For starters, I’d like to say, I love the concept for Deathwing. And especially as a Warhammer 40K fan, I was pretty excited for the release of this first person squad based shooter. The close environments of abandoned space ships, relentless swarms of Tyranids, and a small squad of Terminators working together to push through the ship and fulfil their mission. Being pursued, you press forward, squad mates covering your back, Tyranids springing forth from multiple sides. You find an area to stand your ground, close a door behind you and lock it shut to prevent being flanked, and then decimate your foes before moving on towards your objective. It’s such a cool idea, and very fitting considering what it’s based on. But unfortunately in many ways, in practise Deathwing doesn’t stand up to that hype. While still offering a pretty damn cool experience, and one that I’m sure 40K fans may still find of interest, it’s ultimately let down.

 

Space Hulk: Deathwing is based, in case you didn’t know, on the board game Space Hulk. A game which pitted players against each other – playing as either a Terminator squad or Tyranids – aboard derelict and infested space ships. Holding that inspiration tightly, Deathwing sees you and your two squad mates, giant lumbering terminators fitted with imposing armour and weaponry, board an infested ship with the objective of dealing with these creatures.

 

Before you enter the level, though, you must outfit your squad. A variety of weapons are available to you throughout the game – from bolters to assault cannons to power swords – however these must be gradually unlocked. The player character is a librarian and gifted with psychic powers which you must also choose between – with three available slots. These also need to be unlocked, but as you do so you’ll have access to telekinetic blasts, fire, and even the ability to teleport yourself into your foe, exploding them from within.

 

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Weapons can be unlocked simply by finishing levels, however psychic powers require you to spend skill points. You’ll get a score at the end of each level, and if you gather enough points, will earn skills to spend on four tracks. The last of these tracks unlocks powers, however the previous are a variety of passives. Some will increase yours or your squad’s armour rating, some enable your squad members to use particular weapons, and some will increase your defense or even make you immune to things like counter attacks. There’s a reasonable number of skills and they are clearly designed for you to adapt to your desired playstyle, however they are also highly linear. You need to unlock spaces in each track before actually acquiring a skill, so you may only want one upgrade, but end up spending three points to get it. It wouldn’t be so bad, but you also have to go through all the skills in each track in order – want that cool power in the middle of the psychic track? Well, you’ll have to acquire the previous three first. It makes it feel limiting.

 

Once you’ve made your outfitting choices, you embark on the hulk. Mission objectives are fairly simple – find lost crew member, destroy things, hack things – but how you and your squad progress to the task is the meat of the experience. The atmosphere is the first thing that strikes when you disembark your transport. Everything is quiet and empty, save for the corpses of crew members littered about the place. Nothing much happens in the opening ten minutes of the game, but it sets an ominous tone. And then when it does kick off, things become exciting very quickly.

 

Tyranids converge on your position and you are forced to push them back. As you’ll find with most of the game, there’s no time to really collect yourself after an attack, as more will be on their way. Simply (or not so, depending on how you look at it) the game is a constant barrage of foes trying their luck against you as you attempt to complete whatever objective the level has set out. It’s pretty tense stuff, and definitely one of the things the game does right. You need to be acutely aware of where you’re going on this massive ship so as not to waste time, and the constant threat of attack makes this task extra stressful.

 

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The Tyranids are an intimidating force as well. While individually they seem weak, when clustered together and swarming your position, it is easy to get overwhelmed. In this comes the challenge of making sure your squad is well equipped and in good order – assuming you’re playing single player. You can order your squad about in a few simple ways:  get them to follow you, move to a position, hack something, destroy something, or heal. It’s important to keep an eye on the health of your squad as death can come pretty swiftly – they are heavily armoured and capable of defending themselves, but the times in which my squad members perished took me by surprise (usually we got swarmed and they took too much damage too fast). It all gives you a bit of control over your squad in single player, but it’s very limited, and the AI is an issue. Which brings me on to the biggest problem with Deathwing.

