Black Lab Games took what resources they had and delved into the dark universe of Warhammer 40,000 which resulted in creating Battlesector, a game that left me wanting more.
Indies and small developer teams are now continuously impressing with their releases and Black Lab Games are among this group. W40K: Battlesector is easily my favourite release of 2021 so far and barring any new games that take my breath away, it will remain the king.
Stories in Warhammer 40,000 games usually consist of war tales of any involved factions. After all, there is only war in the 41st millennium and there isn't much else to talk about. Dawn of War games thrived this way and so did Black Lab's turn-based strategy.
Battlesector has an iffy premise - it takes place immediately after the Destruction of Baal as Blood Angel ranks were decimated by Hive Fleet Leviathan. Baal was only spared utter destruction after interventions by Khornate daemons and the Indomitus Crusade.
The weird part is that the entirety of Battlesector takes place while Indomitus Crusade is still around. Instead of the Primarch deploying a force to deal with the Tyrannid stragglers, he instead stands idle and refuses to leave the system, putting a strain on its resources while a single Sargeant takes charge of the new Primaris reinforcements and goes to chase the synaptic leader of the remaining Xenos.
Other than that hard to explain part, everything else was on point, including the story, writing and especially voice acting. Each person featured in the story has a distinct and interesting character. Even though they grow quite numerous by the end of the campaign, this didn't result in watering down the individuals that decorate the storytelling.
Scenes of shock are well demonstrated and there are even emotional ones where the Blood Angels lament the cursed fate that awaits all their brothers who don't fall in battle first.
All things considered, I got that feeling of playing through the Dawn of War 2 storyline with the Space Marines and their allies painting the grim reality slightly different, thanks to their personas.
Battlesector gameplay is deceptively deep. Taking a look at trailers, it could seem like you could take any unit, click on an enemy unit and that would result in the latter's annihilation.
Even though the units don't have dedicated animations for entering cover, the system is in place. It can sometimes derp out and provide inexplicable cover but it mostly just deepens the gameplay mechanics and serves as a positive factor that can force players to revisit their tactics by forcing risky flanks or usage of other tools in their kit.
Depending on your unit, it can be proficient at destroying singular beefy targets, destroying swarms or balanced between both. It is for this reason that the Intercessors remained my favourite unit throughout the campaign, even though you get them in the first mission. Despite being run of the mill when compared to other units, they are the reliable soldiers you can always count on in every situation, even if you command the likes of a Dreadnaught or a mighty Baal Predator in later parts of the game.
Furthermore, you can somewhat repurpose your units, depending on what weapons, stats and abilities you give them through the commanding unit talent tree. Your Land Speeder can excel at disposing swarms with the Heavy Bolter but it can also become strong fire support against beefy targets when using Multimelta instead.
Since we are taking charge of Blood Angels, any W40K fan will have asked "what about Red Thirst and Black Rage?" by now. Black Lab obviously did their research and at this point, it's hard to determine if they were simply thorough in it or if they are big fans of the universe themselves, given how well they cared for these lore details.
Blood Angels are all fairly bloodthirsty, as referenced both by the characters in the game and the Momentum mechanic in Battlesector . Tyrannids also have Momentum but the way it's applied to Blood Angels includes a Sanguinary Priest encouraging allies to give in to Red Thirst, which would eventually allow them to enhance their abilities or have an additional move.
As for the Black Rage, it is reflected through the mechanics of the Death Company squads. They can't fall back, are not good at evading attacks and their sidearms are barely ever used. Instead, these battle brothers who suffered the dark fate of Blood Angels will inflict more damage the more they kill and primarily focus on ripping enemies apart with their chainswords.
The depth of combat is further enhanced by map design. Campaign missions will send you through a set of trenches or tight streets in one mission and to an open field in the next. Needless to say, these change the tactics of the combat radically so you will have to deploy the right units for each encounter, an option you are given through both Army Management before deploying and through choosing who to bring at the very start of the mission.
Overall, you will get the feeling of commanding an ever-increasing army, filled to the brim with specialists that you will need to correctly place and command, in order to have them go up against the units they counter the best.
One downside is that there is no penalty for losing units during a deployment as there are infinite reinforcements you can acquire between missions. This takes some pressure off but if that's what you're looking for, the mission structure along with map and combat design will have plenty in store for you.
Graphics and Performance
W40K: Battlesector is primarily an isometric game since that perspective gives some of the best battlefield overviews but you can customise the camera any way you want. That means you can zoom in on your units so close that you can clearly see the difference in helmets of the Primaris and old school Space Marines. Even though the game is mostly meant to be played zoomed out so far that you don't see these tiny details, zooming in will provide the fidelity of a custom-painted figurine you would have in real life.
So what happens to performance when you have 20 well-defined units on the field then? Nothing really, the game continues working smoothly and the only frame drops I noticed were when I have a ton of units around the splattered guts of countless Tyranids.
That said, I played the game on a rig with Ryzen 5 3600, RX 5700 XT and 16GB of RAM, which is well above the recommended hardware specs for Battlesector. On the other hand, the fact that minimum requirements include just 4GB of RAM and a mid to low tier GPU from seven years ago speaks volumes on how well the game is optimised.
This is not a perfect game but in reality, that is something games should only strive for and not one of them will ever reach. With that in mind, Black Lab Games certainly did an amazing job in that pursuit as Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector is the first game of 2021 I felt sad to finish. Just like Red Thirst nudges Blood Angels to want more blood, Battlesector nudges me to crave another campaign.
Most importantly, Battlesector felt fun all the time I was playing it, which should be a video game's main goal but is often watered down with filler content. Thankfully, this one is as bereft of fillers as the Inquisition is devoid of love for heretics. Coupled with the other qualities, the immense fun Battlesector provided led me to give a game the highest possible score for the first time as I just can't recommend it enough.