[Yes, I promised another Mass Effect article, but I’m procrastinating. Instead, you get this.]
I’m about an hour in, and it’s already seems clear that my thoughts are going to be pretty in line with the consensus. It’s a competent but unspectacular shooter with some questionable health mechanics.
First and foremost, it’s very Warhammer, so much so that, if I didn’t already have familiarity with the setting from playing Dawn of War, I think I’d find it alienating. As it is, it’s nice to return to a familiar setting. The game looks very brown and muddy thus far, but it really is great how even little things like the bunkers and barbed wire and weapons look so familiar.
The level design has been a bit weird. Most of the time has been spent in trenches, with enemies coming in over the sides. The last game I played that used this sort of level design was Call of Juarez 2, and it felt weird there too. First of all, you’re constantly on the low-ground, and so every enemy up top has partial cover and there’s little cover for you to take advantage of. It also makes the level feel constrained, as if the engine can’t handle larger areas, and draws unnecessary attention to the linearity of the game.
I’m not sure about the controls, either. Shooting feels a bit loose, but there’s good feedback on hits, so I’m ok with it thus far. Melee, also, feels ok – it’s good and bloody – but the first swing in a combo has a bit of a delay before it hits and has a narrow arc, both of which may be problematic since the game seems to like to throw hordes of melee enemies at you all at once.
More problematic is the mobility systems. Instead of going with the Gears of War method (still the gold standard in 3rd person shooter controls) roll and run are on separate buttons (‘A’ for roll and ‘LS’ for run), and it feels like there’s an animation lock that prevents chaining a move after a roll effectively. This seems to mean that there isn’t a good way to extricate yourself from melee. The best I’ve been able to do is back away while shooting and throwing a grenade, which has worked adequately well, but feels clunky. Running seems designed to get you into trouble, since it chains with melee attacks, rather than to get you out of trouble.
In theory, what’s supposed to get you out of trouble is the health-recovery system, which was designed to encourage melee by making that be the primary means of health-recovery. There’s a pretty standard regenerating shield system, but, particularly coming off of Mass Effect 3, it felt like it took an awfully long time for the regen to kick in. Between enemies pinging you with automatic weapons, absence of a cover system, and the already noted mobility limitations, I’m having a bit of trouble keeping my shields up.
When shields are down, you’re reliant on health, which, as I mentioned, only regenerates via melee. And not just generic melee attacks. You have to do a stun attack, then trigger a contextual kill animation. But these animations are long, the health only gets returned at the close of the animation, and there’s no invulnerability during them, so it’s been pretty impractical to try to recover health this way in the midst of a scrum. At best I’ve been able to back off and try to regain some shields, and then get my health back off of the last few enemies of the encounter once the danger has passed. It just feels like the incentives are pushing in contradictory directions. It encourages a risky dive into melee right at the point when you’re most vulnerable. The intent may have been to keep melee as an option even when shields are down, and to produce great moments where you’re playing on the edge and just barely getting enough life at the last instant to keep alive, but there’s just too much risk to it for my taste. All of my deaths have involved getting bogged down and overwhelmed in a melee.
So, thus far, I’m enjoying it with reservations. It’s been a while since I’ve had a nice, simple action game, and I enjoy the Warhammer universe for all its grand, extravagant silliness.