My closest advisor is pissed off at me. I approach Brother Ectar slowly, his two metre tall superhuman frame silhouetted against an impressive stained glass window at least ten times his height. I shuffle forwards, preparing what I’m going to say, running through my lines in my head. We’re riding what is essentially a moon-sized cathedral through a solar system infected with a deadly plague, and I just agreed to bring an infected cultist on board to study. But who can deny an Inquisitor her request?
The main gameplay loop of Warhammer: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters revolves around the XCOM-like turn-based combat missions, where you drop onto planets overrun with Nurgle’s plague in order to eliminate seed carriers, destroy minions, or retrieve important information. However, there are a surprising number of difficult decisions to make on board your cruiser between missions, and this is what led me to disappointing my fellow Grey Knight, Brother Ectar.
You have to weigh up the importance of advice given to you by Ectar, Inquisitor Vakir, and Tech-Priest Dominus Lunete Ozmarantis. Siding with one will likely upset the others. Ectar will usually advise to prioritise the Chapter’s protocols and traditions, and votes to purge the Bloom – this Nurgle infection – with fire, brimstone, and the fury of the Emperor. Vakir, who has requisitioned your ship, warriors, and resources, wants to research the galaxy’s corruption, so opts for a more cautious approach to the Bloom. Lunete only cares about your ship, the Baleful Edict.
You can’t just pick one advisor to side with the whole way through your playthrough, though, as my decision to study an infected corpse rather than apply a generous helping of blessed flamethrower to its pustuled body gave me a heavy debuff from Ectar for nearly 50 in-game days.
You grow close to these three advisors as you play through Daemonhunters, and I felt closer to them than to many of my foot soldiers. Despite mimicking XCOM by letting me name my troops (Big Dog the heavy weapons specialist and Nurse Joy the Apothecary were personal favourites), they spent a lot of time recovering, which forced me to use underleveled and underappreciated knights for a bunch of my missions. The long recovery times after a soldier is wounded means that favourites are often relegated to the bench as they heal up, and I’m hardly going to nickname all the reserves, am I?
This brings me to my biggest gripe with Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters. The characters I care about most, my advisors, who I can talk to, who care about my performance, who have their own motivations, are the characters I see the least of. They’re also the only characters with voice acting that goes beyond the usual generic battlefield grunts. I care about them, I hate letting them down, and yet I can’t play with them. So why can’t they join my squad on the ground? [One thing to note: I haven’t finished Daemonhunters yet, so this could come to fruition, but it doesn’t look likely as I approach the endgame.]
Take Vakir for example. I would do anything for the stern Inquisitor. If she asked me to jump into a Great Unclean One’s rotting maw and bathe with the daemonic maggots that reside there, I’d have my swimming trunks ready. Sure, part of this is because I would let those Inquisitorial boots walk all over me, but another part of it is because we’re navigating this galactic shitstorm together. She advises me, she advances my technologies, we make decisions about how to go forward together. The soldiers that I actually fight with have none of that. They’ve got skill trees, levels, and customisable faces, but no personality. I guess I’m supposed to project that onto them myself, but they’re so strong that there’s none of that XCOM jeopardy. If they die in battle, they’re just relegated to the bench for a couple of months. Even if I named them after my IRL friends, I wouldn’t care if they died. They’ll be back.
If we’re going down the route of sending supersoldiers into battle – which Warhammer games inevitably do, and Daemonhunters is no exception – why not let me play with the best of the best? Imagine directing Vakir, Lunete, and Ectar on the battlefield instead of generic soldiers. There’d be more at stake, I’d care more about them, and turn-based fights would be more varied and fun. With the Grey Knights at my disposal there’s only so much variety; the big gun one, the combat one, the healer, the Terminator-armoured tank, you get the picture.
Let me utilise Lunete’s ancient Volkite weaponry and have her talk to the spirits of machines to overcome battlefield problems. Ectar is my Grey Knight representative, so I’d give him a Thunder Hammer and let him unleash the Emperor’s righteous fury on any heretic he lays eyes on. I don’t know what Vakir’s strategy and research would bring to the table – maybe she’d act as a backline support unit buffing the other two with stratagems and tactics – but I’d want her there all the same.
This would present obvious problems if any of the three perished on the field of battle – how would the game progress, how would you research new technologies or repair your ship without your advisors? So I proffer this: the final mission should send your advisors into the fray. A last resort, a final gambit to scourge the galaxy of this daemonic plague once and for all. We could even have different endings depending on who survives and who falls.
I’m getting ahead of myself, it doesn’t need to be that complicated (although it would be cool if it was). Most of all, I want more from the advisors and I want more from my basic Grey Knights who are doing all the fighting. The two sides of the game – the grand strategy aboard the Baleful Edict and the turn-based planetfall fighting – feel disparate, and the effort that has gone into characterising your advisors feels a little wasted for the portions of the game spent on the battlefield. In the end, it’s pretty simple; I just want to play as the characters that the game has helped me to care about the most.
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