September 16, 2021

First Impressions of Warhammer 40K Battlesector from Matrix Games

Andrew “Red” Powell, 29 April 2021

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is a turn-based tactics game where missions pit two armies against one another. Two armies tactically execute across an expansive battlefield grid. Each army activates all of its units in a given turn before the other army has a chance to deliberately respond. Each unit has action points to that enable units to perform a combination of movement and tactical actions such as charging, shooting, or setting overwatch. Units are unique and have their own passive and active abilities that compliment their actions in different ways.

(ed note: this review was written based on an early-access build provided by the publisher before the game’s release)

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is not Total War: Warhammer (Turn-based grand strategy with tactical engagements), Dawn of War (real time strategy with some tactical components), or Gladius (Civilization-like Warhammer 40,000), it is a turn-based tactics game, not a 4x strategy game. It also only has two armies currently.

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Experience every bone-rattling explosion and soul-crushing charge in Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector, the definitive battle-scale game of turn-based strategy and fast-paced combat that takes you to the battlefields of the 41st Millenium. (from the Steam page)

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is set in the aftermath of the Third Tyrannic War (approx. 999.41M) of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The Tyranids, aka the Great Devourer, had descended upon the Baal System in a conflict known as the Devastation of Baal. The Tyranid Hive Fleet Leviathan was ultimately defeated by the Blood Angels and their successor chapters along with the intervention of Roboute Guilliman’s Indomitus Crusade and the incursion of Ka’Bandha’s Khornate Daemons.

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is set to have a 20-mission campaign for the Blood Angels that details their fight with the remnants of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Leviathan.  This is a somewhat unexplored area of the lore to date, so it is very exciting to see some of the finer details of what occurred sometime after the Blood Angels held out during the Devastation of Baal.

The title screen of Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector says a lot about what players can expect from the Blood Angels. Up front are the core primaris variants introduced along with the release of Warhammer 40,000 8th edition on the tabletop in 2017. This is the first time that I have seen any of the primaris marines represented, not just the intercessors. I am excited to see aggressors, inceptors, and hellblasters fielded in Blood Angel red. Alongside those units, in the title screen you can see some classics, to include the true-to-lore librarian dreadnought and an army of assault marines descending upon the oncoming horde of Tyranids.

click images to enlarge

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The Title Screen

 

GRAPHICS

As something of a successor in graphics and mechanisms to Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach, (released in 2017, same publisher – Slitherine Ltd. – but different developer), Battlesector is graphically beautiful and with graphic settings set to the max, shows available units in amazing detail when zoomed in.

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Intercessors

The units were well designed, staying true to the source material. This is one of the first times I have seen the Primaris intercessors rendered in 3d on a computer, and I was not disappointed. You can tell they are more intimidating and more heavily armed than their first-born cousins. The game does an amazing job of bringing the models of Warhammer 40k onto the computer and bringing them to life. Tyranid Warriors looked amazing and as formidable as they should!

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Tyranids

The terrain in-game is what most of us that play Warhammer 40,000 on the tabletop wish we could physically recreate and the likes of dioramas one might see at Warhammer World. The game designers and artists have taken much of the Warhammer 40,000 aesthetic and captured the finer details, down to the hooded statues and iconography littered throughout the gothic grimdark. I am not kidding when I say that I have the built some of the same defensive structures, bastions and containers, set throughout the rendered battlefields I was playing upon.

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Tutorial teaching the mechanics

The game has a tactical overview map that I think was a great top down view of the battlefield. The tutorial only had so many units but given some of the other previewed images of larger armies and if this has similar capacity to Sanctus Reach, the tactical overview is perfect for someone orienting themselves across the whole battlefield.

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Tactical map

The user interface (UI) of Battlesector introduced in the tutorial was sleek, intuitive, and accessible. Tooltips and the tutorial messages were informative without being too much of an obstacle to visually enjoying the game.

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Commands

Every unit has its own unique armament and abilities and the game accurately depicts much how one would expect it to operate. The dynamic nature of these actions, from charging in combat with jump pack units to using grenades all looks pretty clean and exciting.

