It’s a good time to be into Warhammer 40 000. There’s the MMORPG coming out, the action game (which looks awesome), the movie recently came out, more Dawn Of War II, and now the third entry in the Warhammer 40K roleplaying series came out, letting you play as one of the Emperor’s Chosen.
I’ve been reading Deathwatch (Christmas present courtesy of the lovely wife), rediscovering my love for the original Space Marines. While the term has seen bastardisation and inflation lately, the original kind have a special place in my heart. In the opening chapter, I learned more about the Warhammer 40 000 Space Marines than I have known before and for that alone the book is worth its place on the shelf. It’s full of incredibly nerdy goodness.
I’m not quite convinced how good a roleplaying game it’s going to be. I mean, you’re a Space Marine. You exterminate the enemies of mankind, and… that’s it, really. You have very little character to speak of and all you do is get from battlefield to battlefield and fight. Just about all of your abilities are combat abilities and the ones that are not seem entirely wrong in this context.
It will best play as a tactical exercise – very much like the small-scale Kill-Team rules in the previous, fourth edition of the Warhammer 40K tabletop game – except with a little more narrative on the side. This could very well be awesome, mind, but I fear that the rules may be slightly too vague to really work in that regard. Perhaps a mix between the bigger scale of vanilla Warhammer 40K fifth edition and the small scale of Deathwatch is called for. It does remind me of the original Rogue Trader, which was a miniatures tabletop game with very strong overtones of actually being a roleplaying game without advancement and non-combat rules.
The introductory adventure is an honest tactical sandbox, complete with a countdown mechanic, a map to explore sector by sector, random encounters, mechanical resources and objectives which bring to mind videogames. But it’s got Deatwatch Space Marines and a Tyranid invasion. You won’t see me complaining. It could be a board game or, well, a Kill-Team scenario from the previous editions of the tabletop game, with just a bit more flavor text and some non-combat encounters thrown in. But really, it’s about Space Marines kicking Tyranid butt, and all the better for it.
The heavy on mechanics, light on narration or outside of combat use powers remind me of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition in a good way. They also read like a tabletop combat game, albeit with slightly fuzzy rules. The RPG 3:16 could be seen as a parody of sorts of this game (although predating it), but it has better encounter mechanics, for instance. Deathwatch has plenty of cool and interesting mechanics, which would just work better if it didn’t pretend quite so hard to be an RPG in the vein of its older brothers, Dark Heresy and (the new) Rogue Trader.
The game could benefit from honestly just using miniatures to play to keep things clear, like D&D 4E finally made the switch with the latest edition from tactical, crunchy, but slightly unclear rules with a strong desire to use miniatures in 3E to a very clear, concise tactical exercise requiring miniatures and a grid to play. I imagine most folks are going to use 40K miniatures anyway – I know I am. To that end I will be putting together some Deathwatch miniatures, which I am now very eager to get to work on. It also gives me a good excuse to get a variety of special models I have seen little use for, including Apothecaries and Techmarines.
I’m really looking forward to a few good scraps with the Deathwatch.