I’m of the opinion that a video game will always appeal to one more if it aligns with their interests, so full disclosure here that I’ve always had a big soft spot for Games Workshop. Indeed, developer HeroCraft’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, an upcoming PC version of the popular iOS tactical turn-based game, immediately grabbed my attention when it was presented as a topic for this week’s Indie Game Corner.
As any fellow Warhammer fan will attest to, the above trailer for Space Wolf absolutely nails the ambiance of 40K. It certainly had me drooling. Yet, having played the game for several hours now, I’m confident that there’s a sheen to its polish and style, and enough depth to its gameplay to render it compelling to any player, not just Warhammer nerds.
Dawn of War has obviously excelled in its real-time strategy rendition of Warhammer 40K, but often digital recreations of tabletop games work best when they echo a similarly measured and gameplay formula. Space Wolf does just that, using a turn-based grid system similar to the real game, though it swaps the dice roll for a collectible card game system to control strategic movement. This translates Warhammer’s tabletop turn-based gameplay very well, and the actual card system itself is immensely fun to play around with and surprisingly deep, too.
Essentially, players collect and build card decks, which can then taken into combat and used to equip items, powers and skill points that grant unique abilities. But the forge is where things get interesting, granting players the option to craft their own cards and then equip them into decks according to their preferred play style. Cards can also be combined and levelled up, or can be obtained via special booster decks (which were paid content on iOS but are free mission rewards on PC). Thanks to the variety of different cards and the customization granted by the forge, there’s loads of content to keep one engaged.
In fact, there’s more customization on offer via the game’s armory, too, where one can select different armor types such as Scout, Power Armor or Terminator, for each mission, with each type having its own perks. The extent to which the game can be tailor-suited really taps into the core of what Warhammer is about – building things exactly the way you want from the ground up. As a result, Space Wolf should appeal to players who typically enjoy card games, as well as those who like strategy/role-playing titles.
Tying all of these different genres and elements together is the gameplay and battle system. Space Wolf handles like a typical turn-based strategy game, but cards dictate movement. It’s a clever replacement for an AI controlled dice-roll that might have placed less emphasis on strategic control. There’s nothing overly complex about these mechanics, but it does mean Space Wolf is a game of pure strategy where nothing’s left to chance.
I would suggest that if you’re the type of player that enjoys fast paced, Dawn of War or MOBA-style gameplay, then this might not be for you. But, that’s more a sweeping statement about the genre as a whole, and looking at Space Wolf purely as a tactical turn-based game, it’s very accomplished.
Indeed, there really is a lot of strategy involved. Space Wolf isn’t the sort of game you can just jump in without forethought – one needs to exercise caution and spend time building a decent deck before tackling harder missions, and they do get very hard very quickly. The enemy AI will target weak characters almost too effectively, and expect to get soundly beaten by veteran players in PVP mode. The steep learning curve makes both single and multiplayer an often punishing experience, which does occasionally frustrate. Yet, it’s easy to forget Space Wolf is an Early Access title, being developed openly based on feedback from Steam users.
HeroCraft’s Ivan Pomytkin told us that Space Wolf, though near completion, isn’t quite the finished article yet:
“There are still a plenty of additions and fixes we should make to make Space Wolf the best gaming experience it can be. The image of the game’s ideal state is shared between the devs and the community. We went Early Access only to gather feedback and ideas in order to make a great PC game. No way it can be done without a support from Steam players.”
Asked about plans for future content, we were told that plenty is on the way.
“We have already planned several significant updates not to mention a dozen of patches before we go full release. We also have plans to add more content in a form of DLCs and/or free updates even afterwards.”
In the end, Space Wolf might not have a scale or grandeur to match games like Dawn of War III, but then again, it was never designed to. As a game to jump in and enjoy a few quick fire rounds, Space Wolf is an absolute blast, but the scope of its card system and depth of content means there’s plenty to keep players engaged – sounds like a perfect mobile game, right? Sure, but on PC it handles better, looks prettier, and is packed with even more content, making this the premier way to experience an already accomplished title.
Warhammer fans will appreciate the measured pace of Space Wolf’s tactical gameplay, card game enthusiasts will adore its collectible aspect, and the game is good enough across both of these departments to represent a solid starting point for genre/franchise newcomers. We’re watching this one carefully, that’s for sure.