Having been out on mobile platforms as a free-to-play game since 2014, and from having been released on the PlayStation 4 back in 2019, it’s finally the turn of Microsoft’s big black box to get in on the Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf action. The question I aim to answer in this review is two-fold: can a seven-year old game still cut it in this day and age, and should you give it room on your system? Strap on your power armour, we’re going to find out.
The backstory and universe of the Space Marines is a tribute to the imagination of the franchise’s inventors, Games Workshop, who incidentally licensed this product when it was released. The story seems to be that a chapter of the Space Marines, they of the Space Wolves, have had a little bit of a mishap and crash landed on a planet; a planet that is crawling with the Space Marines’ sworn enemies, Chaos Marines and Cultists. As Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf opens, we are found in charge of the surviving Captain of the Space Wolves, and the first order of business is to find and reassemble the rest of the guys.
The game plays out as a turn-based strategy affair, with a card-based twist. We get a squad together, and once the rest of the team has been found, entering a level means you can select the team of your choice. It’s not always as easy as choosing the hardest hitting, tankiest team though: there are three classes to choose from, and certain classes are the only ones that can use certain weapons. An example is that only Scout class Marines, otherwise a bit squishy, can use a sniper rifle to bring the pain from a distance.
Now, first things first and we’ve got to talk about the visual look of Space Wolf. There’s no way to be kind here – the game looks like an Xbox 360 game, and the graphics seem very dated and determinedly low res. The animation of the characters, both the Marines and enemies, is pretty ropy as well, and while the voice acting of the former is up to snuff, the end result is like a cherry on top of a pile of something that is far removed from that of a pie. There can be nothing but bad marks here for presentation.
Of course, if a game is a lot of fun to play, you can forgive the way it looks. And here, at least, the news is better. The cards that you find, or are issued with, are able to be used in a few ways. When it is your turn, you select the card you want to use, be it a movement or a weapon card, and then you choose what to do. The movement cards are straightforward: they allow you to move a certain number of squares and then choose which way you want to end up facing. Weapon cards allow you to either attack, which shouldn’t be a shock, but you can also use them as movement cards too. Weapons can also be equipped, to add a little spice, and doing so adds various abilities such as Overwatch, where if an enemy moves into range, they will automatically be fired upon. Each character can use two cards per turn, in any mix of move and attack cards, and on the whole the combat side of this Warhammer experience is good.
The issue I have with Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf though is that the tutorials are pretty much non-existent. It’s fair to say that the game does do a good job of teaching you the basics of combat in the missions, but that’s just the beginning of it and there are a host of mechanics that I still have little idea about. How do you change the cards in your deck, for instance? No idea.
There is a kind of Card Forge where you can make new cards, putting resources into the creation of new cards or having the chance to open booster packs (a proper hangover from the mobile versions, where I imagine the micro-transactions were suffocating), and while it’s easy to make some cards – the likes of a legendary sword – using them is complicated. That really is another bad mark put against what HeroCraft have created.
All in all, this means that Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf is a good game that has been burdened by some poor choices. The way it looks is absolutely bang on for a mobile game, but the move to console and playing on an Xbox Series X will leave players seriously underwhelmed – comparing this to the recent Age of Sigmar is like comparing chalk and cheese or night and day. There are also issues with how things are – or aren’t – explained, with a constant feel that much of the gameplay is closed off. With a little more care put into the tutorial and explanation side of Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, the card based gameplay could well have been a lot of fun, but that fun is nipped in the bud sadly.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf brings the next Warhammer 40k experience to Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One