EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Vincent Chandler
previewed on PC
Once more unto the Early Access, dear friends, once more
There is certain level of cultural currency to be reaped from the successful conversion of a table-top war game to visceral video game adaptation. Having recognised this, Games Workshop have become far more lenient in recent years, taking their much beloved and respected intellectual property and lending it out to various independent developers to varying levels of success. Late last year Streum On Studio released their much anticipated Space Hulk: Deathwing to mediocre reviews and no small amount of fan disappointment; it suffered from a relative lack of polish with shipping in a seemingly unfinished state. An all too familiar tale in the contemporary gaming landscape, I am sure you would agree.
With this disappointment fresh in the minds of Warhammer fans across the internet, Neocoregames recently launched the cumbersomely named Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr (seriously, how much punctuation in one title?) into Early Access, with an event called “The Founding”. Early access to the Alpha build is now available to any member of the public willing to part with $39.99 in order to help bug test the on-going development of this action RPG. At time of writing, this makes Inquisitor dearer than any other early access title on Steam. Which in turn means that the question of “Is it worth it?” is more pertinent here than ever.
In the distant future, there is only war… and dungeon crawling.
Described as an open world sandbox action-RPG, Inquisitor allows you to adopt the mantle of Imperial Inquisitor, a role whose key performance indicators include purging the unclean and culling heretics. The ‘open world’ promised in the press releases and marketing spiel is a little misleading. You have a huge sector of space to find missions in, all explored from a star-map aboard your citadel. The game promises hundreds of mission types and procedurally generated content – but this does not feel open-world in any sense of the word. Eventually we will have a PVP fortress-invasion mode as well as a full story with cutscenes. At present we only have a collection of randomly generated yet typical action-RPG instances to run through.
Core gameplay consists of these instanced ‘missions’ in which you must clear the environment of enemies, as well as destroy gun batteries, nests and other key objectives. Each map is procedurally generated from a selection tiles, enemy groups and bosses in order to keep every map feeling ‘new’ and fresh. In spite of this, there are only so many seemingly random arrangements of gothic corridors, industrial mining pits and the followers of Nurgle you can have before you start to feel a real sense of déjà vu. Once a mission has been completed, and you have reloaded the game after a crash to the desktop (every single time), you are rewarded with experience points and new loot for you to spend and equip to customise your characters play style somewhat.
The combat is your typical action-RPG fare; you have differing attacks assigned to left click, right click, and keys 1-4. You aim with your abilities with the reticule, but the damage applied relies largely on what gear you have equipped. A basic cover system attempts to both break with typical action-RPG convention whilst nodding to its source material – holding shift whilst behind a chest-high wall or pillar will move your character out of the line for fire, and allow you time to reload or recuperate cool-downs on your abilities. This is ultimately rather pointless however, as every group of enemies tends to include swarms of melee-types, as well as larger bosses like Dreadnoughts moving in for close quarter combat at every given opportunity.
Guns are handled surprisingly well considering the limitations of the genre, with the hail of bolts laid down from a Heavy Bolter on full auto being incredibly satisfying as it cuts down swathes of enemies. Unfortunately, larger bosses feel like bullet sponges, and often defeat you through sheer overwhelming damage output and health accompanied by an overwhelming number of smaller enemies. I found myself backpedalling through the levels and running circles around the maps whilst firing off pot shots at the huge hulking health-bar with legs. And whilst these behemoths would eventually succumb to my cheesey strategies, the gameplay itself did not feel very rewarding or compelling. Although meaty sounding and overtly destructive, the gun combat is very clunky. Your character is slow; plodding along and unable to move whilst firing makes for some awkward combat encounters.
Melee combat fares no better. It pains me to admit, but at current time it all feels like a slow and cumbersome Diablo-clone once you move away from the gun combat and cover system. Mainstays of the Warhammer universe like the Thunderhammer and the Chainsword all make an appearance, but they are no-where near as impactful or as satisfying as their depictions within the brutal close-quarters combat of the Dawn of War series. To put it simply, the gameplay as a whole just isn’t fun at this point in time.
Destruction, on an impressive scale
The overall presentation of Inquisitor is a mixed bag at current. The overall level of visual fidelity found in the environments and particle effects are very, very high, while character models and animations currently look unfinished and lacking refinement. Gunfire can sever limb from torso or gib enemies entirely, however the severance of a limb looks like the breaking of a toy instead of the visceral disfiguring of a heretic. There is much to be done to improve the animations of enemies in general. On the contrary, the damage to the environment during firefights is fantastic – quite literally some of the best I have ever seen.
Explosions and gunshots appear to create more than simply bump-mapped dents and decals on the environment; they literally take the corners off of vent shafts, topple pillars and strip the metal overlay of floors to reveal pipes and wires beneath. This high fidelity destruction is something to behold – my first encounter with it was distracting almost – reminding me of the first time I witnessed the level of destruction available in Red Faction or Stranglehold. Although it’s all cosmetic and has little direct effect on gameplay, the aftermath of a gun fight looks brilliant, and really helps to convey a sense of death and destruction as a constant force in this universe.
All of the issues I have with the gameplay and presentation could come down to the fact that this is in fact an Alpha build at present. Neocoregames have a proven track record of success within the action-RPG genre with their moderately well received Van Helsing series. This gives me high hopes for where this title might end up once polished and tightened up. For an Alpha build, there is a great amount of promise behind this sluggish and messy bug-ridden build. However, I can’t possibly recommend that anyone pays full retail to enter the “The Founding” unless reporting bugs, testing gameplay and Warhammer are all high up on your list of hobbies. This is certainly one to watch.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.