There are games that are discarded soon after we’ve finished watching the credits roll on our screens (or skipped them after a few seconds), and then there’s Warhammer, the amazing franchise that began life as a humble board game and has now taken on a life and personality of its own. As the name suggests, the game is set in the 41st millennium AD, in a universe very different from the one we know it.
All humans in this game are subservient to the Imperium of Man, a dictatorship that is ruled — in name — by the Emperor, and spans billions of planets on which live trillions of people. While he wanted to shape a universe with liberty and peace spanning the galaxy, an assault on his palace put paid to that idea.
He is now but a shell of a man, kept alive only by life support tech, with real power being wielded by his ruling council, the Highlords of Terra, who have misinterpreted his commands and have established a brutal, authoritarian regime. Extreme prejudice against those who are not one of their own — who says fiction isn’t sourced from reality? — has led to constant war against the xenos — the alien species that compete with the Imperium for dominance of the galaxy.
Holding the banner for the Imperium are the Space Marines, highly skilled super soldiers who often live for centuries and exist solely to wage war against their enemies. This is where you come in, an intrepid Force Commander who’s been given command of a group of grizzled veterans to bring further glory to the Imperium.
‘Are we all alone in the universe?’ is a question we’ve always wondered, sometimes aloud, and this game answers that with a resounding yes. Chief among them are the Orks, big, green-skinned brutes who prefer power over pragmatism, and attack in superior numbers to overwhelm the opposition. What technology they possess is crudely designed and even more crudely named, their ‘Wartrukk’ commanded by ‘Soulja Boyz’ being a prime example of this.
When Space Marines are deployed on planets to take on the Orks, it’s not done to save people or homes, it’s done to preserve technology instead: The Imperium is on the brink of collapse and the foundries and other installations that power their war machines were built millennia ago. Building — or even repairing — these structures is a firm no-no for them.
Ork names might sound like something thought up by a dim-witted fraternity, but they add some much-needed hilarity to the game. Because there’s nothing funny about the other foe: The Eldar are superior to the Imperium in many ways, and their stealthy tactics and superior gear make them the perfect antithesis to the Orks. They may not look like much, but that only adds to their deception, making them very dangerous enemies for a rookie commander like yourself. On a routine patrol of the desert planet Calderis, the commander and his four squads – led by sergeants Thaddeus, Avitus, Tarkus, and Cyrus – are dealing with an Ork insurrection, when they realise that these incursions are being orchestrated by the Eldar. Turns out that the Eldar are pitting the Orks and humans against each other so they can focus on a bigger threat: A Tyranid invasion is about to threaten the entire galaxy, and with no distractions from their long-time foes, they can focus on beating back this new horror-inducing enemy.
With good reason: Originating from planets beyond the known galaxy, the Tyranids are a terrifying alien race bred with one single purpose – to eliminate all life from the universe. A Tyranid swarm is capable of devouring whole solar systems in a matter of days.
In any other game, this greater threat would see the Imperium establish a fragile peace with the Orks and Eldar to use their combined resources for the greater good, but a gritty game like Warhammer doesn’t really do ‘happily ever after’.
Instead, our brave marines must race from one end of the galaxy to the other in order to quell invasions from the other two races, as well as throw themselves into the trenches against the deadly Tyranids. It’s a tangled web of thrilling action, adrenaline-inducing combat, and some pretty awesome graphics, that coupled with a gripping storyline, enthralling soundtrack and slick gameplay, makes for a pretty great download this week.
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Name: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Genre: Action/Real Time Strategy
Producers: THQ/Microsoft Windows
What’s it about: In the distant future, humanity’s very existence is threatened by a terrifying alien invasion. Will you lead your people to glory on the battlefield?
Platforms: MS Windows, Mac OSX, Linux
Where to buy: Steam Store, Amazon, Humble Bundle, G2A Games
IGN Rating: 9/10