The RPS Advent Calendar is upon us, but as we open the first door of our end of year countdown, I get the feeling something terrible is waiting on the other side. I can hear the clanking of metal boots in the distance, accompanied by laser fire and the gurgle of orc laughter rubbed raw by some nasty disease. Dare we enter and embrace the chaos lying within?
Yep, you guessed it. It’s Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters!
Katharine: Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters has been one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. It wasn’t on my radar heading into 2022, but the more I heard about it being a kind of angry XCOM in space, the more I thought, “Hold up now, this sounds like 100% my kind of jam”. And hot damn, it really was.
Discovering new games that come in and completely sweep you off your feet continues to be one of the best parts of this job, but I was also taken aback by just how much I dug the whole 40K-ness of it all as well. I’m probably about as far as you can get from a diehard Warhammer head, but if someone had told me it was full of sassy tech priests, big chonky metal lads and ridiculously over the top warlords sniping at each other from opposite ends of the universe, I’d have probably thrown myself into its Gothic space fortresses a lot earlier!
Still, the fact that even a Warhammer noob like myself can have a cracking good time with its turn-based strategy battles and not feel like I’m missing out on vital background lore to understand it all is a testament to what Complex Games have achieved here. At its core, this is a tale of good versus evil across the cosmos, of fighting a deadly plague and fragging, foot-stomping and slicing it out of existence. It’s intensely satisfying stuff, and easily one of the most enjoyable strategy games I’ve played all year.
A large part of that is down to its brilliant Warp Surges. On the face of it, Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters incorporates everything you know and love about XCOM, easing you in with all the classic staples like crouching behind cover, setting up overwatch cones and smashing bits of scenery to smithereens with your honking great space marines. But every couple of turns a Warp Surge will chuck a new little wrinkle into the mix, livening up the battlefield with randomised stat buffs that constantly tip the scales in your enemy’s favour. These can range from your enemies receiving a temporary armour boost (the turds), your Grey Knights’ movement range getting hampered for a spell, or a rift spewing up puddles of acid all over the shop that will burn through your giant shoulder pads like nobody’s business if you come into contact with it. Using your Grey Knights special abilities quickens this process as well (thanks, Nurgle), creating a thrilling tension of risk and reward as you contend with ever-changing battle conditions.
That sense of variety is important when there’s so much orc skull-splitting to be done in Daemonhunters, but it’s also just such good, goddamn fun at the same time. I love the high drama and overblown nature of it all, and it’s clear the developers revel in its operatic silliness as well, keeping one eyebrow firmly arched as its cast of Purifiers and Inquisitors proceed to chew the scenery in spectacular fashion. Throw in an overarching strategy layer of fixing up your floating space cathedral and researching extra combat boons while where you’re flying around the galaxy tracing the literal seeds of this evil plague, and there’s so much to get stuck into with Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters – especially with its first big expansion on the way now, too (which was another most unexpected delight I didn’t see coming this year either).
So go on, surprise yourself. Let chaos reign in your strategy games library for a while and see if you don’t come back a full, indoctrinated convert to the laws of Nurgle.