One of our favorite aspects of the various incarnations of PAX is that there tend to be more playable titles, with hands-off meeting room presentations being the exception rather than the rule. PAX Prime in particular tends to run the gambit of genres, platforms, and business models when it comes to the online games being showcased. Most of the titles shown will be at or near the point of going to market either as part of a major publisher’s fall lineup, or the equally strong presence of independent titles soon to hit Steam or other downloadable marketplaces.
Occasionally, we’ll have hands-on access to titles at a much earlier stage of development, as was the case with Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade. What we played was an early pre-alpha build that focused on fortress defense, albeit scaled down to more of a skirmish size of 3v3 rather than what will ultimately scale up to dozens or more players either on offence or defense.
Due to the raw nature of the demo map we played on, along with other conditional factors, I attempted to explain in a previous article that it is difficult to properly assess how much of our demo reflects what we can expect from a finished product. Since that original piece seemingly missed its mark entirely, I’m going to attempt to drill down into more of the specifics of what we experienced.
The premise of our demo was fairly straightforward. My team was to play defense at a decent-sized fortress that housed two control points. The opposing team would be using spawned vehicles to make their way into the fortress, with the vehicles doubling as a mobile spawn point for their team. Both sides would be playing units from the same army (space marines), and in some ways that helped keep the playing field a bit more even given the scaled down size of the groups involved.
The character models and animations used in the demo were placeholders, but we were shown a more finished version following the match. At least for my part, this was one of the areas that made it most difficult to properly assess how combat will play out in the full game. While character models might not be at the absolute top of my priority list when it comes to competitive gaming, movement often is. It doesn’t necessarily help that more recent MMOGs have spoiled many online gamers by focusing on active combat, dodge systems, and developing a more reactionary skillset.
The map we played on did illustrate some potential for interesting terrain and fortress design. The graphical elements of the fortress my team was tasked with defending, for example, will eventually show a distinct visual change based upon current ownership.
A final item worthy of note is that PlanetSide 2 (PS2) has been used as a reference point to help describe what players might expect for these larger fortress captures. This was specifically noted earlier this year during E3, but it was clear that this loose reference does ring somewhat true. Mind you, unlike PS2, Eternal Crusade will attempt to offer gamers additional objectives beyond a never ending war of pure territory control.
The fortress our match played out on was fairly sizable, but most of the action ended up taking place in a relatively small portion of the map. A lone bridge separated the two basic structures housing the capture points, with a smattering of objects placed to help keep the flow of the map a bit more interesting. Since the unit I was playing wasn’t particularly agile, these also provided at least some basic cover that helped when attempting to traverse the bridge.
It should be noted that a basic cover system does exist, but that this isn’t your stock Unreal 3.5 / Gears of War snap-cover system. I wasn’t really able to get a good feel for the overall effectiveness of using cover, however, as my opponents had quickly picked up on using a combination of jet packs and direct melee attacks to render the use of cover null more often than not.
Whether it was due to the character I was playing, the placeholder animations, or some combination of the two, combat did feel a bit slow to me, or at least a bit more cumbersome than I’d typically expect from core shooter gameplay. For now, I’ll chalk this up to the pre-alpha state of the game, and wait to see if the addition of more armies and units helps quicken the overall pace of combat.
As noted previously, it is difficult to properly assess the fun factor of a game while it’s still in a pre-alpha state. In that state, many core systems are not functional within the game client, and much (if not most) of what does exist is bound to change by a significant amount by the time the game reaches alpha and beta stages of development.
In the current era of Early Access clients becoming more of a norm, exposure to early client builds has become far more commonplace than it once was. When attempting to put a finger on what does, or doesn’t quite “click” for a given title, you often have to play a mental game of chess in the process. In other words, be able to think 12 steps ahead of the current build state.
At this early stage of development for Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade, however, it is still far too early to tell how much of what’s been discussed will ultimately materialize in a full game release. As such, we’re reserving judgment for the time being, but will continue following the development as it progresses in the coming months. Given the Star Citizen-inspired modular approach to release, we should begin seeing at least some more quantifiable aspects of the game materialize sooner rather than later.