At gamescom 2017, I had the opportunity to see Neocore Games’ latest title, Warhammer 40K: Inquisitor - Martyr. An Action RPG heavily focused on tactics, Martyr is the studio’s fifth ARPG, and the first set in the 40K universe.
Launched in Early Access on the 31st of August, Neocore's upcoming game puts you in the shoes of an Inquisitor as it investigates the massive Caligari Sector, home of multiple subsectors, several star systems, and dozens of planets. Missions take place on the planets and spacecrafts scattered around this huge sector, with environments ranging from snow and deserts to cities and ship interiors. The Inquisitor team also plans to regularly update the game every couple of months with new content, and eventually bring most (if not all) 40K major races into the title.
Martyr allows players to choose among a myriad of different classes spread in three archetypes: Crusader, Assassin, and Psyker (the last one is due to launch in 2018). They have different attributes like speed and health, but can often equip the same weapons and gear -- the main difference being the ability to use power armour and which skill trees are unlocked at the beginning of the game.
Unavailable skill trees can be accessed by performing “heroic deeds”, such as killing a thousand enemies in melee or doing a certain number of damage with a ranged weapon. Once those conditions are met, you can start to sink skill points into that particular tree, which in theory allows one to make an all-rounded character after countless hours of gameplay.
The levelling up itself seems slightly obtuse, with things not unlocking properly and the inclusion of both character and account levels muddying the waters. The abilities themselves are also very unfulfilling, consisting mostly of uninspired percentage increases than proper new features -- levelling up is not an exciting proposition when all it gives you is a +1% ranged damage.
On the technical side, however, Martyr is very impressive. The art design is spot on, managing to feel like a proper Warhammer 40K title regardless of where you are fighting heretics and mutants in the name of the Emperor. A wonderful but underused destruction mechanic is in game, where pillars, cover, and level objects are damaged and crumble under fire, breaking apart in a shower of physics-powered debris that looks absolutely awesome.
While the visual design properly captures the 40K universe, with its decadent lifestyle and “cathedrals in space” aesthetic, the gameplay is not yet so distinguished. Your character is mostly a static entity, walking around and stopping to shoot -- players unable to even step back while firing without using a special ability present in a single weapon. Given the dynamic nature of the Warhammer universe and Martyr’s focus on a sole character, the Diablo-like control scheme proves suboptimal. It is very unsatisfying to click on enemies to shoot, especially since so many options are tied to number keys -- it’s one thing to aim and press the left mouse button, it is another completely to aim with the mouse and press “2” to fire a shotgun blast. It seriously made me wish for a twin stick shooter setup option.
Similarly, a few abilities feel underwhelming -- the assault armour’s jump packs don’t really catapult you into the air and send you crashing into the ground, but act more like weird teleports that don’t feel very enticing to use. For some reason, there seems to be a slight lag between shooting an enemy and killing them, which makes the weapons feel even less effective and real. Although Neocore has a lot of experience with The Adventures of Van Helsing ARPG series, Martyr feels far from intuitive.
However, there is definite ground for improvement, especially since the game is so competent in other areas and has just launched into Early Access. Abilities like grenades or the Demolisher power armour’s rocket barrage feel amazing to use, providing you with proper feedback and lending weight to the explosives’ blasts. Dawn of War II’s overall control and abilities (like the Force Commander’s charge) would be amazing here when combined with the destructible terrains, and a more dynamic and less boring move-and-shoot system like Helldivers could elevate Martyr from a capable game to a standout title.
Where the gameplay stumbles, however, everything else succeeds, and I came off Warhammer 40K: Inquisitor - Martyr impressed, if slightly unsatisfied. Amazing visuals, intense combat with a unique cover system, and destructible environments all shape up to be a very promising experience -- something the 40K universe sorely needs.