First Look: Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach20 Dec 2016 1
I remember once hearing a story regarding Games Workshop and how they didn't like the idea of a videogame being too much like the table-top experience. They viewed it as something that could distract potential customers from spending far too much money on miniatures, and so they preferred their licensees to make titles that explored the universe from different perspectives.
In the post THQ-era however (and looking at the kind of licensing arrangements the table-top giant has been making lately), it seems to be that they now want to take the opposite approach. There's a pretty interesting video you can watch here that theorises on some of these points, but the tl;dr and end result is that we can now enjoy games like Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach, from Matrix Games/Slitherine.
Sanctus Reach is a turn-based strategy/wargame that gives a rather convincing illusion of table-top 40K game-play. As we understand it, they're not actually anything alike – Sanctus has its own internal logic and mechanics that are fairly consistent with a turn-based wargame – but it's like looking at two cars that seem practically the same except for what's under the hood. Although it must be said, Sanctus is more straight-forward.
The Sanctus Reach demo available to press – which is similar to what they showed at a recent Open Day at Warhammer World – is a mid-campaign mission that offers a respectable amount of tactical depth and replayability. Presented without context, it's a scenario where you have to either take 5 Victory Points from the Orks, or control more VP's than they do after 11 turns. You're given 3500 points and a pre-set collection of 22 units with which to choose your army from. In practical terms, given the cost spread of the various units, you can typically choose all but 6 of them and have a varying amount of points left over. Pro Tip: There are three heavy weapons squads. Take all of them.
Starting in the middle of a city and surrounded by the enemy, it's time to do what you do best: Kill Everything. We found the scenario to be challenging, but not especially unmanageable. If you choose the wrong strategy from the off you can get yourself into a bit of hot water, but the enemy AI doesn't seem quite all there yet so all it can really do is bring numbers to bear and wear you down through attrition. If you keep applying the pressure and focus your fire when you need to, generally things will turn out fine. Sanctus seems very much about efficiency and killing as much as you can, as quickly as you can. The more units left alive during an enemy turn is more damage you potentially receive in retaliation.
Even with the limited experience we’ve had with the game so far, it’s clear the developers focused their efforts on the core experience. While a little counter-intuitive in places, this is a very logical turn-based experience. Units can move a certain distance depending on their type, attack twice with whatever arsenal they have at their disposal and then you have to set the reaction fire arc for the enemy's turn. Firing reduces the amount a unit can move afterwards, however a unit ALWAYS gets to fire twice so there is limited scope for fire-move-fire combos. As you learn the capabilities and armaments of your troops, you start wielding them less like a hammer and more like a surgeon's knife – albeit one that's been modded with Krak Missiles and Power Fists. Clicking off units and using AoE weapons like Flamers is a little fiddly, but you get used to it. The scenery mainly acts as a function of combat – providing half or full cover and affecting line-of-sight unless you decide to raise it to the ground.
If we were to summarise the demo, “Rough and Ready” feels like an apt way to describe what we played; which is fitting considering you're dealing with the Space Wolves. While solid in body so the far the game seems to lack a degree of visual ‘polish’, for want of a better word. It still looks pretty stunning: the new bespoke Archon engine Matrix/Slitherine are building a lot of their new games on is capable of a pretty decent base-level of fidelity. There’s currently a bit of an odd mismatch of good/not so good things right now, however. For example: There are some very satisfyingly 'wet' impact sounds and animations when you hit an Ork with a ranged weapon, yet the actual weapon particle-effects are fairly lack-lustre. Orks fall-apart and/or explode in a wonderful red mist when killed in melee, yet some of the melee animations themselves are a tad stiff.
We’ve been told some of this is being addressed prior to launch – and there’s no reason the visuals can’t continue to be spruced up post-launch. It’s not a deal breaker by any means; at worst it’s just mildly disappointing and this is still the best looking game they’ve ever made.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited for Sanctus Reach. If this is the start of a new area of Archon-powered 40K games from Matrix/Slitherine, then I can't imagine a better herald for the new age than this. So far it seems like a very satisfying adaptation of the core table-top gameplay, but it has its own mechanics which manage to give a very unique and surprisingly deep combat experience. As we approach launch, the key elements that will determine its true worth (and things we couldn’t really gauge from this demo) are: Diversity (Missions, Tactics, and Environments), Difficulty Curve, Multiplayer and Unit Progression.
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