Allow me to preface this piece by stating my limited, almost non-existent knowledge of the Warhammer 40K universe. My limited exposure to this world started with the RTS Dawn of War about a decade or so ago, and includes the recently released and hugely enjoyable Left for Dead clones Vermintide and Vermintide II. Even though those efforts were pure fantasy old-timey Warhammer.
The Warhammer license has been used to spawn an obscene quantity of videogames since the early ‘90s, mostly in the form of RTS and Tactics genres, so I was understandably astonished to learn that Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr is the first attempt at an action role playing game ala Diablo. Sadly, it falls a little flat.
I wanted to like this marriage of Warhammer and action-RPG. Really like it. And initially I did, but the honeymoon was over pretty damn quickly. The hotel room was nasty and bug infested. The food invaried and bland. And the wife who looked so radiant on the day, lost most of her appeal when her skills and abilities were found to be lacklustre and severely limited.
The game is hampered by a number of bugs, framerate problems, and myriad issues with weapon and skill balance. Not to mention the occasional, totally random, full shutdown of the Xbox while perusing the Star Chart. Targeting priorities are a mess; more often than not my Assassin sniper would prefer to target an exploding barrel or crate over the armoured Space Marine bearing down on me. The ability to manually select targets is there, but it's imprecise, awkward, and impedes what should be fast-paced and fluid gameplay.
Every weapon has a total of four skills. Melee weapons will have a single attack, an AoE or two, and a ground covering jump or slide attack. Ranged weapons will have single shot, multishot, and limited AoE attacks. In addition is the super-ability style class skill, determined by the equipped armour, as well as a belt than hold either grenades, mines or portable shields. That's it. Unlike another action-RPG I can think of, there's no 20 different ways of kicking enemy ass with a multitude of Monk melee skills, nor can you shoot freezing arrows, deploy sentry turrets, or call down a rain of vengeance upon your foes. Due to this extreme skill shortage there exists no way to synergise your skills. Essentially you buff up before battle, engage your armour skill, and mash your buttons until you win the encounter. I suppose the same could be said for most action-RPGs, but due to the lack of diversity and skill/armour synergys, Warhammer's offering fails to measure up.
The weapon skills suffer from severe imbalance too, and many weapons will never be picked for regular use thanks to either insubstantial damage or non-existent cc (crowd control) ability. Similarly the belt upgrades suffer the same imbalance. Why choose a grenade with limited damage or cc when you can wreathe yourself in a damage absorb/reflect shield? Remote mines are equally inadequate when compared to an item that will provide a flat 30% crit chance increase for 30 seconds.
The imbalances spread into the character skill trees. All the skills are passive, offering minute increments to damage, crit chance and so on. Many can be completely ignored, such as the Damage over Time tree, thanks to the underwhelming performance of DoT abilities in the game. Conversely the Crit and Aimed Shot trees are absolutely essential if you've chosen to run ranged weapons, or follow the path of the sniper Assassin.
At the other end of the scale, one item that stands out is the excellent innovation known as the Innoculator. It starts out as a humble health potion, but as your character levels up it gains incredible utility as more slots and augments are unlocked. The slots can be customised to provide a massive heal or smaller incremental doses of health over time, a huge damage spike, increased crit chance and strength, or a mixed combination of all. Furthermore, slots can also be designated to reduce the cooldowns between uses. It's a massive upgrade to the standard health pot and a welcome addition to what is otherwise less than standard action-RPG fare. A rare spark of creativity in an otherwise straightforward setup.
The game offers some fantastic looking levels though, with a few distinct map types including ships, cities (both in the air and groundside), frozen wastelands, and planetary surfaces. For the most part the maps consist of interlinked, mostly square rooms, without a lot of diversity to distinguish between them, aside from the excellent interior decorating. Ranging from spaceship standard minimalism to abstract racks of bleached skulls offset by the warm fleshtones of mounded corpse piles, the assets and set pieces used are varied and unique. The Warhammer 40K license is used to great effect here, with highly stylised and intricate set pieces, and a wealth of Warhammer assets including characters, symbology, characters, monsters, and vehicles.
The ability to craft items exists but it's unlikely you'll ever need to once you've reached the end game. Relics (read: legendary) items are all you'll be hunting, as unfortunately these cannot be crafted. They can however be fused with other Relics to increase their power level. Note this doesn't change or enhance the item's skills, damage or otherwise. For that you can reroll the stats but this is more a credit sink than viable upgrade path, and unless the Omnissiah is feeling particularly benevolent you're unlikely to win the desired upgrade.
Other than a curiosity to see how far you can push your build, there remains little reason to continue playing once you have acquired legendary versions of your chosen gear. There are no armor or weapon sets to find or build, no hidden collectibles to unearth, and no XP to be gained once you hit level 50. Without paragon levels to strive for, and items that cap out at level 40, there is a startling lack of pursuable endgame content. Sure you can level another class, but thanks to the aforementioned imbalances of weapons and skills, and zero differentiation between subclasses, there's very little variety to be found outside established builds.
This, coupled with repetitive map design and uninspired enemy behaviour, provides small cause for replayability. Though that first playthrough definitely has its moments, and piloting a huge mech through the war-torn remnants of a city, dispensing cleansing fire in the form of righteous laser beams to the unclean spawn of Chaos certainly won't be forgotten.
Oh wow, the end of the review, and I totally forgot about the cover system. I switched off the prompts that tell you to hit the button when next to cover pretty early on, and subsequently neglected it entirely. Because it's useless, and feels like the afterthought of an abandoned earlier design document that looked to Dawn of War II for inspiration. Instead of introducing a tactical element, the cover system creates literal roadblocks by throwing inumerable barriers in your path. The amount of times I spent stuck on terrain and backtracking became ludicrous. This isn't a tactical shooter, it's an action-RPG, where map design and asset placement needs to promote clear pathing and enable fast-paced motion.
Note: Developer Neocore has advised they're aware of the targeting issues and will be hopefully releasing patches soon.