Thoughts on Sanctus Reach
Sanctus Reach is the latest W40k game in what is now a rather large stable of games depicting the grim future of endless war. The game depicts an existing event from the W40k universe that even has its own novel (available here), pitting the Space Wolves against an ongoing ork invasion. The premise is pretty classical for a W40k game, but what is nice is that the Space Wolves are properly depicted for the first time (unless you count the mobile Space Wolf game).
The publisher, Slitherine, is well-known for publishing a host of classic turn-based war games, including Armageddon a couple of years ago; a pretty solid W40k game. The developer, Straylight Entertainment, is a newcomer but they should be proud of what they’ve produced in this game.
Playing for the First Time
As soon as I downloaded the game I fired it up and was treated to a short and fairly basic introduction video that utilised gameplay footage. That didn’t bother me really as sometimes proper video sequences, especially for W40k, can appear rather ham-fisted! What I did enjoy though was the rather stirring music that is a feature throughout the whole game and maintains the right kind of atmosphere.
Although I’m a fairly experienced player of strategy games, I thought I should start with the tutorial to be on the safe side. The tutorial is fairly basic but it was useful, particularly around the use of cover (very important throughout the game) and the amount of actions your units can take. If you are a veteran of similar games this isn’t going to be difficult for you to learn, but I also think novices should be able to pick up the basics pretty quickly. This is an overall theme I’ve picked up playing the game; it is easy to learn but quite difficult to master.
After completing the Tutorial I had a quick look at the non-campaign options:
Skirmish mode – where you can play as the Space Wolves or the Orks. There are tons of options available to set-up your perfect battle and also to try out some different units and tactics
Editor – where you can create battles or even link them together in a campaign. I haven’t tried it yet but will probably do so when/if I complete the main campaigns. It will be interesting to see how the community use this feature
There are two main campaigns available:
Stormclaw – an intermediate difficulty campaign with a relatively small campaign map but a good place to get your teeth in to the game
Hour of the Wolf – depicting the main campaign for Sanctus Reach over a huge campaign map and featuring many of the Space Wolves main characters
As a first run through I unsurprisingly opted for Stormclaw.
Upon loading it up I was presented with a small campaign map that was pretty obvious would open up different options for battles as I went along. At first you only have one choice; essentially to form a beachhead for the Space Wolves. There were some helpful tips along the way, making it more like an extension of the Tutorial.
After getting through the opening battle there were then 3 options for varying types of skirmishes. I particularly enjoyed this as each of the skirmishes were a little bit different; one was attack, another defend and the other a mixture of the two. This allowed me to play about with different troop types and tactics to see what worked.
After these skirmishes I faced my most interesting and challenging battle yet. The objective was to get a Rhino Transport across the map for evacuation. On the face of it, it looked easy, particularly as I had 3 transports and the objective only required one for evacuation. The reality was very different though as I faced almost overwhelming force from the Orks and only got through by the skin of my teeth, having lost most of the rest of my forces. This was a welcome challenge and I’m looking forward to other more dynamic missions throughout the campaigns.
There were a couple of features in the campaign I really liked, the first being the mission briefing that is shown before you choose your forces. It is fairly simple but it added a real element of character to the mission and gave me a clear picture of the battlefield to be able to choose my forces. I also enjoyed the force selection screen; particularly as you are often given a lot of choice for the forces you can pick. It does need a bit of tidying up for ease of use but the developers have said they will be working on this.
It is also nice that your units level up as you go along; meaning you have some units that you really get invested in. As the units level up their abilities improve and they also get special abilities. These special abilities are currently assigned (seemingly) at random but again the developers have said they are working on this and hopefully you will get an element of choice in the future.
Fighting a Battle
As already alluded to, fighting a battle is fairly easy to understand but can be difficult to master. One of the reasons for the difficulty is the variety of yours and the enemies units and understanding their strengths and weaknesses. On more than one occasion I got too focussed on killing on fairly unthreatening enemies whilst a more dangerous one started rampaging and taking out my units. I’ve also made the mistake of not protecting my ranged units with close combat ones, with pretty disastrous consequences. Once it happens to you once though, you can rectify it for next time.
The variety of units does open up a whole world of tactical possibilities that keeps the game fresh with every battle. In one battle I decided to load one flank with bikes and close combat units and completely broke the orks flank and then cut their main force down from behind. In another I decided to stand behind a wall and shoot them from distance due to the terrain and the objective. This variety is a real strong point to the game and will ensure that I keep coming back to it.
A few other quirks in battle are interesting; including the orks capacity for friendly fire. For those that don’t know the W40k universe, this might seem like a bug, but in reality it is exactly what you would expect orks to do; trying to shoot the enemy, even if their own troops are in the way! I think this is a really nice touch and shows the developers really understand the subject matter in question.
Overall I am pleasantly surprised how good Sanctus Reach is. One of the best compliments I can give it, is that once I started playing I really struggled to stop! I will keep coming back to it and try and complete the Storm Claw campaign, and I’m really looking forward to playing the Hour of the Wolf. For all W40k and turn-based strategy fans I can recommend this to buy.