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Warhammer 40.000: Eternal Crusade is now free to play - ouch

Behaviour
Warhammer 40.000: Eternal Crusade - What should have been (~2014 promo image) Behaviour
Warhammer 40.000: Eternal Crusade - What should have been (~2014 promo image)

How hard can it be to smash together Warhammer 40.000 and Planetside? Well, we won't know until someone actually succeeds.

The mythical Warhammer 40.000 MMOFPS/RPG has been lost to the Warp for close to a decade now. Initially titled Dark Millennium Online, the game has seen the demise of THQ, a new development team, a genre and title change, and finally - a gradual shift towards free to play.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - Load up for Imperial FistingEternal Crusade - Load up for Imperial Fisting

Dark Millennium was supposed to be a theme park MMORPG when it was originally teased by Vigil and THQ back in 2007. Years passed, THQ went bankrupt and the game's assets went from Vigil Games over to Behaviour Interactive under Bandai Namco. Vigil Games then proceeded to break up into several smaller studios itself.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - Crawling on all four back to your squad. Understandable design but utterly unheroic Eternal Crusade - Crawling on all four back to your squad. Understandable design but utterly unheroic

The game now carrying the name Eternal Crusade, was going to be more in line with 40K's grimdark aesthetic and was announced as a combination of Planetside's continent spanning combined arms multi-faction FPS combat and Relic's Space Marine with its melee-heavy third person shooter mechanics. That meant starting from scratch and increasing the scope far beyond what was within Behaviour's ability to deliver.

Eternal Crusade - More identical corridors, like one Alpharius to the otherEternal Crusade - More identical corridors, like one Alpharius to the other

Progress was slow as more and more features were cut or postponed to "somewhere down the line". The idea of an open world MMO approach with multiple factions and asymmetrical warfare was abandoned very early, in favour of a blandish Battlefield-like arena style third person shooter. The plan was to nail down the combat and core mechanics first and then build the actual open world the game would take place in later.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - It might look like a world map but it's just a menu screenEternal Crusade - It might look like a world map but it's just a menu screen

In the five or so years since the game changed hands, Bandai Namco has shown little interest in putting any serious financial weight behind the project. Founder programmes, attempts to make the game "Free to WAAAGH!" (i.e. free for all Ork players, which might have been fun but failed to acquire momentum), Early Access time, the addition of microtransactions to what was in essence a few steps short of even a proper beta build, and all that with a £35 entry barrier seems to have forced Eternal Crusade into the free to play arena.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - Gritty vapid grimdark map designEternal Crusade - Gritty vapid grimdark map design

Despite the game having launched in different forms several times, what is up for inspection on Steam at this time is underwhelming to say the least. Straight forward and paper thin PvE similar to the recent Space Hulk: Deathwing - tight corridors, lots of Tyranids, here are some weapons, whatever. Point-control PvP with multiple tediously symmetrical factions and vehicles, convoluted yet somehow barren map design, minimal weapon and gameplay variety and on top of it all, a lot of the usual trappings of free to play.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - Heavy bolters and TyranidsEternal Crusade - Heavy bolters and Tyranids

At this point, Eternal Crusade barely merits reviewing. Everything I've witnessed in my six or so hours with the game screams of early beta. If I was among the players receiving in-game currency and consolation premium accounts after paying £35 for a quarter-finished game I would be disgruntled to put it mildly. I guess that the people who stuck with the game over the years have developed superhuman patience and unwavering faith in the project by now. Maybe the weak and impatient have been purged and weeded out with time.

The lack of meaningful verticality in the level design, abundance of third-person cover based shooting and the generally one-dimensional feel of its gameplay loops leaves the impression that the latest free version on Steam is yet another test of a poorly optimised and grievously unfinished game in preparation for a console launch.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - Alpharius getting a tanEternal Crusade - Alpharius getting a tan

The initial promise of diving into the Warhammer 40.000 universe close up, personal and on a massive scale, can be declared dead with a great deal of certainty. Eternal Crusade may now take its place on the what could have been great shelf, right next to The Matrix and Mechwarrior Online. Sometimes the game you want to make, and the game fans want to buy - are one and the same thing, but development circumstances and market realities conspire just intricately enough to turn everything into an unspectacular smouldering heap of rubble.

BehaviourEternal Crusade - The Emperor's finest, looking away in shame and disgust Eternal Crusade - The Emperor's finest, looking away in shame and disgust

Warhammer 40.000: Eternal Crusade is worth a glance, especially since it's free. It represents a great example of what you get when a dream project gets mauled by ten years of development hell. The wait for a definitive mind-blowing 40K MMO experience continues, but at this pace the Emperor will be off the Golden Throne and already in the kitchen making breakfast - before any of us get to play it.