Although a lot of Slitherine published games tend to be too strategic for me, I became a huge fan of Black Lab Games’ work after playing Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, their previous game. After about 3 years worth of post-launch content updates, both paid and free, they decided to focus on their next project, and that would come to be Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector. As a huge fan of Warhammer 40k, I got really excited when I saw the announcement. Based on my previous experience with Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, I was hopeful that Black Lab Games wouldn’t disappoint. Now that I’ve played the game for a decent amount of time, I’m happy to say that they certainly didn’t disappoint.
For better and for worse, Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is your typical turn-based strategy game. For solo players, the game features a 20-mission campaign, and a skirmish mode that lets you play against AI. Meanwhile, there are some surprising options for multiplayer fans. Not only there’s your typical versus mode where you face other players live, but there’s also an hotseat and an asynchronous mode. What this means is that, instead of having to wait for players to be online at the same time as you, you can just play a match at your own pace. There’s no need to play it all in one session, because once you make your move, you can go back to whatever you were doing until the other player plays their turn. It’s pretty ingenious.
Unfortunately, there’s only one campaign at the moment, the Age of Crimson Dawn. If you’re into Warhammer 40k, then you might already be guessing as to what the campaign is all about. If you’re not, fear not, because the game doesn’t require you to have any prior knowledge about the Warhammer 40k universe. In reality, as a fan of the series, I didn’t care too much about the main plot of the campaign. The whole story revolves around a company of Blood Angels Space Marines hunting down the remnants of Hive Fleet Leviathan on the moon Baal Secundus. With that being said, if you don’t know much about Warhammer 40k, then I guess you won’t be able to appreciate a lot of the finer details. Nonetheless, the main plot about the Tyranids is pretty easy to follow. However, if you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll find a lot more value here, and an unfortunate, but inevitable, sad tale.
In terms of gameplay, if you’ve played turn-based strategy games before, then Battlesector will feel extremely familiar. Each match and mission all take place on a single map, where you start by deploying your forces on the side where you start. After that’s done, then it’s your typical turn-based combat action. Units move and act based on a point system, and they all have different stats, abilities, and optimal ranges for attacking. In fact, although the game is turn-based, each side actually gets to move all their units on each turn. Furthermore, you can actually issue as many orders in succession as you can. You don’t have to wait for each unit to finish attacking or moving before you’re able to order the next unit. This is pretty neat, as it cuts turn time considerably.
Despite how much I’ve enjoyed my time with Battlesector, the truth is that, unless you’re playing against other players, the combat might feel pretty simple and straightforward. This mostly comes down to a few issues. First, there are only two factions in the game at the moment, the Blood Angels Space Marines and the Tyranids, the latter of which can only be played in Skirmish and multiplayer. Then there’s the enemy AI, which feels pretty basic. It never seems to prioritize units that are out in the open, nor does it seem to care about focusing on taking down the units that are dealing the most damage. For the most part, it just seems to run straight at you and throw everything it has.
Besides that, another issue that I have with the game is that, for a game of its kind, the cover system is pretty barebones. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any indicator that tells you if you’re protected by cover from one side. The only way you see cover in action, is when you try to target an enemy and the game says you can’t attack them because they’re behind cover. Other than that, the game makes no other mention of it, which is really disappointing.
In any case, the fact that Battlesector is extremely faithful to the source material does make the game shine in a lot of areas. There are plenty of units that are pretty fun to play with. There are the Inceptors with their jump packs that can quickly move around the map and harass enemies. Then there are also the Dreadnoughts which can soak a lot of damage and unleash hell amongst the enemy ranks, right in their faces. If you’re a Warhammer 40k fan, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
Visually, the game looks great. Still, it’s not a grim-looking game, as one might have expected from a game that takes place in the grim darkness of the far future. Most of the weapon’s visual effects are pretty well done and animated. From regular bolters to the slow and devastating plasma shots, the battlefield can sometimes look like a fireworks show. I’m not a huge fan of the Tyranids, but the Blood Angels are clad in their gorgeous distinct red armour that immediately stands out in whatever environment they’re in.
In addition, the sound is pretty on point. The weapons feel powerful and impactful, with every single shot fired from a bolter really making it feel like it does pack quite a punch. Likewise, the voice acting is exceptionally well done. Even though the story isn’t the most engaging, the dialogue and writing certainly make up for it. The music also has its epic moments, as most Warhammer games tend to have. The combat music is a bit of hit or miss, but I did stay in the main menu listening to its theme quite a few times. It’s just that good.
Besides the novelty of being a Warhammer 40k game, as a turn-based game, Battlesector left me wanting for more. Sure, it’s cool to see the game in motion, units triggering overwatch, flanking armoured enemies and engaging in melee combat, but there isn’t anything about it that makes it feel special. It’s a decent and entertaining turn-based game at best. If you were hoping for this to be a groundbreaking game or a must-play for turn-based fans, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
The single-player campaign is good for what it is. As I’ve already mentioned, I didn’t find the story to be that charming, but some of the characters do carry the game forward, partially also thanks to the incredible voice acting. Brother Quindar, in particular, is a force to be reckoned with. A Librarian Dreadnought who is starting to show his age was clearly the star of the show for me.
In terms of structure, the campaign provides a constant sense of progression. As you complete each mission, not only you’ll unlock new units, but you’ll also gain points to spend on upgrades. These upgrades range from basic stat boosts, to new weapons and even powerful abilities. Speaking of which, the way the game balances out things in the campaign is by imposing an army point limit for each mission. Basically, each mission gives you a set number of points that you can use to deploy your army. These points aren’t only used to get units, but also weapons that you may have unlocked for them. At least the main hero units are free of charge. In any case, the Tyranids always outnumber you, so you have to use terrain and your abilities to turn the tide of battle.
Unfortunately, mission design is one of Battlesector’s weakest points. Although there is a fair degree of variation in regards to environments, the objectives always boil down to killing all Tyranids. There are a few missions where you have to reach a specific spot, or defend a key location, but after doing that, it always tends to go back to “Exterminate all Tyranid forces”. Nevertheless, the campaign does feature a decent variety of scenarios, ranging from old Dark Age of Technology ruins, to more basic open areas.
Nevertheless, if Black Lab Games track record with Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is anything to go by, the future of Battlesector should be a good one. I’m sure the game will eventually receive a good chunk of DLC, both paid as well as free. Hopefully, we’ll see more factions added to the game and the base game becoming more refined.Despite everything, although I’m a huge fan of turn-based combat games, I don’t consider myself a hardcore fan to the point of playing them in the most difficult settings. I tend to play them for the visual spectacle. With that in mind, I’m pretty happy with the time that I’ve spent in Battlesector. Overall, it’s a fun turn-based Warhammer 40k game that I easily recommend to any fans of the franchise. It might not be the most engrossing turn-based strategy game out there, but it certainly is worth your time.