I’ve been a Warhammer 40,000 fan for nearly two years now. In that time, I’ve painted and built lots of models but hardly played any games. And I know that the global pandemic hasn’t helped, but I have this itch to get models on the table, roll some dice and see what happens. Unfortunately, for the moment (let’s see how much this dates this review) that is a distant hope. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the turn-based strategy of 40k in the meantime. Enter Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach by Straylight Entertainment. This is a turn-based strategy game that, while wholly different from 9th Edition, does emulate the feeling of moving miniatures and blowing things up.
Sanctus Reach is set in the Sanctus Reach as the orks of the Red Waaagh invade. In the initial campaign, there are a few expansions that add more, you play as the Space Wolves as they combat the ork threat. The game is split into scenarios that see you putting together an army of Space Marines to overcome an army of orks. Building your army works similarly to building a list in regular 40k, with points attached to each unit. Where Sanctus Reach deviates is by allowing your troops to level up, gain special abilities and progress with you throughout the campaign.
Battles themselves take place in a map area with rocks, barricades and other terrain pieces. You take it in turns with the AI (or another player if tackling multiplayer) to move, shoot and take actions with each of your units. In a standard turn-based strategy affair, units can move a certain distance and shoot a number of times. By taking advantage of cover it means that you are harder to hit and setting up optimum overwatch spots can devastate your enemy. Just like in regular 40k, units like dreadnaughts and tanks have heavier armour and require armour penetrating weapons to be able to deal significant damage to them and regular ork boys can be shot to pieces by your bolters. For anyone familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe on and off the tabletop, everything that you would expect from both tracks in Sanctus Reach to the point where you can dive in with all of your assumptions in mind and it will play out as you expect.
There is a novel that I read early in my Black Library career, that I need to revisit for a full review. However, the story in Sanctus Reach (the video game) is not the reason to play it. While it acts as a framework to move you across a map and enter battles, it doesn’t do much else. There are ‘story’ missions that clearly have more attention than the standard skirmish battles, but you achieve similar objectives. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Much like the tabletop game, Sanctus Reach allows you to create your own story as you play with the setting as a backdrop. Got that one band of Blood Claws that always manage to rush in, get shot to pieces and somehow make it out the other side? Or how about your two bikers who always work to flank your enemy and keep them constantly on their toes? Depending on your play style, choice of unit and a little bit of chance, you’ll have different emergent stories between games and players. This again lends itself to the regular 40k because I barely remember the objectives I scored or the context around them, but I do remember that time by Myphitic Blight-hauler stood up to Primaris Invictor Tactical Warsuit and just wouldn’t die.
However, it’s not all epic moments and intense tactical decision making. Sanctus Reach isn’t without its problems. One of the areas the game suffers in is the range of mission types. Between the ‘story’ missions you’ll need to complete several skirmish missions. These are usually capture the point, gain VP’s and defeat your enemy. And while these are fine, having to do three or more in a row sometimes is boring. Whereas the ‘story’ missions are distinct, the skirmish missions fade into the background and are something you need to get through to get to the more interesting content. And they are mandatory. If they were optional side missions, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. But as it stands, it acts as padding to an already lengthy campaign. And while it allows you to upgrade your troops, they can also punish you as units can still die.
Another area where Sanctus Reach struggles is with the crescendo. Frequently matches will either be you steamrolling the orks or it being a tense fight to the end. However, regardless of which it ends up being the ending is a letdown. The last few turns are normally, you mop up the last few enemy units as you’ve gained control of all of the objectives and now just need the match to end. This is true even if the last turn it was a struggle to survive. However, as soon as you get that upper hand, the game turns from crunchy tactical choices to that bit in a Total War game where all your opponent’s units are broken and you’re riding them down with your cavalry.
On top of all that, the AI turns can be quite lengthy (depending on how many units they have) as you watch them move, shoot and take other actions. If you don’t mind waiting minutes for your enemy to complete their turn it’s fine but you do feel like you are just waiting as often the outcome of their turn dictates your own. This leads to not being able to plan as far ahead as you might like. However, compared to waiting for someone to move and attack with a 2,000 point army in regular 40k, the AI is extremely fast.
Overall, Sanctus Reach is a rich strategic game that made me feel like I was playing with on the tabletop but also playing a video game. It uses the Warhammer 40,000 setting effectively and integrates everything you know about the tabletop game seamlessly. While I haven’t tried any of the expansions, I’m looking forward to tackling daemons and trying out the Imperial Guard at some point. If like me you’ve got a hankering for some games of 40k but Covid or other reasons are preventing you, Sanctus Reach emulates parts of that experience like no other game I’ve played.
Thanks for reading. If you want more Space Wolves then check out my review of Tales of Heresy which has an excellent Space Wolf story within. Alternatively, if you want more Warhammer 40,000 video games then head over and read about Space Hulk: Tactics.
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