Space Hulk: Deathwing had to fight its way through a pretty competitive release window on its release in December last year.
Landing at a time when players had already seen the likes of Dishonored 2, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1 and Final Fantasy XV, the game also arrived groaning under the weight of fan expectations.
Space Hulk: Deathwing is the newest game set in the Warhammer 40K universe, If that means nothing to you, WH40K began life as a fantasy miniature war game that has spread to most other forms of media. Its immense age and popularity mean game developers have battled to adapt its sheer scale into standalone videogames.
Throw in the fact that the IP owners seem to hand out licences like candy, and it has become a common joke in the 40K community that every new title is something of a coin toss when it comes to quality.
Space Hulk: Deathwing review – playing with yourself
As with a previous game set in the 40K universe, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, players take control of, well, a space marine.
While Space Marine was a third person shooter, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a horde FPS in the same vein as Left 4 Dead. You are a Librarian – a space marine with psychic powers – sent to investigate a floating derelict spaceship known as a Space Hulk.
You and your party of two other space marines, a combat-focused class and a healer, discover the ship has been overrun by Genestealers. These nasty critters are a subspecies of alien hive mind known as the Tyranids. They serve as cannon fodder just as the zombies did in Left 4 Dead.
Things go wrong, of course, and players will have to complete various missions involving “go there and shoot this” and nothing more.
Deathwing makes a good first impression; the game is amazingly detailed to the point where even the most cynical Warhammer 40K fan will become weak at the knees when they see the obvious love and attention from the artists. I have hundreds of screenshots I could instead label “Fantasy Gothic Architecture Appreciation” instead of the title of this game.
The uniquely bleak and beautiful world presented in books and endlessly recreated in miniature form finally has a solid guiding representation in a videogame, and, as a fan, it makes my heart swell to see it done so well.
Unfortunately, the gobsmacking presentation isn’t backed up by a solid gaming performance. To say this game is not optimised is a laughable understatement. As soon as I loaded up it began to chug at about only a dozen frames a second. Dropping most details and graphic options to medium brought this to an unacceptable 45 FPS at the best of times, which sometimes dips into single digits.
And this is where you can clearly see the dire need of optimisation. The number of Genestealers on screen, the size of the environments and your graphic choices past a certain point have no real effect on your performance. Under the hood this game is just not made well, and it’s apparent from the second you start playing.
I played this game on my R9 280X card paired with an i5-4670K on low to medium settings and the classic “it works for me” argument is out the air lock as, looking at the Steam reviews for one example, you can see that it runs poorly everywhere and on every system. When even the top of the line PCs can’t run a game, we have absolutely no faith for this title in its current state.
Past those two most glaring points Space Hulk: Deathwing’s combat model is a bit of a mess. Certain weapons such as the assault cannon – a forearm-mounted galling gun – are endlessly satisfying to use.
On the other hand, every single melee weapon in the game feels imprecise and lacklustre. It’s very close to Skyrim’s model, with attacks that convey no weight.
As you play through the nine chapters of the campaign you’re liberally given new weapons to test out. Sorting the fun weapons from the duds becomes its own side mission.
Using these weapons on the hordes is both satisfying and frustrating. One minute you’re having the time of your life slaying the aliens, and the next you’re shouting at your PC because of wonky hit detection and a damage system that never really informs you of low health before you land on a loading screen.
Space Hulk: Deathwing review – playing with others
Jumping online presents a new set of frustrations. You probably won’t be able to find any games in South Africa, and you’ll have to mess around in Steam to get into a lobby. This is the same problem we had with DOOM’s multiplayer, and it’s still the massive irritant it was then.
Once in a game you’ll find the constant progression and huge arsenal of the singeplayer cut into chunks for each of the up to four players to use. Your psychic powers, like shooting lighting or summoning a twister made of fire, are now locked to one class, while the nifty assault cannon is locked to another.
If you were interested in this game for multiplayer alone, and don’t have one to three friends to shell out for it too, we can’t recommend buying it. The solo queuing is abysmal, searching for maps is arduous, and changing your Steam download server every time you want to go online is a pain.
On top of all this, loading times take ages, players can easily be disconnected, and there are common bugs that cause players to become trapped.
If you have a full set of buddies who enjoy Warhammer 40K, we can see it being tolerable.
Space Hulk: Deathwing review: Verdict
The saddest part of Space Hulk: Deathwing isn’t that it’s currently a bad game; we 40K fans can deal with that. The real sad part is that it’s easy to see the potential hidden behind the grime.
In it’s current state it’s broken mess that requires patience and tolerance to play. But, in the future, it may not be.
We truly believe that patches from the developers could save this game. Optimisation could improve the game tremendously, some fixes for sound design, weapon balancing and more could make the world of difference.
In a few months, or years, Space Hulk: Deathwing could be the best Warhammer 40K game ever made. But in the grim dark present it’s just another disappointing title bearing the 40K name.
- Space Hulk: Deathwing was reviewed on a PC. Review code was supplied by the publisher.