Warhammer 40K Betrayal at Calth preview (PC) – Buggy and muddy

warhammer 40k betrayal at calth - feature

Those of you who know the Warhammer series will understand why I was excited about this title. The Warhammer 40k series is especially full of rich lore, environments and characters. The potential for great narrative, immersive gameplay and epic multiplayer battles abounds in this universe.  So when indie developers Steel Wool Studios announced a game based on the famous Horus Heresy series, it’s fair to say that I was excited by the prospect. What I found however, is one of the worst early access games recently released.

Story

Betrayal at Calth focuses on the human elements of the Warhammer 40K universe;  the Space Marines. These genetically superior warriors travel through the star systems and destroy the evils of Chaos. Fiercely loyal to their God-Emperor, they are vicious and brutal.  Of the various chapters of marines in 40K, this game focuses on the blue armoured Ultramarines.

The game begins as they are betrayed by the World Bearers at Calth, causing a schism in the Imperium.  In the campaign mode, you take control of Magos Sarc as he directs the Space Marines and tries to recover from the attack on Calth and rally his forces to repel the invaders.

Warhammer 40K

Presentation

The game is presented in 3D with reasonably free controls over camera panning and rotation.  The graphics are disappointing. The Space Marines look cartoonish and the texture maps are bland with low-poly models. Surprisingly there’s also no anti-aliasing options.  The one redeeming graphical feature is the special effects.  They are fairly pleasing with fire and smoke effects bringing a much needed realistic polish to the level design.

Animations are reasonable but again, there’s nothing of any impact present.  The models move stiffly and the weapon effects are particularly underwhelming. The terrain that is destructible simply disappears when hit.  This is ridiculous for a game in 2018 that holds such a prestigious franchise. I think every gamer expects some sort of visible impact when a wall is struck with a powerful grenade!

The Settings for each mission should be interesting, but instead they make the battleground of Calth seem lifeless.  The barren environment seems like it’s just a sparsely generated background rather than a fully inhabited part of Imperium space that’s suffered a devastating attack.

warhammer 40k betrayal at calth - backgrounds
Sparse, badly rendered backgrounds really suck the life out of the game experience

User Interface

The user interface is a strange mixture of a holographic 2D display with semi-transparent 3D overlays.  If that sounds confusing, that’s nothing compared to how it feels while playing the game.  It takes a long time to get comfortable and feels incredibly dated.  The UI provides little information on the units, abilities, items – or really anything.  It’s incredibly basic and only used to move units around and attack things.  I would have liked to have seen at least some tooltips or some more information screens.

betrayal at calth - crappy ui

Serious Graphical Issues

There’s an obnoxious number of graphical issues present as well.  The camera panning is painfully slow and often gets stuck on world objects or terrain.  Subtitles, when enabled, annoyingly cover interface elements.  This leads to letters jumbling together, making it impossible to read either.  Player characters have massive gaps in their animation cycle.  Sarc’s override ability actually has no animation associated with it!  Nothing happens for a few moments as Sarc stands limply and suddenly the device is overridden.  Again, pointing to a shoddy, broken release.  The game map disappears at times and models sometimes merge into a polygonal mess if they stand on the same space. The line of sight rules are also broken.  I could see units supposedly hidden behind walls!

warhammer 40k betrayal at calth - Invisible Units
Game units just disappear on the battlefield – for no reason whatsoever

The graphics options are extremely limited comprising of three buttons relating to graphical quality: low, medium and high.  I didn’t encounter any real performance issues – however my gaming laptop began to run very hot, I believe due to the lack of a VSync option being available.

Audio

Sound wise this title doesn’t fair much better.  The game is mostly silent, music is limited to some terrible title music, which is interrupted by gun noises.  At inappropriate times during the campaign, blasts of music blare from your speakers.  The voice overs are well produced but performed without much passion. The sound effects are adequate but seem out of balance compared to the music (when it occurs) and voice overs.

Gameplay

Warhammer 40K : Betrayal at Calth is a turn based strategy game. Each round both you and your opponent take turns moving one of your units until your tactical points run out.  A virtual die is then cast to determine the starting order for the next round.  As this title is currently early access, it only contains the first chapter of the campaign.

There are also four multi-player maps available. Each of these Multi-player maps contain two game modes as well as an army builder.  I would have liked to have seen a multiplayer leaderboard or at least be able to level up my army.  There’s no sense of progression with the multiplayer mode at all. I completed the single-player aspect in just over an hour. It’s a reasonable introduction to the game but I don’t actually want to play through the campaigns.

warhammer 40k betrayal at calth - multiplayer

The game features a ‘Lexicanum’ mode.  This is particularly useless, putting you into a free roaming FPS mode.  In this mode you can’t interact with anything and static sounds play every few minutes. I am very familiar with the Warhammer 40K universe, so I know about the various boosts like Power Fists and Bolter guns. For those who are not however, they may find themselves frustrated by the complete lack of in-game information.  There’s also no in game save mechanic, you have to restart the beginning of any mission you have started should real life interrupt.  Imagine the frustration that fellow gamers will face with this omission when longer missions and lengthier campaigns are present.

VR Mode

There is a much discussed VR mode, this sounds like an incredible idea.  The ability to walk around the mighty Warhammer 40K universe in first person.  Getting up close and personal with the Space Marines and observing battles from inside their helmets.  Unfortunately this is as buggy as the rest of the game.  The graphics can become unclear when close to an object and to be honest, it’s a complete mess.betrayal at calth - clear as mud

Overall

The premise has so much promise.  Anything with the Warhammer 40K branding has high expectation from fans. Especially from those who have played the excellent Dawn of War series.  There’s no excuse to place a title as buggy and obviously incomplete as this on Steam.  It’s Early access, but it’s unplayable.  Units disappearing, textures glitching, lacklustre campaign battles and multiplayer which seems tacked on, rather than an essential element of the game, completely spoil this title.

Taking into consideration the graphical glitches, audio malfunctions and piss poor gameplay. This is a lazy Early Access release from a company who have managed to take an incredible Warhammer 40K storyline and make it ineffectual and tedious. Don’t sink any money into this.  Please avoid this like a Tyranid plague. I played it, so you don’t ever have to!

Available on Steam

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Chris McAuley Author
Chris McAuley began his writing career reviewing old copies of 2000AD, he quickly progressed to interviewing major alumni of the comic book industry including Pat Mills, Grant Morrison, Glenn Fabry. Writing acclaimed reviews and features on Comic books and videogames, he is also a Test Reader for Millsverse. His background is in theology and it is in this arena which he gained his PHD, believing that story is crucial to human beings and that most modern cultural narrative experiences are driven from the ancient and the mythological. These are the aspects of gaming which Chris gravitates towards – narrative and immersive experience. He is dedicated to exploring and explaining the important aspects of the gameplay experience of the titles he reviews and informing the reader so that they can make the best decision regarding their purchases.
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Chris McAuley Author
Chris McAuley began his writing career reviewing old copies of 2000AD, he quickly progressed to interviewing major alumni of the comic book industry including Pat Mills, Grant Morrison, Glenn Fabry. Writing acclaimed reviews and features on Comic books and videogames, he is also a Test Reader for Millsverse. His background is in theology and it is in this arena which he gained his PHD, believing that story is crucial to human beings and that most modern cultural narrative experiences are driven from the ancient and the mythological. These are the aspects of gaming which Chris gravitates towards – narrative and immersive experience. He is dedicated to exploring and explaining the important aspects of the gameplay experience of the titles he reviews and informing the reader so that they can make the best decision regarding their purchases.
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