Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters Hands-on + Q&A on Story Variety, Difficulty, More
Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters, the new tactical strategy game from Frontier Developments and Winnipeg, Canada’s Complex Games, is working hard to separate itself from the glut of other Games-Workshop-licensed games on the market. Not only does Daemonhunters feature a slicker presentation than most of the middle-budget Warhammer strategy games out there, it’s going out on a limb with a variety of new and unique mechanics. Will Complex Games’ ambitions pay off? While I'm not able to render a final verdict yet, a recent hands-on session left me fairly optimistic.
Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters may initially appear a fairly typical tactical RPG, albeit with more cinematic attacks and moments than fans of the genre may be used to, but Complex Games has made a number of smart tweaks to the formula. A “precision targeting system” allows you to see exactly how much damage you can do from various vantage points, and you can destroy cover and objects in the environment to gain an advantage on the enemy. Players can also target specific enemy body parts, allowing you to, for instance, destroy a boss’ arm rendering them incapable of launching their most powerful attack. Between missions, there’s also a strategic layer to consider, with players choosing how they want to head off a plague known as the Bloom, which threatens to corrupt the entire galaxy.
During my hands-on time, I got to tackle two story missions and a boss battle and was struck by the complexity of each. The first mission took place in and around a bombed-out cathedral and the second in a snowy industrial zone. Both missions offered multi-part objectives and surprisingly large maps packed with cover, destructible environments, and multiple sightlines to consider. While I was able to complete both missions in the time allotted, I had to keep on my toes, as the game’s AI will punish you if you don’t properly consider your next move. My attempt to take on a boss, a towering brute in command of an army of Nurglings, was less successful. If I’m being honest, the big nasty bastard smashed me without breaking a sweat. With only four units on the field during most missions, Daemonhunters doesn’t seem to be a game that will abide those who want to brute force or trial-and-error their way to victory, which ought to please hardcore tactics fans. You can check out some footage from my gameplay session, below.
I also had the opportunity to chat with Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters creative director and Complex Games co-founder Noah Decter-Jackson about the game’s inspiration, story variety, difficulty, and more. March forth for the full interview.
You’ve mentioned that it was Complex Games that pitched the idea for Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters to Games Workshop. Why were you interested in making a game about the Grey Knights and this particular corner of the 40K universe?
Yeah, so it actually didn't start with the Grey Knights. The chrysalis of the type of game we wanted to make was a turn-based tactical RPG with strategic elements. There are not many games out there that combine those [...] but we really wanted to work in that space. Internally, on our side, what we had started with was the idea of, at a large scale, at a galactic level, dealing with an outbreak of an intergalactic plague. That was really kind of the chrysalis of what we wanted to deal with, from a gameplay standpoint -- fighting [against] or managing a force [...] that wasn't necessarily physical, that you couldn't just deal with, with artillery. It required a more complex approach to resolving, and we wanted to build our storyline and campaign around those ideas.
And so the natural fit, given we've had a lot of experience working with Games Workshop already and our knowledge of the universe, was to work with Nurgle. Because Nurgle is the Lord of Plagues. The Chaos God of Plague and Disease. And so that that's really where our concept started. And through discussions with Games Workshop, I think the natural fit for the counter agent for Nurgle [...] was the Grey Knights. You have this elite force, it's very mobile, and can move easily through different systems within the galaxy. It's just sort of the natural antagonist for the Chaos Gods. So, that's kind of how that evolved. It actually didn't evolve out of the Grey Knights, but our focus on this idea of fighting an intergalactic plague and Nurgle.
That makes sense, although it does result in the game having only one hero faction and one enemy faction. How do you keep the game from feeling repetitive?
I think for this type of game that's not really that crazy. If you think about other entries in the genre, it's usually kind of a single faction or group against another potentially larger more powerful faction or group. And within the scope of Nurgle and the Death Guard, we have a ton of different units and enemies with different powers and abilities. And centrally the theme is corruption, right? We have five different strains of corruption. We have five Reapers [representing] different strains of corruption. Each has its own theme. So I think we bring to the table a lot of variety. There are all sorts of different mutations that even the simplest enemy can get that can enhance it in combat. So yeah, I think there's a ton of variety within the scope of this initial conflict in this initial campaign. So, you won't get bored. We ramp up the challenge. We've got all sorts of cool stuff coming out of the Nurgle and Death Guard line to fight with and to deal with. There's a ton of units and they do a variety of different things.
The game seems to focus more on building your squad from various classes, rather than on personalities. That said, there do seem to be a handful of more unique units. Can you speak to those and their role in the game?
The classes are a big part for sure because that's what's going to make up the majority of your squad, but as you said, there are a couple of unique characters that will show up over the course of the game. The one standout that I can easily talk about is Vakir the Inquisitor who is kind of your central character in the story because she has several unique powers that are required to deal with certain challenges. For a particular Bloom mission type, you'll need to have Vakir on the ground. [...] She has a number of her own unique abilities that only she can use -- a different [type] of psychic powers, different focus, that she gets as an Inquisitor. So yeah, there are certain unique characters in the game that have their own unique ability sets.
So, I imagine the story will largely be told through these unique characters?
Definitely, they're pretty central to it. Your main cast on board the ship is Ectar, who's sort of the Grey Knights representative, [and] Lunette, who's the representative of the tech priests and the Mechanicus. Then there's Inquisitor Vakir, who's from the Inquisition and is leading the story because she's the one who uncovered the Bloom and requisitioned your ship to investigate it. Beyond that, a big part of the characterization is Grandmaster Vardan Kai, who's voiced by Andy Serkis. Vardan Kai is sort of the ultimate authority of the Grey Knights and his job is to be there to help and support you. You've got to report to him, but he's got a lot he's dealing with. Your campaign is just one amongst many within the galaxy, so you really have to convince him that this plague is actually a real threat to the Galaxy in order for him to dole out more resources.
Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters also has a strategic level with the star map. How does that combine with the tactical battles? Is it possible to completely mess things up strategically and end up in an unwinnable state?
Well, as a strategy game combined with a turn-based tactical game, you definitely have to make solid choices. If you're not very effective in combat, if you mess up, then you're gonna get a lot more pressure on that strategic side. We try to give you tools, comeback tools for lack of a better term, that under extreme situations you can use. They may cost you a lot of resources, but they will give you a big edge to try and take control back from this spreading plague. But you may get to a point where you're making enough mistakes and the galaxy's gonna get out of control. And because it's a strategy game, we want that tension to be there. We don't want it to feel like, okay, none of the decisions you make on the strategy layer matter, [because] they do. So, you can focus on research projects, doing manufacturing projects on the ship, that will help support your efforts at the strategy layer as opposed to [just] combat. And that'll give you an edge there, but you still have to make solid decisions. You can't just ignore it and let the bloom unfold and unleash.
How will your strategic choices affect the story of Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters? Are there multiple paths or endings?
So, there's one main central plot that you're advancing through as you make key research decisions and contend with the various Reaper bosses that you encounter. So there's a main goal. The goal is to ultimately locate and deal with the central threat of the Bloom, but there's a lot of variety to what can happen in between there. Not everything is predetermined. The types of missions that you encounter are variable from campaign to campaign, [so] it's not always going to be the same events in the same place. We also have a large variety of what we call Timeline Events. These are sort of snap judgment type events or scenarios that you encounter as time advances in the game. And these are variable, and they're not always going to happen at the same [points in the game] either. You'll encounter different ones from campaign to campaign. So, there's a lot of variety within that campaign, but in the end, you are trying to uncover and resolve the bloom outbreak.
The two main missions I got to play were fairly unique – one in and around a bombed-out cathedral and another in a snowy industrial locale. Neither felt like just a quick reconfiguration of tiles. How many different unique maps can we expect?
I can't give you an exact number off the top of my head, but there's a lot of maps. They fall into different themes. There's, you know, cathedral-type maps, there's industrial maps, there's battle zones, and then even within that, those themes can vary based on the level of corruption within a map. So, you can reach certain types of maps that are far more corrupted than others, because you've allowed that corruption to take hold in the system and that introduces a whole bunch of other challenges in combat. So, even within the scope of the wide variety of different kinds of biomes and environments -- deserts, frozen landscapes, and all these different terrain types -- there's also corruption that adds this extra layer of variety to the combat maps.
The missions provided a fair amount of pushback, too. What kind of challenge level are you aiming at for Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters?
There are difficulty settings. So, you've got we've got four different difficulty settings plus what we call Grandmaster mode or Ironman mode.
Don’t think I’ll be tackling that one right away…
Yeah, it's pretty hardcore. You can definitely pick and choose where you want to be from a difficulty standpoint. If you want you can take it a little easier at the start to get a sense of how Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters works or [you can] challenge yourself a lot. So, we have those options.
The boss battle I faced at the end of my play session was particularly tough. He pretty much stomped me right away.
Each of the Reaper bosses, Aeger the Benevolent is just one of them, has a very strong theme tied to the strain of corruption that they are the embodiment of, and yeah, if you had a chance to play it again, you might find some ways that you can take advantage Aeger's weaknesses. Each boss has its own advantages [...] and different builds that you take into battle may be more or less effective against those bosses depending on what kind of themes they occupy. So, there's a lot of variety there in terms of fighting each different boss.
Can you adjust the game’s challenge on the fly?
Right now you set the challenge at the start of the campaign. So, if you want to play the campaign at a different challenge level, you'd have to start [again].
You're pushing the game's visuals and PC requirements are relatively high for a turn-based strategy game. Any plans to implement DLSS or FSR or help folks run Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters as smoothly as possible?
I can't speak to DLSS or FSR right off the hop, as I don't think we've announced anything specifically to those settings. It's not to say that they aren't going to show up. In terms of the hardware and bare minimum requirements, I think we line up pretty well with other modern games in this genre. Yeah, we're definitely pushing the visuals for sure. We want to stay competitive with the other major players in the market. But we're also working heavily on our graphics settings to make sure that people with earlier hardware configurations will be able to play the game. [We're just doing] our best to make it as playable as possible, even if you're not necessarily on the highest end hardware.
Finally, there have been a lot of Warhammer strategy video games made over the years, with most of them trying to stake out their own little corner of the genre. Where are you planting your flag? What really sets Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters apart from past Warhammer strategy and tactics titles?
There has been a fair bit of Warhammer games in the past, but you've probably seen there's far fewer announcements these days. And I think that speaks to changing strategy on Games Workshop's side. But in terms of our title, I think we bring a few things that are pretty unique. Like the style of game hasn't really existed, tied to the Warhammer 40K IP specifically, since [the original] Chaos Gate. Particularly with our focus on our core combat mechanics, on a turn-based tactics style that is more offensive, rewards impulse and initiative, and tries to put you really deep into the action.
Getting up close and personal, engaging in precision targeting. We think all these things add a lot of uniqueness just within the genre overall, and compared to other games in the 40K universe, we think we stand out pretty far. And we're hoping this also serves as a great spiritual successor to the original Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate that there are a lot of existing fans of. We don't want to let them down.
Thanks for taking the time to chat!
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