The expansive lore of 40k, for all its techno-gothic melodrama, is largely humorless. It’s a universe propelled by grim duty, by a cock swinging contest of military might that would be almost vaudevillian in its excess if given a square inch of breathing room for self reflection. But the actual act of playing 40k on a tabletop isn’t humorless. The second a single quote or line of fluff is removed from context and spoken by an actual human, the self-seriousness tends to deflate. On paper, it’s all baroque fatalism, but that doesn’t stop it from being huge amounts of fun to do Ork impressions or shout “Purge The Heretics!” at friends over beers whilst rolling dice.
Inquisitor: Martyr feels like the writers were aware of this gulf between the lore as written and playing 40k as an experience. The result, however, is a non-committal, bubblegum pop version of the source material. The inquisitors themselves feel like bland heroes, rather than the unstable zealots the lore paints them as. Exploring the character of the Inquisitors further could have elevated Inquisitor Martyr immensely. Without it, this competent but unremarkable action RPG satisfies, but fails to impress.
Inquisitor Martyr is neither invested enough in grim-dark bombast to produce any sort of accidental humor, nor rife with the heart and banter that made Vermintide so enjoyable. Even if you decide take it all seriously, there’s a great deal of exposition here, and very little characterization. Dialogue is more likely to be about which terminals to activate in what order than anything else. There’s not a big roster either — just three voiced classes with three sub-classes each. It doesn’t seem like it would have taken much to make them stand out from each other
This said, fans will appreciate the overall level of dedication to capturing the look of the franchise. Inquisitor: Martyr, for all its similarities to other ARPG’s, never struck me as 40k flavored reskin. From the pustule covered Nurgle demons to the powerful but easily overheated plasma pistols, everything looks and feels authentic. Gory gibs can be downright glorious at times, and the hulking rogue trader ships are stunning in their detail.
Although it’s easy to pigeonhole Inquisitor Martyr as Diablo 40k, the ‘Action’ part of the ARPG formula is a lot more considered than you might be expecting. Rushing through in a flurry of blades and spells won’t cut it here on anything but the easiest difficulty. High enemy health means sustained encounters where self preservation becomes key. You’re often required to read the room and respond, rather than zone out for a gory clickfest. There’s also a cover system. It’s a little awkward, and I didn’t end up using it much, but it does show that Inquisitor Martyr‘s design priorities were a little more thoughtful than standard fare.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a complete positive. Sporadic difficulty spikes within the missions often interrupt a flow that, even when running smoothly, can still occasionally feel like sucking down a mouthful of gravel in the middle of strawberry milkshake. But it’s clear that the developers have looked at what makes 40k unique as a system, and attempted to replicate some of that within the genre’s framework.
The three classes – each with three subclasses – all feel very different to play as, with varying results. The most immediately familiar to fans of the genre will be the Assassin. I’ve seen the combat speed in Inquisitor described as sluggish. While I wouldn’t go that far, I will say that the speedier Assassin brings the basic rhythm of play up to a level I felt comfortable with. She rolls, she slices, she snipes. She’s also much better voice acted than the other two classes, and a personal favorite.
Then there’s the Psyker, who has a range of cool spells but can accidentally summon warp demons if you get too carried away. Again, it’s a nice nod to the lore, and creates an engaging risk/reward system that further alleviates the mindlessness trap that ARPG’s can often fall into.
The third is the Crusader – effectively the tank class, with a bunch of bonuses to firearms if you spec him right. The Crusader’s drawback is that gunplay is one of Inquisitor’s weaker aspects, and without the Assassin’s speed or the Psyker’s ability to manipulate the battlefield, the Crusader can feel quite drab by comparison.
It doesn’t help that, with a few exceptions, you’ll mostly be mowing down demons through dozens of basically identical spaceship interiors. Paired with the fact that there’s no option to play through the campaign with other people, and it tends to feel like groundhog day after a while. There’s the occasional mini-boss, but very few set-pieces or anything to break the levels up from feeling like someone just shook a bunch of map tiles onto the floor and rearranged them at random. I did think it was a nice touch that the map tiles do look a great deal like they’re from a tabletop game, however.
When you do team up with three other players, multiplayer connection is smooth and there’s a clan system in place. But this is also the only time there’s any sort of penalty for dying. Going through the story campaign, death means nothing – you just respawn a few meters back. That’s fine if you have the energy to self-impose limits, but quickly saps any tension away from play.
Just as the theme of endless war suits the tabletop game perfectly, the Inquisitor’s role of seeking out and eradicating Nurgle infestations feels tailor made for a game of hunting, cleansing, and exfiltrating. Legendary Doom designer John Romero has spoken in the past how games appeal to our need to ‘tidy up’ spaces, and Inquisitor: Martyr showcases this more than most. The Imperium of Man has always displayed fascist-adjacent authoritarian tendencies, and the core loop captures this aspect of their personality well.
It does feel, however, that in dedication to constant spectacle and ever more compulsive loot grinding, that Inquisitor: Martyr has neglected to explore its characters to its full potential. In a universe rich with disturbing and flawed creatures, the Inquisitors, and the chaos hordes they fight against, are some of the most fascinating. Without any kind of narrative intrigue, what’s left is a satisfying, but fairly forgettable experience. Most fans will find something to love here, but I can’t see it converting anyone to the cause.
Available from Steam