It’s quite staggering that a game like Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade hasn’t been made sooner. There’s often a feeling that Games Workshop license their properties out willy-nilly, just in case one of them sticks, and yet there hasn’t been an attempt at making a online multiplayer shooter. Behaviour Interactive are doing their utmost to fix that, after years of work on this ambitious MMO third person shooter hybrid.
The Warhammer 40K universe is one of endless warfare, and the game represents this with battle lines drawn up and shifting back and forth depending on how the various battles pan out. Alongside smaller modes like Domination and Tug of War, there’s a hint of Battlefield’s scope in Fortress, with 60 players fighting it out across large maps, with a number of vehicles and emplacements.
Having been in Steam Early Access for the past six months, the latest major addition comes in the form of the Eldar, who join the Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines and Orks as a playable race. Each is designed to fit a particular mould, with five classes to choose between – infantry, heavy, jump assault, support and ground assault. These naturally draw upon the lore and the tabletop game, with different roles and weaponry available to each class of Space Marine, and in the case of the Eldar, their highly specialised Aspect Warriors.
Though they fit similar roles, the Eldar being an alien race means that there are some quite significant differences, with the unique ability of the Striking Scorpions allowing them to cloak themselves in order to get close to enemies, while the Swooping Hawks feel better at hanging in the sky and raining down fire from above, than their Space Marine counterparts.
While it’s tempting to pigeonhole yourself into a particular role – the very powerful powerful melee attacks make those classes particularly enticing – you do need to be mindful of the objectives. Only the basic infantry classes can trigger an objective capture, forcing you to try and play with a balanced team, one way or another. Coming up against tanks and APCs just gives you even more reasons to try and adapt to what’s in front of you.
The majority of my play time, though, has been plagued with issues. Behaviour brought an early build of the PlayStation 4 version of the game to a preview event last week, but with just six weeks of development in porting the game across, it was disappointingly shaky, with poor graphics, a terrible frame rate, a number of serious hitches, and crashes. I want to temper this by saying that it’s very early in the console version’s existence, and ordinarily I’d try to overlook some of these issues, many of which can be put down to server connectivity, but upon testing the Steam Early Access version at home on my PC, I had some similar feeling problems.
Playing in the tutorial area, the game was perfectly smooth and really captured the intimidating scale and sprawling gothic architecture that the 40K universe is known for, but diving into any multiplayer match, I’d encounter a long 5-10 second hang at least once a minute, making it barely playable. It’s currently in Steam Early Access, so some bumps are to be expected, and it doesn’t seem to be a universal issue, if the forums are anything to go by. This still makes me think that the “Summer 2016” release date is an overly optimistic one. Games tend to come together very close at the end of development, but Behaviour need to be quite certain that the game’s ready, in order to make a good first impression.
Yet, with all that in mind, Eternal Crusade is very much a game worth keeping an eye on. It is still very deep in development, and that means that some of the more interesting elements of the game are still out of reach. Character customisation is yet to be added, though you can pick from a number of different sub-factions when creating a character, while Orks and the PvE mode are just being added this week to the closed testing group before making their way to Early Access.
In contrast to the grand battles of the competitive multiplayer modes, it pits small groups of five against the Tyranid hordes to prevent them from gaining yet another foothold in this galaxy. Interestingly, the PvE modes will feed back into the overarching war effort and the battle lines on the persistent world map. However, that’s another feature that’s yet to make a public appearance,
Unfortunately, all that I’m left to talk about is the game’s potential, because Behaviour seem to have a lot of good ideas for how to bring together an ambitious online multiplayer game in the 40K universe. It’s just a shame that, regardless of how far away from launch it is, that it’s currently obscured by so many problems.