The working title for my hands-on impressions of Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade following our PAX Prime demo session changed multiple times over the course of the weekend. At one point I considered calling it “Warhammer 40K: Worst. Demo. Ever” but I thought it might be a bit too on the nose.
Before I dive into the gory details behind what brought me to that particular thought process, allow me to indulge in a brief anecdote from our E3 appointment for W40K earlier this summer. I promise it won’t take long, but should help give some context as to why I have little faith in the project at this point.
It had been nearly a full year since I’d had met with studio head Miguel Caron for the first time. Hot on the tails of the initial game announcement, the two of us sat on the dirty stone steps of the convention center for that first meeting, and chatted for nearly a full hour about the potential for the property to provide the basis for one heck of a compelling MMOG.
Rolling into E3 2014, I was eager to see how far the project had progressed over the course of its first full year in development. Three key takeaways from that fateful day helped set the stage for what was to follow this past weekend during PAX Prime.
1. Our team was forgotten in the waiting area for our appointment because apparently someone perceived as more important than us distracted the demo team like a dog chasing a tennis ball. Because of this, our appointment was cut dramatically short before we were whisked away without so much as a thanks and a handshake.
2. During our demo, we were shown two videos. The first featured footage from a tech demo that used primarily placeholders for everything from the character models and animations, to the environments in which a multiplayer match was being played.
3. The second video illustrated the practical work completed on the real game up to that point. Character models were blocky and lacked texture, and nearly everything else was using gray box placeholders. In other words, typical pre-alpha build stuff.
I wish I could say that I was impressed by any part of our Warhammer 40K hands-on session during PAX Prime 2014. I wish I could report that it wasn’t based on that proof of concept tech demo rather than what felt like a real game. I also wish that I could wax poetic about the real character models, combat animations, or core gameplay that were woefully absent while we played our demo match (but were at least shown to exist within the game client following our hands-on session).
I wish I could say that any of these things were true, but the sad fact of the matter is that I can’t. Sure, most games tend to be pretty darn rough around the edges at earlier stages of development, but you’d expect to see at least something to prove a product will eventually exist by the time developers are accepting cash payments for founders packs.
Similar to our E3 2014 appointment, things got off to a bad start before they really even began. While we weren’t left waiting indefinitely in a meeting room lobby, we might as well have been. We knew it was going to be one of those appointments again the moment we stepped into the meeting space to discover Miguel paying fan service to Angry Joe.
I absolutely respect the many YouTubers out there that have managed to make a name for themselves in pretty volatile market conditions. At the same time, being summarily ignored in favor of one of them sitting across the room caused more than a little anger in Team Hammer. At one point during our match Skylatron may or may not have spawn camped Angry Joe until he finally asked her to stop. That was about the most attention we were given during the hour-long appointment, unless you count the warm bottle of Coors Light offered to me as a form of consolation prize.
Following a lightning-fast introduction to combat (that made pretty much zero sense to us but was augmented by a handful of second-generation Xerox copies of what appeared to be game info on one of the tables in the room) we were divided up into two teams of three. The map we played on featured two capture points that my team started out defending.
What we did get to experience was a very, very incomplete map that looked and felt a heck of a lot like that proof of concept demo we were shown during E3. Combat was somewhat sluggish, but if nothing else I could see what’s being aimed for.
PlanetSide 2 has been name dropped more than a few times in reference to what they’re aiming for with Warhammer 40k, and the fortress where our battle took place seemed set up with exactly that type of gameplay in mind. Mind you, the fortress and some surrounding terrain were all that existed on the map, so it was difficult to get a proper sense of scale.
Most of the time I’m elated to get my hands on an in-development title for the first time. Having played MMOGs since the late 1990’s and covered them professionally for the past seven years, I’d like to think I’ve developed an eye for compelling new games even in their very primitive pre-alpha stages. However, being exposed to pre-alpha builds is dangerous water to tread, because you really don’t have a lot to work with in terms of assessing how things might improve moving forward.
If there is one thing we discovered about Warhammer 40K during our PAX demo, is that there is definitely plenty of room for improvement. The vision, monolithic IP, and development team are all variable components that could still prove that this will be a solid MMO experience worthy of the 40K brand given time. But at this early stage, it’s hard to say if we were looking at a diamond in the rough, or something else entirely.
At the conclusion of our demo time, we were forced to wander off without so much as an acknowledgment or thanks for stopping by, and I honestly wonder if Miguel even realized we had left. One of the other people in the room was at least polite enough to hand me a business card on our way out.
If our demo time with Gigantic represented the best hands-on experience of PAX Prime 2014 for us, our Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade demo was unfortunately the polar opposite. Much like the warm bottle of Coors Light handed to me during our appointment, the whole thing mostly left a bad taste in my mouth.
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