Warhammer 40.000: Sanctus Reach - For Russ and the All Bother! A marvellously fun but flawed turn based strategy game.
Turn based strategy is the life blood of Warhammer 40.000 and attempts to translate the tabletop experience onto PC are ongoing on multiple platforms and in various shapes and sizes. Slitherine's latest shot at the series puts you in charge of a sizable detachment of the VI Space Marine legion, the Space Wolves. For the uninitiated, basically Vikings in space. Preciously little introduction is provided as to why the Space Wolves are on site, other than - this is Warhammer, these are Space Marines, there are some Orks, start the purge!
Sanctus Reach has you purging a lot. Most of the missions are structured like classic skirmish battles. A number of victory points to contest with the corresponding amount of turns the player has to get some troops on said points - done. Exceptions to this approach are few and far in-between. What provides variety during missions is the composition of the army at your disposal. From basic Blood Claw chainsword wielding melee units over Land Speeder skimmers, up to giant Imperial Knights, which I sadly did not get to see - but we will get to that in a bit.
Your humble but glorious force, with the sounds and visuals they display while mowing through endless waves of Orks, is what makes Sanctus Reach a delight. Utilising bolters, thunder hammers, artillery barrages, power fists and axes or holy promethium flames - every time your marines make contact with the Xenos scum the results are visceral, spectacular and satisfying to the eyes and ears.
It's a fairly simple matter to outmanoeuvre the green tide since the enemy AI has the intellectual capacity of the average Ork. Da Boyz will willfully ignore vulnerable targets or victory points, cheerfully run straight into prepared killing zones and generally make no attempts at strategy other than dying by the thousands trying to get from point A to point B via the straightest line possible. While it might sound like there is no challenge in fighting such a foe, what the Orks lack in subtlety they more than make up in numbers and battles often dissolve into a slog through endless waves of charging greenskins.
Fine and fun in theory, but the sheer size of the Ork Waaaghh! is where the first cracks in the design of Sanctus Reach make themselves apparent. The main reason I never got further than about 2/3 of the first campaign is the incredible amount of time it takes for the AI to complete its turn. In and of itself, understandable and tolerable, until the Gretchin scutter into the equation.
The Gretchin are the smallest, most pathetic but most numerous breed of Ork, analogous to goblins of other fantasy settings. A move each unit makes in Sanctus Reach consists of movement phase, two attacks, and an eventual reaction shot, each of which takes about a second to execute. Now consider that in any given skirmish there will be a LOT of these little buggers, and that Ork Shamans can summon even more to the battlefield - so I hope you like watching the loathsome critters wander around being useless for about 3 minutes after every turn. The idea behind the design I presume is to have the Gretchin serve as a meat shield, but they are so entirely and utterly inconsequential to the carnage on the battlefield that I can't help but feel I'm wasting my time waiting for them to complete their turn.
The little green bastards do almost no damage to your units, take an entire shooting phase and sometimes more to exterminate, and will loose morale and break quite quickly - meaning that you have to run after them with your units to finish the job. I completely lost the will to fight when I noticed that I'm dedicating elite Terminator units and fast attack bikes to hunting down the annoying runts, but not because they pose a threat, rather just because I couldn't bare to sit through another round of them running around and wasting my time. Ork Shamans started being priority targets, while their paralysing strikes are a legitimate threat, I found myself directing all of my firepower towards them - just to stop them from calling in more of the infuriating Grots. My morale broke after I found myself in a mission set to last more than 20 turns and saw a Shaman approaching, with a small horde of the annoying brats behind him. Knowing that he would summon even more - I gave up. No Imperial Knights for me.
Sanctus Reach is a welcome visual update and refinement of a tried and true 40K on PC concept. Slitherine's last venture into the territory produced Armageddon, a similar but 2D and hex-based game which received numerous mission packs and expansions after its release, and the same can be expected for Sanctus Reach as well. If you are a fan of Warhammer 40.000 and can swallow some of the annoyances the game brings with it, then you are in for some fun hours - and the promise of DLC mission packs with a hopefully improved AI is an enticing one. For those unfamiliar with the setting, lore and mechanics of 40K, your strategising appetites are best served elsewhere.