Black Lab Games, the studio behind Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock, has another hit on its hands with Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector. While it is in danger of being overlooked in a recent flood of games using the Warhammer 40K setting, Battlesector brings the new era of the 40K table game to the PC like a thunderbolt to the head of a beehive tyrant. The momentum-based tactical system and the broad adaptability to the forces you lead, combined with randomization in the mission setup, give you a fun campaign with a tasty accessory of multiplayer hits.
The brooding melodrama of the Warhammer 40K universe is shown in full view in Battlesector, much to his credit. The beautiful yet charged Blood Angels Space Marines are destroyed after the invasion of the home worlds by the tyranids, a hive tank of space monsters that only exist to eat and grow. However, Blood Angels is now reinforced by the newly created Primaris Marines (which are like regular Space Marines, but larger) and are ready for a counterattack.
Battlesector explains all Lord Primarch and Baalfora and Hive Fleet convulsions as best they can. Just drink it, because everything is the backdrop for your team of tyranny hunters on a barren, salty desert moon. As you might expect ̵
During a 20-player single-player mission, you lead Sergeant Carleon and his blood angels, along with some sisters of allies, against the tyranids. To their credit, no two missions are exactly alike, each presenting some new goal or terrain to differentiate it from the others. Early battles see you tearing through tyranids on deserted salt flats, while later battles move to narrow mountain passes and massive Gothic industrial sites. Each of these handmade mission battles is a joy to fight for because they all present interesting tactical choices.
These choices become gloriously rich during the campaign. When you unlock new devices that you can use, you can score points in the commander’s skill trees – but you have no hope of unlocking them all in a single review. Instead, you get to specialize your army, and choose which units you want to buffer with new skills and upgraded stats. During the approximately 30 hours I have had with Battlesector, I have built two armies: One is designed as an infantry pistol line that strikes the members and cuts enemies as they approach, then heroes have to sweep in to beat the survivors to mulch .
Warhammer 40K: Battlesector Screenshots
The other is led by an armored sledgehammer that uses Furioso Dreadnought with flamethrowers to burn out the bait and predator tanks to crush the big bugs before they can even react. Both buildings have a different feel and are effective ways to play through the campaign, which speaks volumes about the potential for reruns.
Skirmish are a little more barebones. The matches are on mirrored maps with no real goals other than a death match, but it’s fun enough to think of weird lists of devices to surprise others with. Playing like the tyranids after the shoot-and-maneuver campaign like Blood Angels is a treat because they force you to focus on swarm tactics and high-quality mid-range monsters to win. The only real limitation is the unit variant – about 13 units per page – which left me wanting more.
You can also not customize the appearance of the armies. Forgiving in the campaign, with its canonical color choices, but a sad exclusion in multiplayer. I’ve said it before, and I want to say it again: All Warhammer games must have an army painter.
The basic turn-to-turn tactics of Battlesector are quite richly simulated, with each unit having a number of attacks each round, each with its own chance of hitting and damaging the roll. It’s quite satisfying to see a unit of Primaris Aggressors roll out 120 separate attacks in one turn, looking through model after model of tyranids.
Otherwise, most units move up to a certain distance and can take a single action each round, except for heroic headquarters which can take two actions. While maneuvering, set the unit’s face and set all units that have not acted or fire to a surveillance position so that they can fire during the enemy’s turn. Facing also determines how enemies interact with them: you can rush past the defenseless flanks or the back of an enemy, for example without them getting a free melee attack on you.
The melee rules are the most complex thing to figure out, very much depending on what weapons each side uses and whether they do a Charge action in battle. It may take you a bit of trial and error before you understand when your units get or do not get free gun attacks on an ongoing horde, or avoid the same attacks from the enemy, because the training is not as clear as they can be when it comes to explaining the system. Either way, most battles are about placing your devices in their optimal range, which is conveniently highlighted for you when you hold the mouse over a weapon.
However, not all weapon statistics are displayed as clearly and intuitively. Heaven will help you if it is the enemy’s weapon you are seeking information about. But fear not! It’s a user interface for strategy games, people – stick to it and you will find out the stupid quirks in the end.
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When your units cut down the enemy, they collect points in the Momentum bar, which gives a skilled, high reward factor to Battlesector’s battle. You can ignore it, or just use it when you’ve been lucky, but it’s really fun once you’ve figured it out. Blood Angels generate Momentum by being in the thickness of the battle, while Tyranids get it to kill, but both sides use it the same way: a full Momentum bar allows a unit to either take an extra action that round or use a puffed up version of one of their abilities, such as a superpower healing or a meteoric air charge. It’s a bit of a icing on the cake during matches, a bit of a mini-game to shoot for when you maximize your favorite units and make sure they get the most notorious kills so they can get extra attacks.
Perhaps the best part of Battlesector is that it does not shy away from large, huge, swirling battlefields filled with units. At the largest army sizes, you end up with 20 units on the field, all armed to the teeth. These colossal battles can take over an hour to resolve, but they are exciting to play on the bigger maps, and encourage you to fight on multiple fronts. I love dividing my army into two or three divisions designed to operate independently, which is something from Warhammer on the table I have rarely seen represented in video games.