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Frag grenades

The graphics and look to the command abilities tie in some great support elements to the tactical scenario, for example where an air support unit might strafe enemy positions. The graphics of a supporting Tyranid unit were exactly what I am sure Tyranid players have always imagined their flying monstrosities to be.

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Air support

 

MECHANICS

The mechanics of Battlesector seem balanced and dynamic up front. While it is turn based, many actions induce near simultaneous reactions from your enemy, such as overwatch in certain circumstances and combat if your unit survives the initial combat of a charging enemy. The grid and how units occupy space is a great mechanic for managing space on the battlefield and probably one of the greater departures from my experience with Warhammer 40,000 on the tabletop.

Each mission has different tactical victory conditions depending on the context of the mission. Both tutorial missions I played had various conditions that ultimately ended in destroying the other side’s forces, terms of victory that I was glad to fulfill while I tested out all of the different abilities available to each unit.

A player starts their turn and activates each unit, performing actions (attacking, moving, set to overwatch, unit-specific abilities, etc.) in any order until all of their units are out of points or if a player chooses to end their turn prematurely. Upon ending the player turn, the other side repeats the process.

I expect the campaign to progressively introduce units over time for the Blood Angels but Battlesector boasts a skirmish mode where players can play Blood Angels or Tyranids. Given the wider range of units, I assume that the unit-specific abilities have a learning curve but as mentioned on the UI, the tooltips are easily referenced.

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Command options

 

COMBAT

A unit must be appropriately facing and within range to target a unit with an attack or ability. A player must orient units on their targets, and the direction that targets are facing can matter as well dependent on the action. For example, charging a unit on the flanks and outside of the target’s awareness range (like field of view) might prevent the charging unit from receiving overwatch fire.

Unit attacks appear to have bracketed RNG damage, such as a melee attack that deals 6-12 points of damage per ‘model’ in the unit.

If in melee and the target unit did not completely die, the surviving unit will have the opportunity to fight back. I will be interested to see what other reactive abilities some units have. Otherwise, after most actions are executed, units gain points that contribute to their surge meter. When a unit surges, players can choose one of two options. A surging unit can either act again or the player can upgrade a unit-specific ability. This surging concept can make for some remarkable momentum if a player can string surging units together when needed.

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Assault marines (are their really any other kinds of marines?)

 

GAMEPLAY

It’s pretty exciting to see the spiritual successor to Sanctus Reach. It’s not just a reskin of the old game with different colored space marines and a different xenos faction. The Blood Angels and the Tyranids have some built in mechanics that make them feel very much like their respective armies. The Blood Angels have their iconic red thirst, and I cannot wait to see how the Death Company units play out. The Tyranids have a synapse range mechanic as you would expect, such as having the Tyranid Warriors within range of the hormagaunts providing a boost to their surge meter. I’m very interested to see this play out between forces of greater number!

Not much was available to explore in deployment and set up, but there is a lot of room to explore from what I have seen. The map was expansive and the terrain seemed dynamic enough that it can be more than just World War 1 in space, but with real maneuver with some real tactical complexity in how you set your forces and then deploy them.

The tutorial provided was very straight forward. Some of the mechanics quickly build upon one another and it becomes readily clear that making some poor technical decisions can be tactically punishing, and rightfully so. I think without the tutorial, some elements of the game might not be readily clear until you can experience and analyze the ensuing failures. I do think the game lays out pretty well what is available to you as a new player that might bey unfamiliar with some of the aspects of either Army that might be more apparent to a lore-savvy player of Warhammer 40,000. All that to say, I do not think this game is only for Warhammer 40,000 fans and is a great way to jump into sci-fi turn based tactics!

I think the Armies have some obvious strategies rooted in their lore. The space marines have some amazing leadership and elite units that have the tactical capacity and capability to take on the hordes of tyranids. Playing with the sanguinary priest and looking at the buffing abilities they have that complement the Blood Angels was awesome to see. On the other side, the Tyranids were obviously a swarming horde with synapse nodes. The hormagaunts, the most basic Tyranid troop choice, are flimsy but aggressive. A space marine unit may destroy one unit of hormagaunts, but when there are three more coming, what’s the one lost unit? And it was pretty clear that the benefit provided by the Tyranid Warriors was pretty amazing. I’m sure most familiar Tyranid players are excited to see the Hive Tyrant and maybe even a Swarmlord available in game.

