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Taking Warhammer 40K Into VR With The Horus Heresy: Betrayal At Calth

For the Emperor!

Games Workshop has had an interesting few years. Since the decision to be more liberal with their Warhammer franchise was made, we’ve seen some duds lay by the wayside, but we’ve also seen some decent ideas from unexpected sources. The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth sets out to bring the futuristic Warhammer 40,000 universe to both PC and VR. It’s an interesting tactical game at heart, though it does need a bit more work done in various places.

Based on the standalone board game set in the Warhammer 40K universe, The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth puts the player in the boots of Sarc – an Adaptus Mechanicus Magos, fighting alongside the Ultramarines during the invasion of the Word Bearers Legion. You have to essentially take on the role of a general to direct his Ultramarine brothers in battle. I experienced the first Act of the game, messing around with army generation in the process.

Part of why I tend to like the Warhammer 40K universe is because of how ‘metal’ it is. Its mechanised worlds and frankly desolate landscapes have the air of despair one would expect to see in dystopian science fiction. While at times Betrayal at Calth can look somewhat too bright by comparison, it certainly gets the feel of how imposing the universe can be.

As this is in its pre-Alpha state, I can forgive some of the animation errors, such as Bolt Pistols firing at the ground rather than the enemy, but perhaps a little more detail could be put into the character models to show some wear and tear. After all, these Space Marines seldom get out of their armour, so one would expect them to have more than a few dents and scratches from battle. It just looks somewhat plain at the moment and while the environments are big, they’re not especially detailed yet.

With each turn, you can move units, make them open fire on enemies, assault them by getting close, or even reinforce squads by combining singular Space Marines into squads that have lost a member. Setting up your units, you can equip multiple weapons for the squad, including Plasma Pistols that do more damage but have a chance to backfire, potentially killing the unit that fired it. The team at Steel Wool Studios have made a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the table top game as a result.

By far my biggest gripe with Betrayal at Calth at the moment is that it’s just so slow. Given the nature of the game’s turn cycle where each squad gets two actions each round, there will be times where you have to wait for the units to finish moving or shooting, which can feel like an eternity when there’s few of your troops left and a whole legion of the opponent’s army bearing down on you.

The controls on PC are, well, mixed. They’re perfectly fine for the most-part, but I would have some of the menu options, such as scrolling through weapons before firing mapped to the mouse wheel, instead of this simply altering your camera angle.

One of the more unique elements of The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is the fact that you can play with VR enabled. Currently HTC Vive is fully supported and recommended, though those using Oculus Touch can also play. Firing up my Vive, the gameplay obviously doesn’t change a great deal, as it’s still a tactical game at heart, but the perspective does ship to allow for the player to be part of the action.

With the change in perspective comes a change of controls. For the most-part, they’re actually well laid out and take into account the interface’s more unique touches. Perhaps the only thing I would change here is to map all confirmations to the trigger, but allow for a small popup to confirm the action the squad is about to take (attack, hold, move, etc).

What I would also change is to ensure that the VR mode doesn’t allow for clipping into scenery. At various points, I would accidentally teleport into the scenery which caused the headset to flip out. This in turn made me feel rather ill, which was the first time this has happened in VR in quite a while. I would also have liked to have a slightly different perspective available so that I can float higher if I wanted to, being more of a general than an active participant.

Finally, in terms of the options for controls, I like the idea of activating VR in-game, but I would also like to have that option available before the game properly loads. This would allow those without VR or those who would have PC as a preference to load the game in that mode by default should they so desire. Since the game loaded in VR by default for me, it did make me worry that VR was a mandatory requirement for a while.

The caveat to all of these issues is that the game is still deep in development. In fact, Steel Wool have acknowledged these issues and the feedback from other hands on previews, deciding to push back the Early Access release to improve the core experience from day one.

I didn’t expect much going in and yet The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is actually a rather promising start. Some tweaks do need to be made here and there with the controls, the pacing, and making sure VR players don’t clip through walls, but with time will come a more fleshed out game that takes on the universe in a meaningful way. I will watch this one with baited breath.

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