Space Hulk: Deathwing is developed by Streum On Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive. The dev team has had previous experience with the excellent but terribly underrated E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy and as far as I’m aware, it took 4 years of development and uncertainty before we could finally be able to play Deathwing in all its glory. “Better late than never” fits this title like a glove.
Developer: Streum On Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: First Person Shooter (FPS)
Release Date: 14th of December, 2016
Type: Single-player, Online Co-op
More than five years have passed since Warhammer 40.000: Space Marine was released and proved to the gaming world that this fascinating Warhammer 40K franchise deserves more than just strategic titles, be they in real time or turn based. And yet 2011 only saw a timid start and a third person shooter. Perhaps they couldn’t yet implement a proper FPS or they didn’t want to. 2016 appears to be the year, us, hardcore W40K fans finally get to play a great first person shooter that would stand out on its own, even if some of its new players would be completely clueless about the rich and honestly quite overwhelming at first, lore. I won’t spoil any juicy details relating to the storyline and I do encourage that you read and discover the complex compendium of data, written over the course of three decades (1987 marks the inception of the Warhammer 40.000 tabletop series). It may seem convoluted at first but it becomes coherent enough once you establish some connections with the Warhammer Fantasy setting that offers plenty of inspiration for W40K. End Times – Vermintide is indeed an FPS featuring this franchise, but using the low-fantasy world I mentioned above. Deathwing is the first modern FPS foray for the Sci-Fi 40K segment and the all-time third, if you count the original Space Hulk from 1993 and 2003’s Fire Warrior.
You might be wondering, just what is a “Space Hulk”? In the W40K world you can find some of the largest ships ever conceived by a work of science fiction. We’re talking about spacecraft so large, that they have their own gravity field and can host millions of passengers. Imagine Star Wars’ Death Star if it had a propulsion system and if it was filled to the brim with deadly cyborg zealots instead of inept stormtroopers. A space hulk is a derelict massive ship that has fallen prey to Xenos (a term used for aliens, your constant in-game foes) and needs…to be purged. That can mean anything from the total destruction of the ship, to just killing anything that moves and recovering the spacecraft’s artifacts and relics. I did mention cyborg zealots because that can pretty much describe the Space Marines of the Imperium of Man. An empire that worships a seemingly immortal emperor and practices galactic expansionism with extreme prejudice and literal xenophobia. There are no “good guys” in Warhammer 40K but that is quite eloquent even for our real life world. The Space Marines are divded into Chapters (the structure is inspired from military orders with both a monastic and combat role) and they represent the finest troops the Imperium can deploy as a last resort or simply when the missions are too important to rely on the Imperial Guard (just a fancy name for soldiers almost as “skilled” as SW stormtroopers). You are a Librarian within the eponymous Deathwing Chapter and represent both a squad leader and a psyker adept (“magic” if you will, yet the Imperium abhors the term) in charge of finding relics and documenting them. That explains your presence on a space hulk that has been drifting for several thousand years through space.
As for the gameplay itself, Space Hulk: Deathwing features a well implemented Artificial Intelligence for your two loyal teammates (Barachiel, the heavy weapons specialist and Nahum, a medic referred to as an “apothecary”). You couldn’t face the numerous waves of aliens which swoop upon you, without your trusty subordinates and the commands you can issue them in real time, offer some degree of strategic thinking. You will obviously have to plan ahead and be aware that despite being an armor-clad and armed to the teeth superhuman, you can quickly fall victim to the hordes that thrive upon single targets. Teamwork is essential even when playing on Normal difficulty. Hacking is also present and you will have to bypass some turrets that would otherwise prove another obstacle in your path. The level design is great and the maps feel large enough while the objectives have you traversing them without backtracking a lot. Fighitng back to back, as seen in the official artwork for Deathwing, becomes a necessity and not just an option, on later missions once the enemies grow in size as well and not just sheer numbers. They do attack from multiple sides, ever trying to flank you. Some compare Deathwing with the Left 4 Dead series but the Xenos are far deadlier than zombies and seem to crawl and jump from everywhere. I managed to get the Steam achievement for 666 kills in just the first three story chapters. So you won’t be left wanting when it comes to tactical combat and the general feeling of being overpowered. You are not, but you still possess a vast arsenal that can obliterate the xenos with efficiency.
As you’d expect from a self-respecting AAA game that has stayed in development for as long as Deathwing has, the game looks magnificent as both textures and animations push the Unreal Engine 4 to its limits. Now, eye candy aside, there are some pretty serious optimization and frame rate issues that I do hope will get ironed out in a patch/update or two. I like playing my games at 4K resolution and by no means do I demand constant 60 frames per second as well. But c’mon, during heavy combat I was getting below 30fps and thus having to “take down a notch” and play at 2K. Even then I could notice frame rate dips that randomly went from 60 to 45 and even below that. I’m using a non-reference GTX 1070 model and this is the first title I notice that can gobble up over 7.5GB of GPU memory while running at 4K and my single monitor setup. Playing at only 2K, GDDR5 usage never hit 7GB. Quite odd, given how the game’s maps are spacious but still not open world-like to warrant that kind of memory usage. I did read in the many negative reviews Deathwing has received so far, that for those which possess slightly older CPUs, the frames are even lower than mine. Also weird for an FPS game to be CPU-bound, a trait more commonly found in RTS titles. I do hope that something can be done by the developer since the game’s Steam rating is not reflecting the amount of effort and creativity that was Invested in it. But the buyers are rightfully upset that they can’t run it decently unless they have a “beast system”. I do recommend that Deathwing is run in 1080p for a relatively stable frame rate. I’m personally going to wait for the performance patch.
+ Gorgeous graphics and sounds
+ Excellent level design with missions and characters in tune with the rich W40K lore
+ Sufficient diversity in both foes and the arsenal used against them
+ Steam Achievements & Trading Cards
– Frame rate issues
– Lack of a manual save file system
Result / Final thoughts
Don’t be quick to judge Space Hulk: Deathwing just because of its initially poor performance. Appreciate the rich details that abound within it and be certain that It shall run much better after both the GPU chipset manufacturers (through driver update) and the game’s developer, optimize Deathwing. It’s just a matter of time and frankly, I’ve long since stopped hoping for both a freshly released AAA title and stable, buttery smooth gameplay from the get-go. Once it shall run as intended, Deathwing will be fully worth its asking price. Patience is a virtue.