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Hormagaunts

It took me just a moment to mentally calibrate on the awareness range and facing. It makes complete sense in Battlesector to be facing the correct direction to perform actions. However. as a tabletop player of Warhammer 40,000, I have not had to account for the facing of a model for several years. My play test experience did not have much opportunity for customization, but I am hoping that there are aspects of leveling up units outside of surging. The units are finely detailed and rendered exceptionally well, but I also hope for some aesthetic customizations if possible.

But hey, it’s a new Warhammer 40,000 turn-based tactics game! Slitherine Ltd. Is known for publishing some great games, and Sanctus Reach was good with a few expansions and later developments that really fleshed it out. I think Battlesector is starting as a great game, with a skirmish mode where players can be either Blood Angels or Tyranid out the gate, and multiplayer modes are available to play live, asynchronous, and in hotseat mode. I think the idea of asynchronous mode is awesome, being able to pick up a game between a friend as time permits, like a long distance chess game but with Warhammer 40,000!

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Sanguniary Priest Assault

 

REPLAY VALUE & SOLITAIRE PLAY

I think the game’s 20 mission campaign is an excellent venue for those interested in single player and then the skirmish has a CPU mode for solitaire play and experimentation.

I am interested to play the campaign myself but I’m sure that many of the missions provide enough tools to find multiple ways to achieve the victory conditions, providing some replay value. Slitherine Ltd. has published many other computer wargames and many of them have had some great expansions along the way, so needless to say I’m very interested to see where the potential for expansions can go from here with where Battlesector is already starting.

 

SUMMARY

The game has some nuanced mechanics to it but is not exceedingly complex. The user interface is readily accessible and from play testing, I think its easy to wade into the shallow end of the pool and then as the greater depth of each army is revealed, a player can progress into far more advanced tactics.

As stated before, this is the spiritual successor to Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach. Almost a year after release, Sanctus Reach had three expansions that brought in more armies and more mechanics, to include a sandbox campaign mode. I think Battlesector does an amazing job of picking up where Sanctus Reach left off with two new armies and a more modern representation of the space marines.

It’s clear this is a game for Warhammer 40,000 fans. If I wanted to bring an army of Blood Angels and Tyranids alive from the tabletop and put them in a computer game, Battlesector has started off pretty well! Given that, Battlesector is very clearly driven by the scenario post-Devastation of Baal, and at this point, you have two armies that are very specific sub-factions of their overall factions. You play the Blood Angels and no other options to play any other chapters currently. The Tyranids are only of Hive Fleet Leviathan. I understand that some Space Marine players in Warhammer 40,000 are fiercely loyal to a given chapter, so only playing Blood Angels may be an issue. I would say that its still worth a try, seeing how this game strives to really demonstrate some of the unique aspects of the Blood Angels, such as death company units, librarian dreadnoughts, and sanguinary guard.

Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector looks like an amazing game that I cannot wait to try out fully. As a fan and player of many games set in Warhammer 40,000 to include range of tabletop games, and someone who has owned and played both Blood Angels and Tyranids on the table, I am extremely excited to see them in this game. The asynchronous or hotseat multiplayer modes have my interest as I can play a long-distance game with a friend over a longer period, or I can play a hotseat game with my oldest son who is a fan of space marines also.

If you are interested in the setting and the story, the book The Devastation of Baal by Guy Haley is fantastic, detailing the campaign after which Battlesector later occurs. The follow-on book Darkness in the Blood covers the activities of the senior leaders of the Blood Angels after Devastation of Baal as well, the Chapter Master, Dante, and the Chief Librarian, Mephiston. Each of these characters each have their own books as well. The amount of lore built into every aspect of Warhammer 40,000 is amazing and seeing it play out in so many ways, through books, in computer games, and on the tabletop has always been something that has drawn me further into the grimdark future!

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Not the author

 

 


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