 

The AI just isn’t good enough to make this a worthwhile single player experience, and even when playing coop, the enemy AI causes issues. For starters, our squad can perform basic tasks and defend from the enemy, however that’s basically it. They struggle to move accurately to indicated positions, and ultimately all you will really order them to do is to follow you and to heal. Sometimes the AI will delay in attacking the enemy, waiting till they have closed in, which sort of ruins the point of holding off swarming foes, and they have a nasty habit of walking directly in front of your own fire.

 

This doesn’t just have an impact on how fluid the combat is, it also creates issues with regards to loadouts. One thing I love about the game is the variety of cool 40K weapons you can use and equip your squad with, but the problem is, you can’t trust the AI to use them properly. It would be nice to have one terminator use a heavy weapon, one a melee and the other a lighter weapon, but in reality, you don’t want anyone using melee because they’ll just get killed – and you can’t treat yourself to a nice bit of hammer and shield, because you’ll probably die too when your two AI friends fail to cover you. It’s a bit of a mess to be honest, and it makes the whole experience feel like it was designed specifically for the multiplayer – with the single player being an afterthought.

 

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And as for the enemy AI, which affects both single and multiplayer, it just isn’t good enough to provide that tense, tactical experience that it’s supposed to. There are mechanics in the game which sound great in theory, but just aren’t put to any use due to how clunky the AI can be. Hacking turrets, for example, just isn’t feasible in single player. If there’s a turret positioned in an open area, you would have thought it would be useful for one of you to hack it and lay down some heavy fire, but as I mentioned before, your AI companions aren’t good enough to cover you – so often you’ll come out of the turret to find your guys nearly dead (or you’ll die in the process of trying to hack, as all turrets are automatically hostile to you unless disabled or hacked) – but also the Tyranids often come in small batches, making the exercise virtually pointless. You can also close and lock doors behind you, trying to seal off pathways for your foes, but again, the enemy AI isn’t an intelligent enough force that this is necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I said previously that there is tension created due to the constant swarms of enemies, and keeping an eye on your squad mates’ health is essential – so blocking off paths has some benefits to you – but I found it equally beneficial to simply run to my objective and deal with the waves as they come. Particularly in multiplayer, when you have actual people controlling your squad characters, it becomes less essentially as people are obviously more likely to react and protect themselves better than the AI.

 

This is what I mean when I said the game feels like it would be more worthwhile as a multiplayer experience. Friends can work together and create more of the tactical experience that the game promises, as well as the variety of weapons available actually being put to use. Though having said that, multiplayer has had its host of problems. Bugs, crashes, difficulty finding matches all make for a bit of a frustrating experience.

 

It’s a shame, because Deathwing certainly had promise, and in some areas the game stands up very well. The combat is actually very enjoyable. Weapons are powerful and varied, and enemies topple or burst at your onslaught. Also enemy variety mixes things up – there’s not just the swarming close combat Genestealers, but also Hybrids that carry guns, Psykers and so on. The game really got the Terminator feel right, and while clunky, it’s fitting and doesn’t diminish any enjoyment – though at times hectic, this isn’t a fast paced game.

 

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Additionally the visuals and sound are both great. The 40K aesthetic is well realised, with all sorts dark, bloody design spread through this abandoned ship. The only negative thing that comes from this is that it probably holds little appeal to those who aren’t already familiar to the universe – seeing all the spikes and lifeforms attached to machines and wondering “what the hell happened here?” they’d perhaps mistake it for some sort of Event Horizon hell. The sound accompanies this brilliantly, with the clanking and drips of a seemingly abandoned ship raising the tension. And the visuals, while not amazing by today’s standards, are smooth at least, and the 40K designs look great. I haven’t mentioned the story either, which is a subtle feature of the game, though still a driving force behind your objectives. It’s intriguing enough, though doesn’t pack much of a punch.

 

But considering the negatives I’ve already been through, is it really worth it? Honestly, I think it probably is – at least at a sale price (currently the game costs around 30 quid, which I would personally consider to be a bit much). It’s not the tactical squad experience I had hoped for, and the lacking AI and diminished scope (all those weapons that you won’t use and the tactical mechanics) are very disappointing. But as a shooter it isn’t bad, and with friends that can only get better (assuming you have a stable game). If you’re not interested in the universe, there’s probably nothing for you here, but if you are I think you will find a bit of enjoyment at a cheaper price.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29