If you think the 2020s have been rough, just wait till you see what the 41st millennium has in store for humanity. Sure, there’s a galactic empire, but it teeters on the brink of collapse, beset on all sides by alien races and the corrupting forces of the Chaos gods. In other words, it’s war. All the time. Everywhere. Also, the Imperium of Man? Yeah, it’s got Space Marines, but it’s also hella fascist…
Still, it’s those Space Marines that often stand between survival and annihilation, and when it comes to fighting off Chaos, it’s the Grey Knights that do it best. Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters opens with a fight against a daemon, fittingly enough, but while the mission is successful, it leads to the death of the strike force’s commander. In classic Command & Conquer fashion, it’s you, Commander, that takes control with the intention of guiding your ship back to Titan for repairs, only to be commandeered by the Inquisition and forced to face a new Chaos-driven threat.
The Bloom, as it’s called, is spreading across the Tyrtaeus sector, and you’re the only strike force in position to fight it back. It doesn’t take long to link this danger back to the Chaos God Nurgle, even if Grey Knights Grand Master Verdan Kai (Andy Serkis) is dismissive of the Inquisitor’s claims and only begrudgingly allows you to continue staving off this particular danger. The rivalries and disagreements between humanity’s most secretive defenders are a key part of the universe, after all, but here you have to play politics and try to keep people happy or your research will slow down and trickle of supplies dry up.
Each mission you take on sees four Grey Knights beaming down to the surface of a war-torn planet, moving around in a turn-based style that fans of XCOM and the genre will be instantly familiar with. You’re empowered by each of your soldiers having three action points to spend how you see fit, so you can lay down a seemingly endless hail of gunfire, mix and match a variety of abilities, or sprint across the map, hurdling the scenery in a surprisingly dynamic fashion for the heavily armoured super-soldiers. You’ve got plenty of environmental destruction to take advantage of, and beware of. One of my favourite twists is that you can run up to an enemy within range and melee for just a single AP.
The Grey Knights are much more than your standard Space Marines, with a range of eight classes that specialise in melee, ranged, teleporting, healing, and so on. Each one is also a psyker to a certain degree, able tap into the power of the Warp to augment their attacks. Getting up close and personal, those equipped with melee weapons can then target certain parts of enemies, adding stun damage to your attack open up a Chaos Marine to an execution, or cutting off the head of a Bloated Poxwalker so that it doesn’t explode in death, or slicing off parts of larger enemies to render some of their attacks unusable. Many actions are accompanied by cinematic slow motion animations, and it’s always fun to see a Nurgle acolyte getting absolutely obliterated.
Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters does a great job of keeping you on the front foot. Dilly-dally for too long and the effects of the Bloom will cause some kind of nasty effect to take hold as the meter at the top of the screen fills up – every time you use Will that will bump it up too. It could be a poisonous cloud, it could be new enemies warping in, a debuff to all your knights, or a buff to the enemies on screen, and plenty more. The longer a mission goes on for, the greater the risks that you won’t come out unscathed.
However, you can’t run into combat with reckless abandon. Right from the opening missions of the campaign, it often feels like you’re teetering on the brink of things going very, very wrong. It’s easy to overestimate what you can get away with, leaving one of your Knights open to three or four enemies surrounding them and laying in with gunfire, melee attacks and warp-based abilities, though at least you always know exactly what damage you’re going to deal. There’s no pesky 1% misses here.
Overwatch is an option if you’re looking to cover a flank, but if trying to use it from behind full cover, your Knight will then stand right out in the open, leaving themselves open to a battering in return – it doesn’t help that your overwatch range is shorter than regular gunfire, limiting its usefulness further.
The AI can be a little dim at times, especially when it comes to using overwatch, just staring off in a direction that doesn’t matter. Still, the pressure is on through weight of numbers and missions often end up a mad rush to complete an objective as enemies close in, or even running away as a horde of enemies warps in before you can be teleported back up to your ship, the Baelful Edict.
The Baelful Edict is your hub and where the narrative is progressed. You’ve got everything you’d expect here, from a Barracks to customise your Knights, hand them new and improved gear, and see how long before they heal up. There’s upgrades for your ship to restore your strike force to full strength, and the Inquisitor has a room for conducting research. This relies on collecting Bloom Seeds in missions to study, with research that can progress the main narrative or bolster your forces in battle with playable Stratagem cards.
Bloom outbreaks come in threes, tearing your priorities between different parts of the sector map, forcing you to pick one or maybe two missions (if they’re close enough together) and allowing for the Bloom outbreak to grow elsewhere. The stakes will keep on rising and rising through the campaign, and there’s eventually the option to bombard planets from above that you deem to be too far gone. The one issue throughout, though, is that you’re only really facing off against Nurgle, taking on the same type of cultists and the same standard Chaos Marines, and it takes quite a while before these come with higher stakes battles against tougher Chaos foes and Daemons. Then again, you absolutely need to level up before you can take those on!