Space Wolf is a flawed yet fun gem. I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into the world and seeing what this unusual sect had to offer, and loved the chance to blast the forces of hell away whilst indulging my card-collecting itch. It won’t suit everyone, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a unique take on a genre which hasn’t received the love it deserves of late. If you like a good turn-based card game and the 40k licence, I can definitely recommend giving it a shot.
Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf is Developed by HeroCraft and is available on Android, iOS, PlayStation 4 and PC
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch Version, you can purchase the game here.
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Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf
Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf is a turn-based tactical strategy in which you have to take command of the Space Wolves and join the battle against the wicked servants of Chaos and the sinister Necrons.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 16.19