Games based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe have generally focused on the battlefields, but as the books point out, the worlds that it is based on are a far more complex, dark future setting. Eisenhorn: Xenos marks the first time we’ve seen the lore from the novels being adapted to games, which I personally feel is the right way to go. Pixel Hero Games have certainly undertaken a difficult task though.
I’ll most certainly give Pixel Heroes credit; Eisenhorn: Xenos captures the essence of the books. Exploring the first few chapters gives probably one of the more fleshed out atmospheres in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. You’ll see how despite being united under one common cause, humanity is not above doing some depraved things in this dystopian universe.
Being one of the more celebrated series of novels that Black Library – a subdivision of Games Workshop whose focus is publishing novels based on the Warhammer universe, it was perhaps imperative that the tone, storytelling, and delivery was up to snuff. From what I played, it certainly got the first two right, down to the tiniest detail. The main protagonist, Gregor Eisenhorn – an inquisitor for the Ordo Xenos, looks exactly like what the official art shows him as.
However, being a faithful adaptation of the books is something films have been doing for years. While I admire a lot of the effort that has gone into the game and was initially awed by what I was playing, it wasn’t until I thought about it a little more that there were a few inconsistencies.
Mark Strong, Gregor Eisenhorn’s voice actor, is certainly far better than any other of the cast thus far; some of which are cringeworthy at best, but even his performance is guilty of some missteps as it is the direction of the voice actors that seems to be lacking. At one point, Eisenhorn is addressing a crowd in a public forum, yet he is talking at the same pitch and delivery he does in quieter points, that it’s a miracle anyone could hear him. Hopefully this is something that could be rectified for the final release.
Upon looking deeper at the human characters you meet, they are also a little off at present. I’m not expecting everyone to look like a supermodel in the Warhammer 40k universe, after all the denizens of that universe are either armoured up, grubby, or decaying somewhat, but at least make their lip syncing somewhat less static. It should be noted though, that Pixel Hero Games are looking into the animation quality as they wrap up development so this should improve.
Yet despite all the effort they will be undertaking in sprucing up the game a little bit, it may be for naught. When you’re adapting the novel to a game you need to ensure that the gameplay itself is compelling. Having been developed for both Mobile and PC however, has caused Eisenhorn: Xenos some problems.
As an action brawler that takes a few pages out Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, the core gameplay comprises of navigating obstacles between arenas, and fighting a bunch of enemies. While the design of certain rooms is breath-taking at times, there are instances where it’s obvious that the level designer copied and pasted room layouts.
You don’t really go off the beaten path a great deal beyond small corridors that lead to either a switch to turn off a hazard, or one of the many chests containing currency to spend on either new gear or a rather basic customisable perk system. It’s a little disappointing that there isn’t much else to it, as the experience at this early stage feels rather linear.
Perhaps the biggest issue at the moment is with the rather basic combat. Every action is done using one button for melee attacks, one for ranged, and one for dodging. Depending on how well you time the button presses, each action takes a chunk out of the total action bar which slowly refills after a moment of inactivity. You also have access to a force push.
It’s certainly functional, but what made the combat feel so rewarding in the Batman games was that you could counter attacks, use gadgets, and feel like a badass doing so. Eisenhorn’s fighting currently feels pedestrian in comparison, just mashing on a few buttons while occasionally dodging to win. Then there are the, thankfully optional, stealth sections that, in this particular build, lack much challenge. Hopefully these aspects will ramp up later on in the story though.
This isn’t to say that Eisenhorn: Xenos is devoid of bright ideas. I liked using the scanning device to learn more about the lore and unlock doors for example, and the setting is absolutely spot on. Eisenhorn: Xenos’ main problem at the moment is that despite the wonderful material that it had, the gameplay seems to have been hindered by its cross-platform development.