Bringing mobile ports to PC is a tricky prospect. Mechanics that work on a touchscreen often feel clunky and archaic when you make the switch to keyboard and mouse, and graphical fidelity that looks great on a phone usually doesn’t translate well onto a full HD display. Ultimately, there is no real way to fully translate a mobile port to PC without retaining at least some rough edges, but that doesn’t mean that a good mobile game won’t also make a good PC game. Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf is a mobile port that’s currently in Steam Early Access and, despite the clunkiness that still exists in the game, it’s obvious that Herocraft is taking their time to smooth things out in the game’s transition to PC.
I’m going to start with my biggest gripe with the game before getting into the parts that I like. My biggest complaint with the game is the way that enemies are spawned during single player missions. Not all enemies are present on the battlefield at the beginning of each mission. Instead, once you cross certain trigger points (which are unknown to the player if you haven’t played a mission before) more enemies spawn. The problem with this system comes in when you are given an objective that acts as a timer. You have no choice but to rush forward, and therefore you spawn dudes that you aren’t expecting and aren’t prepared for. It kind of throws a big wrench in the game’s strategy-gears. The extra spawns can also make the game feel more difficult than it actually is, but it isn’t fun strategic difficulty, rather it’s design-forced difficulty. The former can feel fun and natural, while the latter feels entirely gamey and immersion-breaking.
In missions that don’t involve a timer, the enemy spawn triggers encourage the player to inch forward at a safe pace, which again feels gamey and is counter-thematic when you’re controlling a squad of hardcore Space Wolves. You can also work around the spawn by playing a mission more than once, but again, that feels a bit off and having to play through a mission multiple times just so that you don’t accidentally move too far forward and get swarmed by enemies gets old pretty quickly.
On the bright side, the card driven gameplay, deckbuilding, loadouts and turn based elements of the game are really solid. You are in control of the contents of your deck and you earn more cards as you play missions, level up and complete bonus objectives. Most of the cards have a primary function (either moving, ranged attacks or melee attacks) but some have multiple uses, and even similar cards feel and behave differently from one another. For example; there are a wide variety of ranged weapons to choose from, and they feel distinct and serve different tactical purposes. Flamethrowers are powerful up close, while sniper rifles can hit hard at a distance etc, but loading up on any single weapon type can leave you vulnerable. You also need to find a good balance between the number of weapons you take and the number of movement cards you use. If you are too weapon heavy you’ll be a walking fortress, but you won’t be able to get to where you need to be or get into the proper position.
Cards can also be strung together into combos and, most importantly, initiative is determined by the cards that are played. Each card adds a certain amount of time to the initiative of the character that plays it. That time ticks down as other characters act, and when a character reaches zero initiative they will act again. Generally, more powerful cards add more time, but the system also allows you to plan around, and take advantage of, the initiatives of your enemies. You generally can only play a couple of cards on each character’s turn, but if you time it right, you can get even more cards played before your enemies get a chance to act if you end your turn before you’ve passed them in the initiative order. This is a really fun and crunchy system, and taking advantage of it can mean the difference between success and failure.
If you are more multiplayer-minded you can go online and fight against other people and avoid the spawn-in wonkiness altogether, although you’ll still probably want to play through at least some of the campaign in order to pick up cards and level up. You do earn points in multiplayer that can be used for three card booster packs, and all of the extra cards you get can either be junked for more points, or combined to make ever more powerful versions of the cards. It’s not the most complex crafting system, but it’s satisfying, and it feels good to earn new cards, and to power-up the ones you really like to use. Even though the game is Early Access, finding a game in multiplayer usually doesn’t involve more than a short wait to find an opponent, and the multiplayer action is smooth, rapid and punchy, and it highlights the better parts of the game.
At this point, Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf will probably only really click with people who are fans of both turn-based-on-a-grid strategy and Warhammer 40k. The game is still in Early Access, and it could turn into a really solid game that could easily appeal to a wider audience with some tweaks and polish, so even if you are only mildly interested in this one I’d keep an eye on the game once it fully releases to see just what Herocraft manage to do with it in the interim. If you do fit the Venn diagram of 40k and TBS fan though, you’ll probably find a lot to like here, especially if you really dig deep into the card crafting system and focus on the cards that fit your playstyle.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf was previewed on PC via Steam Early Access with a code provided by the developer.